By Pastor Travis Lauterbach
Confusion regarding God’s Law arises not only in discussions between Christians and non-Christians, but also among Christians.
Many Christians throughout the ages have recognized three types of law given in the Old Testament: civil, ceremonial, and moral.
The civil law is the national law of the Israelites after God delivered them from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. Because ancient Israel was a theocracy, and God is a God of order, these laws explain how the Israelites were to order themselves towards one another. They spelled out economic, societal, and criminal statutes.
The ceremonial laws included the sacrifices, rituals, etc. that the people of Israel were to follow as God’s special, unique people called by His grace, His undeserved kindness, to be His chosen nation. These laws reminded the Israelites of whom they were and looked forward to God’s salvation through the coming Messiah.
The moral Law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, indicate what is and what is not holy in God’s sight. While they were revealed to the Israelites after Moses received them on Mount Sinai, they are “written on the hearts of all men” (Romans 2:15). Therefore, things such as murder and theft are criminalized in various ways all around the globe.
Because Israel was a theocracy, these laws sometimes overlapped. Confusion often results because of this overlap when the laws are misunderstood.
Israel’s civil law doesn’t have to apply to all nations. For example, when Israel settled in the Promised Land, they were mostly a farming nation. So, many of the civil laws regard the welfare of a farming society don’t make much sense in industrialized nations.
Since the ceremonial law points to Jesus, and He has fulfilled the Law in His life, death, and resurrection, people are not required to offer sacrifices for their sins as the Israelites once did. Rather, Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Not all of the moral law (coveting) make good civil law, while others do (murder).
Distinguishing between these various laws and purposes may help lessen the confusion.