THE LAW AND ITS DIVISIONS
It is important to recognize that there are several elements to the law. Everyone seems to readily accept that premise, at least in regard to the Ten Commandments. No Bible believer would deny that the Ten Commandments are to be obeyed, that they are still relevant for today and timeless in their application. Yet while saying that there is in fact one commandment that is no longer considered valid for the New Testament age.
Exodus 20:8-11 - Remember theSabbathh day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is theSabbathh of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed theSabbathh day, and hallowed it.
We do not believe that we are under the law of the Sabbath, even though it is one of the Ten Commandments. We do not observe the Sabbath but instead utilize the first day of the week for our worship. While we may draw some comparisons between the Sabbath and the Lord's Day no one would venture to conclude they were the same. I even have doubts about the term, Christian Sabbath. There is only one Sabbath and that is on the seventh day. The scripture is quite clear on this point. Within the Ten Commandments we have made a distinction even though all ten were Old Testament law. The point is how are the distinctions to be made.
There are three areas of Old Testament law. They are as follows:
1. The moral law
2. The civil law
3. The ceremonial law
The Scripture itself allows for a three-fold division of the law. The divisions are referred to as commandments, statutes, and judgments. The commandments are the moral law. The statutes are the ceremonial law. The judgments are the civil law.
Deuteronomy 6:1 - Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it:
It is important to note the distinction between these three terms. Again Gill is helpful in understanding that a distinction exists.
Not the ten commandments repeated in the preceding chapter, but all others, whether moral, ceremonial, or judicial, afterwards declared; . . . .
Let us take a closer look at the three words used to express the respective divisions within the law.
Commandment is from mitsvah mits-vaw ; a command, whether human or divine (collectively, the Law):(which was) commanded(-ment), law, ordinance, precept. It comes from the root word tsavah tsaw-vaw; to constitute, enjoin:appoint, (for-)bid, (give a) charge, (set) in order. So that we understand that the word commandment has reference to what is commanded. It identifies behavior that we are bidden to enjoin or in which we are forbidden to participate. The commandments establish the behavior of right and wrong.
Statutes is from choq khoke; an enactment; hence, an appointment (of time, space, quantity, labor or usage):appointed, bound, commandment, convenient, custom, decree(-d), due, law, measure, X necessary, ordinance(-nary), portion, set time, statute, task. It comes from the root word chaqaq khaw-kak; to hack, i.e. engrave; by implication, to enact (laws being cut in stone or metal tablets in primitive times) or (gen.) prescribe. We see that a statute is an appointment that is made and an enactment that is provided for direction and to be observed as a custom. It is something that is prescribed. In this case the statutes were appointed to establish their religious customs. The provided the prescribed means of approaching Jehovah.
Judgments is from mishpat mish-pawt; a verdict (favorable or unfavorable) pronounced judicially, especially a sentence or formal decree (human or divine law, individual or collective), including the act, the place, the suit, the crime, and the penalty; abstractly, justice, including a participants right or privilege (statutory or customary). It comes from the root word shaphat shaw-fat; to judge, i.e. pronounce sentence (for or against); by implication, to vindicate or punish; by extension, to govern. The judgments have reference to the punishments that were assigned to the infractions. The judgments instructed the people how they were to govern themselves under God's authority. He assessed the penalty or judgment. The elders were responsible for executing the sentence.
The law consisted of commandments, statutes, and judgments. The commandments were an expression of what God expected from his people. The statutes were God's prescribed method of approaching him. The judgments were God's penalties that were assessed to the transgressions. So that the law provided the people with a complete means of governing themselves in relation to behavior, religion, and punishing the evil doer.
The moral law is the expression of right and wrong as found in the books of Moses. The moral law is the never changing expression of God's mind on a host of moral issues. The civil penalty is the judgment that was attached to the law. The nation of Israel was founded as a theocracy. God was their king and it was his moral precepts that were the basis of their penal code. God committed the execution of the penalty into the hands of the people. Where there was a breech of the moral precepts the penalty was to be enacted in most cases by the elders of the city. Then there is the ceremonial law. This law had to do with the practice of their religion. It involved everything from priesthood, to sacrifice, to divers kinds of washings, to certain things that God put in place to be illustrative to the people. Because we do not live under a theocracy and are no longer worshipping by a system of sacrifice does not negate the simple declarations of what is right and what is wrong. The moral precepts stand unchanged.
The moral law is that which expresses the mind of God concerning moral issues. The issues can concern a man's relationship to God or a man's relationship to his fellow man. The Ten Commandments provide a concise example of how God speaks to both concerns.
Exodus 20:3 - Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Exodus 20:4 - Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
Exodus 20:7 - Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
These are moral precepts that denote ones responsibility to God.
Exodus 20:12 - Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
Exodus 20:13 - Thou shalt not kill.
Exodus 20:14 - Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Exodus 20:15 - Thou shalt not steal.
Exodus 20:16 - Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Exodus 20:17 - Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
These are moral precepts that denote one's responsibility to man.
It does not seem that there should be that much disagreement about what constitutes a moral precept.
Exodus 22:25 - If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.
Exodus 22:28 - Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.
Exodus 23:1 - Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.
Exodus 23:2 - Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:
Exodus 23:6 - Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.
Exodus 23:9 - Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Leviticus 18:12-16 - Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's sister: she is thy father's near kinswoman. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister: for she is thy mother's near kinswoman. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son's wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife: it is thy brother's nakedness.
Leviticus 18:22 - Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
Leviticus 19:13 - Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.
Leviticus 19:14 - Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:15 - Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.
Leviticus 19:16 - Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:17 - Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.
Deuteronomy 19:14 - Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.
Deuteronomy 22:1 - Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.
Deuteronomy 22:4 - Thou shalt not see thy brother's ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again.
Deuteronomy 22:5 - The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Deuteronomy 22:8 - When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.
These are given merely as an example of some areas where it is clear that God is dealing with moral issues. The last one is especially interesting because it is often sighted by those who are seeking to discredit those who appeal to Deuteronomy 22:5 as forbidding women from wearing men's apparel. The question is, ' do you stand so strongly on verse 5 and seem to ignore the surrounding verses like verse 8? It is my opinion that verse eight is just as much a moral precept as verse 5. There are two things to keep in mind here. One is that we do not commonly use our roofs as places of entertainment in western culture. If we did I think it would only be morally right to build a rail around the roof to secure those who gathered there from any unreasonable danger. Another thing to keep in mind is that where there is an equivalent concern in our society the intent of this precept is often made into law or ordinance. For example where there are raise balconies. Is it not the code and common sense for that matter to provide railings. Where there are stairs is it not code and common sense to provide railings. Another place where the principle is found is in the ordinances that exist concerning the securing of swimming pools. Failing to provide for the reasonable security of visitors to your property is morally wrong. In the same way it is morally wrong for a woman to wear a man's apparel and for a man to wear a woman's apparel. This moral precept is designed to maintain a distinction between the sexes. The blurring of these lines in our culture has led to a host of other ills. It is not much of a jump from considering clothing gender neutral to simply considering gender itself neutral.
It is likewise self-evident that the civil penalties attached to the law were the result of their form of government. Israel was a theocracy and God determined the punishment for each offense. It was committed into the hands of the people to execute the penalty.
It is the responsibilities of government to legislate and assign penalty. The closer governments move to embracing the mind of God on the issues the more social order there will be. But governments are commissioned with that responsibility. That is why we do not take it upon ourselves to execute witches, adulterers, and rebellious children. When the Lord Jesus Christ reigns from Jerusalem whose laws do you think will be implemented? We are told on several occasions that he will rule with a rod of iron. I am convinced that it will be his law as given in the Old Testament. That governments are charged with this responsibility is beyond dispute.
Romans 13:1-4 - Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
The point is that we have no obligation to execute the punishments that are laid out in the Old Testament law. While we should support our government in the execution of just laws we are not to take the law into our own hands.
The ceremonial law was for a purpose that has been fulfilled. The book of Hebrews goes to great length to express how that Christ fulfilled both the priesthood and the sacrifice.
The entire ceremonial law saw its culmination in Christ. As a result we no longer need the priesthood or the system of sacrifice and all its attendant washings and cleansings.
Colossians 2:16,17 - Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect ofSabbathyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
All of the ceremonial law was nothing more than a shadow that Christ was throwing back over the Old Testament.
There is also that aspect of the law, which was primarily illustrative while at the same time possibly having some practical advantage. For example:
Leviticus 19:19 - Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.
It is difficult to assess any real moral implications to these precepts. Again there may be some practical advantage but it seems that the primary purpose is to provide an object lesson for the people about separation. All around them there were precepts like this that were to be obeyed and they would all serve to remind the people that God expected separation. If he expected separation in these areas how much more would he expect separation among godly and ungodly men? Gill's commentary is helpful on this point.
. . . to teach the saints not to mix with the men of the world, in evil conversation, or in superstitious worship; . . . or good and bad men may be signified by the mingled seed; good men, who are made so by the grace of God, and are the good seed, or the good ground which receives it, which hear the word, understand it, and bring forth fruit; bad men, such as are of bad principles and practices, these are not to be mixed together in a church state; bad men are neither to be received nor retained: . . . the design of this, as of the other, seems to be in general to caution against unnatural lusts and impure mixtures, and all communion of good and bad men, . . .
It can, I believe, be agreed upon that the ceremonial law was fulfilled in Christ. The civil penalty was the result of the form of government under which they existed. It is the moral law that demands our attention. While there may be a few exception most of the time it is clear when God is dealing with moral precepts. The moral precepts are those that have to do with a man's behavior, whether it is his behavior toward God or his fellow man. When God speak concerning these area the commandments are, as a rule, timeless. What was wrong for men in Moses' day is still wrong. The application may be slightly different but the precept is still relevant.
Another important question to be asked is, what is the function and purpose of the law? This two-pronged question is easily answered from the scriptures. There is no ambiguity in this area. Having firmly established the divine nature of the law the next chapter will be devoted to the reasons for the law.