1. Hebrews 8:6 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

To what does “better promises” refer?

Hebrews 8:6 (ESV)

6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.

In short

The better promises refers to the fact that

  1. in the new covenant God writes his laws on people’s minds and hearts so they will all know the Lord, and because of the work of Christ, their sins are not remembered; or

  2. the old covenant promised temporal blessings, but the new covenant promises better heavenly blessings.

The author of Hebrews notes that the new covenant that Jesus mediates is established on better promises. So, what are these promises and why are they better?

The author reveals the answer by stating that there was a fault with the old covenant and then quotes a passage from Jeremiah. The passage notes that God found fault with the Israelites because they did not continue in the covenant God established with them. God made a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, and he promised to bless Israel if they obeyed his God’s commands. Israel failed to obey, and curses followed. Thus, the new covenant is better because it is enacted on better promises. Those promises, as indicated by the passage quoted from Jeremiah, include the fact that God’s law will be written on the people’s hearts and minds, and God will remember their sins no more. Later in Hebrews 10:14–18 we learn that the reason God will no longer remember their sins is because of the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So, the author is concerned with the nature of God’s promises. In the old covenant, God promised to bless the people if they obeyed his commands, but the people failed. The promise did not fail, but the Israelites failed. In the new covenant, God promises to write his laws on the people’s hearts and minds and forgive their sins for Jesus’ sake. Thus, the better promises accommodate humanity’s inability to naturally obey.

Some think that the author of Hebrews is concerned not with the nature of the better promises but with the content. This is because God promised to bless the Israelites with temporal blessings if they obeyed the commands (Deut. 28:1–14). The new covenant, on the other hand, has to do with heavenly blessings, including eternal redemption through the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:12). The problem with this view is that the author uses the verb to impose a law/give laws to state that the new covenant has been established on better promises. This lends to the notion that he is referring to the nature of the promises, not their content. Further, the context suggests that the promises have to do with Israel’s failure and ability to obey the laws of God. Finally, the passages surrounding Heb 8:6 are concerned not with temporal blessings but with the sacrificial system and ability/inability to approach God.

The overall context of Hebrews 8:6 suggests that the old covenant was inferior to the new, not because God’s promise to bless Israel had failed, but because Israel could not maintain their responsibility to keep the commands. So God in his grace enacted a new covenant based on better promises. Blessing now depends on the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and we participate in this covenant not by works, but by faith.

Interpretation 1:
The better promises refers to the fact that in the new covenant, God writes his laws on people’s minds and hearts so that they will all know the Lord.


God established a covenant with Israel that was enacted by obedience to the law as recorded by Moses. God promised Israel that if they obeyed the recorded law, they would be blessed (Deuteronomy 28:1–14), but if they disobeyed they would be cursed (Deuteronomy 28:15–68). This promise from God was a gift of grace. The problem is that the Israelites could not obey the law, and therefore curses inevitably followed. Now, through Jesus Christ, God has established a new covenant that is based on better promises. The promise is that God will not only record his law on stone, but he will also write his law on people’s hearts and minds so that they will all know God. Further, because of the work of Christ, God will remember their sins no more.

The better promises mentioned by the author of Hebrews is the gift of life through faith in Jesus Christ. No longer is our relationship with God established solely on our ability to keep the law; rather, Jesus kept the law for us, so our relationship is established when we place our faith in Christ. When we place our faith in Christ, the Spirit of God resides in our hearts, and we are recreated so that we love God and desire to obey his commands.


  • Gareth Cockerill

  • Paul Ellingworth

  • George Guthrie

  • Luke Johnson

  • Simon Kistemaker

  • William Lane

Minor differences:

All our authors agree that when the author of Hebrews notes that Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant that is enacted on better promises, the better promises are revealed by reference to Jeremiah 31:31–34 in Hebrews 8:8–12. Still, Paul Ellingworth thinks that because the author uses the plural form of promise there must be more than one promise. He suggests that the secondary promise is revealed in Hebrews 9:20 where the author quotes Exodus 24:8. There Moses sprinkles blood on the people to establish the old covenant.1 Unfortunately, Ellingworth is not clear as to what Moses sprinkling blood on the people has to do with the better promises of Hebrews 8:6.

William Lane offers a helpful insight that draws out the meaning of the better promise. Instead of identifying the better promises as laid out in Hebrews 8:8–12, he refers to Hebrews 10:15–18.2 There, the author of Hebrews also quotes Jeremiah 31:33–34, but the preceding verse, Hebrews 10:14, explains that it is Jesus’ perfect sacrifice that establishes the elements of Jeremiah 31:33–34. This is an important theological clue because it shows that the better promises are not arbitrary but are grounded in the work of Christ.


Interpretation 2:
The better promises refers to the fact that the new covenant promises better heavenly blessings than the old covenant.


When God made a covenant with the Israelites through Moses, he promised that they would be overwhelmed with earthly blessings if they obeyed God’s commands. The new covenant is superior to the old, and enacted by better promised, because the promises of the new covenant have to do with eternal life with God and spiritual blessing, not just earthly blessing.


  • Thomas Aquinas