Why do we reject some old testament laws yet still follow others? What is the difference between the civil, ceremonial and moral law?
What is the ceremonial law, civil law, and moral law?
Answer: In the old testament, we have distinctions between the law. The three different laws we find are judicial law, ceremonial law, and moral law. To better understand the law given to Moses Jews and Christians break them down into three parts. The civil law deals with individuals and authorities. The ceremonial law dealt exclusively with the nation of Israel. The moral law reflects the character of God. Civil laws will always change with the times, ceremonial laws were only for the nation of Israel during the old testament and the moral law continues to stay the same because God never changes.
The ceremonial law was unique to the nation of Israel. Many of these laws don’t make sense to the common man but God strictly enforced them with Israel to set this nation apart. Some of these laws include avoiding foods such as pork, rabbit, and sacrificing animals for sins. The nation of Israel would celebrate festivals and feasts in remembrance of what God had done for them. Additional laws include the law of atonement, offerings, and regulations for the priest.
As a Christian, we are not bound to this law. It was exclusively for the nation of Israel and they don’t apply to us today in the church age. Many times the critics of Christianity will say that Christians don’t follow the “full law”. Examples they will bring against Christians are the eating of shellfish, shrimp, and pork. Isn’t this against the Bible? No. It was the law for the nation of Israel. God told Peter in Acts 10:15 “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” in regards to foods.
Ceremonial laws found in the Bible:
Different offerings for sin (Lev. 1,2,3,4,5,6)
Rules for Priests (Lev. 21,22)
Purifying the home of lepers (Lev. 14:33-57; Num. 5:2)
Festivals (Lev. 23:1-25; Nu. 29:39)
Animals to avoid/ foods (Lev. 11:1-47)
Law of Atonement (Lev. 16:1-28;17:1-16)
Offerings (Num. 29:39)
Duties of the priest (Lev. 7:1-37)
These laws change depending on the culture and place in history. In the old testament, we see these laws in regards to murder and restitution. One great example of the civil law is found in Exodus (21:33-34). It reads as follows, “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.” Here we see that one man being responsible for a mistake or accident towards his neighbor. In the 21 century, we can compare this to a car accident. If you hit a car by accident you are still responsible for the damages done towards that other individual. The reason why Christians divide the Jewish laws into three sections is to better understand which laws are relevant today, which have changed and which are applicable (moral law) for all places, cultures, and time.
Civil laws found in the Bible:
Justice (Lev. 19:15)
Laws regarding divorce (Deut. 22:19)
Dealing with children (Deut. 21:18-21)
Dealing with Cattle (Deut. 22:1-4)
Law towards Debt (Lev. 23:34-43; Deut. 31:10)Rules for inheritance (Num. 18:26; 26:53-56; 36:8-12)
Dress, attire (Deut. 22:5)
Law dealing Kidnapping (Exodus 21:16)
Law dealing with redemption of property (Lev. 25)
Laws towards murder and killing (Deut. 21:1-4)
Law towards Robbery, bearing false witness etc. (Lev. 6:1-7)
Law towards the Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36)
Stealing (Deut. 5:19; Lev. 19:11)
Law towards fairness in commercial matters (Lev. 19:35f)
The moral law is based on Gods holy nature and character. These laws are just, unchanging and holy. These laws encompass regulations on sexual behavior, justice, and our attitude towards God. Some Christian groups debate whether the moral law of the old testament applies specifically to us in the church age. They suggest that Matthew (22:36-40) fulfills the moral law, which is true. Others would say that the ten commandments should be followed. Who is right or wrong? They both are true, if you love God and love your neighbor you won’t steal from them, or oppress your neighbor. Vice versa, if you follow Gods moral law as stated in the old testament you by implication are loving God and your neighbor.
Moral laws found in the Bible:
Law towards loving God (Deut. 6:4)
Law towards your neighbor (Lev. 19:18)
Law towards Idolatry (Lev. 26:1-13)
Law towards oppressing your neighbor (Lev. 19:13)
Law towards lying and stealing (Lev. 19:11)
Law towards adultery (Lev. 18:20)
Law towards homosexuality (Lev. 20:13)
Law towards bestiality (Lev. 18:23)
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