1. Hebrews 8:10 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

To what does “laws” refer here?

Hebrews 8:10 (ESV)

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

In short

The laws refers to

  1. the Mosaic law; or

  2. new laws that are different from the Mosaic law

The author of Hebrews quotes Jereremiah 31:31–34 to indicate that Jesus’ ministry ushers in a new covenant. One aspect of the new covenant is that God’s laws will be written on people’s hearts (Heb. 8:10). So what laws is the author referring to?

We know from Scripture that when God established a covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, he also gave them laws, which have become known as the Mosaic law. The Mosaic law represents the laws of God. Neither the prophecy from Jeremiah nor the author of Hebrews states that in the new covenant there will be new laws. Rather the prophecy simply states that the laws will be written on people’s hearts and minds. So we should assume that these laws are the Mosaic Law. Some might object, because the author of Hebrews (9:9–10) and the apostle Paul (Gal. 5:2) show that the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law, such as animal sacrifice and circumcision, are no longer valid. For one, the animal sacrificial system is no longer valid because of the quality of Jesus’ sacrifice, not because the law changed. And second, while outward signals may change, the substance of the law never changes. Jesus himself makes this clear when he summarizes the substance of the law in two commands (Matt. 22:37–40), and when he explains that not one iota of the law will pass away (Matt. 5:17–18).

Some might argue, based on Hebrews 7:12, that the author himself states that when there is a change in the priesthood, the law must necessarily change. Since Jesus’ ministry marks a change in the priesthood, there must be a new law. The problem with this view is that the notion of the law changing does not imply a new law. Rather, a change in the law could mean any number of things, including a change in how we relate to the law, or how the law is enforced. Since we know from Scripture that the substance of the law does not change, and the author of Hebrew never says that it does, we should not accept this interpretation.

While the substance of the law never changes, Hebrews 8:10 indicates that the means by which the law is relayed to us does change. No longer is the law written on tablets of stone, but now, because of the new covenant ushered in by Jesus Christ, it is written on human hearts.

Interpretation 1:
Laws refers to the Mosaic Law.


Jeremiah prophesied that because the Israelites were unable to obey God’s covenant, God would establish a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34). The new covenant is different because God would write his laws on people’s hearts and minds and forget their sins. The author of Hebrews quotes from Jeremiah to show that Jesus’ ministry fulfils this prophecy, and ushers in the new covenant (Hebrews 9:15). Of course, the substance of the laws has not changed; rather, the means through which we understand them has changed. Being in a true relationship with God involves more than obeying his laws, but it does not involve less. In the new covenant, no longer are the laws known only through external sources, but are also known internally.

God’s redemptive plan involves multiple steps. First, he established a relationship with humankind through Adam, Noah, and Abraham, before giving Israel a comprehensive set of laws at Mount Sinai, meant to inform their behaviour before a holy God. The problem is that externally recorded regulations could not penetrate the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts. This hardness of heart is the result of, and results in, sin, for which Jesus came into the world to atone. Jesus’ ministry established a new, superior covenant, not only because our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake but also because the substance of God’s laws is now internal, in our hearts.


  • David Allen

  • George Guthrie

  • Simon Kistemaker

  • William Lane

Minor differences:

Most of our commentators have little to say about the content of the laws referred to in Hebrews 8:10, other than to state that these refer to the laws of God.1,2 Allen and Lane are more explicit, emphasizing that the law is not new but the covenant is new.3,4 In other words, the content of the law as it was established by the Mosaic covenant does not change.


Interpretation 2:
The laws refers to new laws that are different from the Mosaic law.


The author of Hebrews explains that the old covenant was not effective because the Israelites were unable to keep it. Now the new covenant is ushered it with Jesus as the high priest, and when there is a change in the priesthood, necessarily there is a change in the law (Hebrews 7:12). This implies that the new covenant ushers in a new law.