Hebrews 10:29 is normally translated as “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” But I would like to suggest that “he was sanctified” should instead be translated as “it was sanctified.” Rather than referring to the apostate being sanctified by the blood of Christ or Christ being set apart by his own suffering, it should be translated as “it was sanctified” referring to the sanctification of the new covenant by the blood of Christ.
I come to this conclusion because “the covenant” is the closest referent to the verb “was sanctified.” The context must determine whether “was sanctified” is translated as “he was sanctified” or “it was sanctified.” If that which is sanctified is the new covenant, the meaning of the text is that the shedding of the blood of Christ is the enactment of the new covenant. This fits in with the theology of the book of Hebrews where blood had to be shed for the new covenant to be ratified or come into effect: “Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood” (Heb 9:18). Since the first covenant had to be inaugurated through the blood sacrifices of animals, the new covenant had to be inaugurated through the shedding of Christ’s blood.
The language of “holy covenant” in the Bible reflects this truth (Dan 11:30; Luke 1:72). Covenants are holy or set apart because of the sacred purpose of God. Both “holy” and “sanctified” have the same root in Greek. The verb “was sanctified” in Hebrews 10:29 is the verbal form of the word while “holy” is how we translate its adjectival form. The new covenant is a holy covenant because it is unique and distinct from all other covenants. It is not a common covenant, but one enacted by God. And just as the first covenant was set apart from all other covenants by the shedding of blood, the new covenant is set apart and distinguished from all other covenants because of the shedding of Christ’s blood. His suffering alone sanctifies the new covenant and makes it unique in comparison to all other covenants. Hence, profaning the blood of the covenant is an outrageous offense because it was this blood that enacted the new covenant through which salvation comes.
But the question must be asked, if this is the correct translation of the verb, then why have not more scholars come to this conclusion? While the International Standard Version agrees with this interpretation, all of the other major Bible translations do not. I believe the reason for this is because of the influence of the history of the translation of the English Bible. While Greek scholars seek to understand the meaning of the New Testament in its original language, the reality is that they often read their pre-existing English translation of the text back into the Greek text. In places where verbs could grammatically refer to either people or objects, we default to the way we were raised to read the English Bible. My prayer is that this article will lead to more English translations adopting “it was sanctified” instead of “he was sanctified.”