Most times when we quote another source, that quote is singular: we want our audience to think about one reference. Whether we quote a movie, a book, or a music lyric, our quotes tend to be singular and—let’s be honest—usually superficial.
The author of Hebrews, however, often has multiple layers to his references. Consider the quote in Hebrews 9:20. I’ll give you the verse before as well for context: “For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you” (ESV).
The writer quotes from Exodus 24:8. But when we compare the two texts, we see something deeper going on than just a superficial singular quotation. I’ll provide both the Greek and English, with the similar texts underlined.
|Hebrews 9:20 τοῦτο τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης ἧς ἐνετείλατο πρὸς ὑμᾶς ὁ θεός.||Exodus 24:8b ἰδοὺ τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης ἧς διέθετο κύριος πρὸς ὑμᾶς περὶ πάντων τῶν λόγων τούτων||Exodus 24:8b הִנֵּה דַם־הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר כָּרַת יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם עַל כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה|
|“This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded to you.”||“Behold, the blood of the covenant which the Lord granted to you concerning all these words.”||“Behold, the blood of the covenant which YHWH cut with you concerning all these words.”|
The Greek translation represents the original Hebrew in Exodus 24 faithfully. The author of Hebrews—who usually quotes from the Greek version, not the Hebrew—takes the liberty to change a few of the words (which is quite normal in the NT). He changes “Lord/YHWH” to “God” and switches the verb from “granted/cut” to “commanded.”
But the change that we will focus on most is the first word. Hebrews has touto – “This is the blood of the covenant.” Exodus has idou – “Behold, the blood of the covenant.”
With this seemingly insignificant change, the author of Hebrews seems to be drawing our attention in two directions: the quote itself focuses us on Exodus 24, but the switch to “This” also calls to mind the famous words of Jesus at the Last Supper—the reflection on the New Covenant.
Consider Matthew’s words, which most closely align with the language of Hebrews 9:
|Hebrews 9:20 τοῦτο τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης ἧς ἐνετείλατο πρὸς ὑμᾶς ὁ θεός.||Matthew 26:28 τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ περὶ πολλῶν ἐκχυννόμενον εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.|
|“This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded to you.”||“For this is the blood of my covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”|
In all four accounts where the similar phrase appears in the Last Supper (Matt 26:28 // Mark 14:23 // Luke 22:20 // 1 Cor 11:25), each sentence invariably begins with touto – “This.” By changing the word “Behold” to the word “This,” the author of Hebrews expertly links our minds with the words of the New Covenant, the topic of which he is speaking about in Heb 8–10. If indeed the author of Hebrews wants us to think specifically of the words of Matt 26:28, this may provide further connections to our context, for Matthew mentions the blood being “poured out for many,” which may share a link in Isa 53:12 with Heb 9:28, as well as the mention of blood required “for the forgiveness of sins,” which links with Heb 9:22.
These many links draw the reader through the pages of both Old and New Testaments to reflect on the redemptive plan of God as seen in the New Covenant. The text of Hebrews is rich in theological development and inner-biblical connections.