No Division in the Mosaic Law
SOME religious organizations hold that the Mosaic Law was in two parts: the Decalogue, or “moral law”, and the “ceremonial law”. They claim that the Decalogue is still binding whereas the “ceremonial law” passed away with Messiah’s coming.
Much is made of this division, particularly by such sects as hold that the Christian’s sabbath is the seventh day of the week and that a literal observance of it is imperative to salvation. When scriptures are quoted showing that Christ made an end to the law these reply that such texts apply only to the “ceremonial law”. Let us examine the Scriptural record and ascertain whether such division is sound.
Jesus in the sermon on the mount did not indicate any such division. He interspersed references to the Decalogue between references to other parts of the Mosaic law, such as the matter of bringing gifts to the altar, of granting a divorce, of an “eye for an eye”, and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Compare Matthew 5:21, 23, 24, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43 with Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 16:16, 17; Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 24:1; Leviticus 19:12; Deuteronomy 19:21; and Leviticus 19:18.
It was therefore regarding the entire law arrangement that Jesus said: “Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill; for truly I say to you that sooner would heaven and earth pass away than for the smallest letter or one particle of a letter to pass away from the Law by any means and not all things take place.” (Matt. 5:17, 18, NW) Jesus thereby showed that the law consisted of prophetic pictures which were certain of fulfillment, and when the fulfillment came the pictures were done away with.
For instance, the Israelites were obligated to observe the passover annually. But when Christ, the real passover Lamb, was sacrificed the requirement to observe the typical passover passed away. (Ex. 12:14; 1 Cor. 5:7, 8) Annually also the high priest entered into the holy of holies in the temple on the tenth day of the seventh month with the blood of atonement. But after Christ Jesus entered the holy of the holies of the heavens with the merit of his own blood, animal sacrifices had no further value.—Lev. 16:14; Heb. 9:11-14; 10:1.
PAUL MAKES NO DIVISION
The apostle Paul had much to say about the laws that God gave to the Israelites by the hand of Moses, but we look in vain for any division between the Decalogue and the other features of the law arrangement. When he stated that “[God] kindly forgave us all our trespasses and blotted out the handwritten document against us which consisted of decrees and which was in opposition to us, and He has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake”, he was not referring to merely the so-called “ceremonial law”. How do we know? Because of his argument in the context: “Therefore let no man judge you in eating and drinking or in respect of a feast day or of an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath, for those things are a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ.” (Col. 2:13, 14, 16, 17, NW) To argue this refers only to yearly sabbaths is to admit one’s case so weak that it is cornered without the slightest proof.
Again, at Romans 7:6 (NW), we read: “But now we have been discharged from the Law, because we have died to that by which we were being held fast, that we might be slaves in a new sense by the spirit, and not in the old sense by the written code.” Only the “ceremonial law”? No. Paul included the Decalogue or “moral law” in this “written code”, quoting the tenth commandment in the following verse. He continued: “What, then, shall we say? Is the Law sin? Never may that become so! Really I would not have come to know . . . covetousness if the Law had not said, ‘You must not covet.’” (Rom. 7:7, NW) Yes, the law from which Christians were discharged included the Decalogue.
Note also Paul’s words at Galatians 3:24, 25 (NW): “Consequently, the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that this faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor.” Clearly, by showing their need of a Redeemer the Decalogue pointed as directly to the Messiah as did the other parts of the law arrangement such as their annual atonement sacrifices. And having directed the Jews to Christ the law arrangement had served its purpose.
Nor can we find any basis for a division in the Mosaic law in Paul’s words as recorded at Galatians 4:21-31, NW, where Paul speaks to those Jewish Christians who still wanted to be under the law of Moses. He contrasts Sinai in Arabia with the Jerusalem which is from above and shows how the one was pictured by Hagar and the other by the free woman Sarah. The entire law arrangement was given at Mount Sinai, not just the so-called “ceremonial law”, and if Christians are free from the Hagar-Sinai arrangement then they are also free from the Decalogue. Paul then urges Christians to stand fast for freedom, since it was for freedom that Christ set them free. (Gal. 5:1) But how could Christians be said to be free if they were still bound by the Decalogue? Neither the law of Moses nor trying to keep it can bring righteousness, but only the blood of Christ. (Rom. 3:19, 20; 1 John 1:7) Christians are “not under law but under undeserved kindness”.—Rom. 6:14, NW.
Discussing the end of the Mosaic law, Paul at another place states: “But now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have come to be near by the blood of the Christ. For he is our peace, he who made the two parties one and destroyed the wall in between that fenced them off. By means of his flesh he abolished the hatred, the Law of commandments consisting in decrees, that he might create the two peoples in union with himself into one new man and make peace, and that he might fully reconcile both peoples in one body to God through the torture stake, because he had killed off the hatred by means of himself.” (Eph. 2:13-16, NW) It was the entire law arrangement and not only the so-called “ceremonial law” that distinguished the Jews from the people of the nations, and it was this entire arrangement, “the Law of commandments consisting in decrees,” which served as a wall or barrier, that was removed by Christ.
Neither can we find a basis for dividing the Mosaic law in Paul’s words as found at 2 Corinthians 3, where he shows that the law arrangement was replaced by something better, a new covenant. The entire law arrangement is included in the “stone tablets” and the “written law” which condemned to death and which were replaced by the laws written by the spirit and upon the hearts and which make alive. “Moreover, if the code which administers death and which was engraved in letters in stones came about in a glory, . . . why should not the administering of the spirit be much more with glory? . . . For if that which was to be done away with was brought in with glory, much more would that which remains be with glory.” (2 Cor. 3:7-11, NW) Clearly the entire law arrangement was brought in with glory and it was the Decalogue or so-called “moral law” that was engraved “in letters in stones”. All of it administered death to the Jews and all of it was done away with for something better.
SABBATH ALSO DONE AWAY WITH
But some will argue that God commanded the sabbath to be observed as a “perpetual covenant . . . for ever”. (Ex. 31:16, 17, AS) True, the word “perpetual” is there used, but note that the Hebrew original which is ohláhm does not mean throughout eternity, but to an indefinite, uncertain, concealed length of time. The same word is used in connection with other features of the law arrangement, such as the Aaronic priesthood, which the apostle Paul shows passed away. In that connection also note that Paul declares that a change of priesthood meant also a change of laws.—Ex. 40:15; Lev. 6:18, 22; Hebrews, chapter 7.
Until the law arrangement was nailed to the torture stake Jesus and his apostles kept all of its provisions, as they were born under the law. But thereafter they were no longer so obligated and gradually this matter was made clear to the Christians. (Acts 10) The mere fact that thereafter Paul preached on the sabbath does not indicate that he considered sabbath observance binding, no more than his preaching on Mar’s hill indicated that he approved of the worship of Mars. Paul preached at every opportune occasion, place and time. Since the sabbath was a day of rest for the Jews and on which they would congregate in the market places and the synagogues, Paul made use of it to preach the good news to them. In the same way convenience indicates that public talks in Christendom be given on Sundays. Paul himself gave no command regarding the keeping of the sabbath and he states that he had not failed to declare the whole counsel of God. On the contrary, he showed that the sabbath was pictorial.—Acts 20:27; Hebrews, chapters 3 and 4.
ASSEMBLY AT JERUSALEM
In this connection note the action taken by the assembly of apostles and older brothers convened at Jerusalem to determine what features of the law arrangement were still to be complied with by the converts to Christianity from among the Gentiles. Arguing against fastening the yoke of the law on the shoulders of the new converts, Peter said: “Now, therefore, why are you making a test of God by imposing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our forefathers nor we were capable of bearing? On the contrary, we trust to get saved through the undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus in the same way as those people also.” (Acts 15:10, 11, NW) The unbearable yoke could not have been limited merely to the so-called “ceremonial law”, for the Decalogue was a far greater burden. Note also that salvation comes, not by trying to keep the Decalogue, but through the “undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus”.
And what did the governing body of the early Christian church there assembled instruct the new Christian converts to do? Keep the Ten Commandments? Observe the sabbath day? No, but rather: “Since we have heard that some from among us have disturbed you with speeches trying to subvert your souls, although we did not give them any instructions, we have come to a unanimous accord . . . For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep yourselves free from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things killed without draining their blood and from fornication. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper.” (Acts 15:24-29, NW) Since the very question raised was regarding what features of the law were still valid, what an opportunity the brothers there missed to make unequivocally clear that sabbath observance was still compulsory if such were the case!
CHRISTIANS UNDER A POSITIVE LAW
Those who hold that the Ten Commandments still apply and that the other features of the law arrangement which can no longer be carried out were part of the “ceremonial law” which passed away evidently hold so tenaciously to the Decalogue because of fear of what would happen if Christians were without that guide or rule. They fail to consider that God’s laws for his servants differ from time to time. The nation of Israel, for instance, was commanded to use carnal weapons and act as God’s executioner, but Christians are specifically told that their weapons are not carnal.—1 Sam. 15:2, 3; 2 Cor. 10:4, 5.
But the removal of the Decalogue need arouse no fears or apprehensions. At best it was but a negative approach to righteousness. The law of the Christians is a positive one: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Matt. 7:12; 22:37-40) The goats, in the illustration of the sheep and the goats, were sentenced to destruction not because of breaking any of the negative commandments but because of failure to do good to Christ’s brothers. (Matt. 25:45) The rich young ruler who wanted to gain everlasting life had kept the Ten Commandments, but that was not enough. (Matt. 19:16-24) For other similar examples illustrating the same point see Luke 10:29-37; 18:9-14.
In Jesus’ farewell to his disciples, did he emphasize: ‘make no idols, keep the sabbath, do not steal or kill or commit adultery or bear false witness’? What strange admonition that would have been. Rather he said positively: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you.”—John 13:33-35, NW.
The apostle Paul likewise shows the superiority of the positive law of love over the negative law of Moses: “Do not be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another; for he that loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. . . . and whatever other commandment there is, is summed up in this word, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore love is the law’s fulfillment.”—Rom. 13:8-10, NW.
Likewise with the apostle John. In his first and chief epistle, what does he emphasize? The keeping of the Ten Commandments? No, but the supreme importance of love. “He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8, NW) So there is no need to fear about the removal of the Decalogue when it is replaced by love.
The division of the law given to Moses into a “moral law”, the Decalogue, and a “ceremonial law”, relating to other matters of conduct and worship, is thus seen to be without support of Scripture, logic or necessity. Instead of showing a division, both Jesus and his disciples treat the entire law arrangement as a unit, as a shadow, as a tutor, which Jehovah God nailed to Jesus’ torture stake after its purpose was accomplished. God’s servants since that time have been “not under law but under undeserved kindness”.—Rom. 6:14, NW.