Dumb Teaching: Ceremonial, Civil, Moral

There is false teaching…and there is just dumb teaching.

For years people have told me to read the Old Testament Law in three categories: ceremonial laws (relating to sacrifice etc.), civil laws (relating to government etc.) and moral (relating to issues of right and wrong etc.)

Now apparently that type of dicing up the Old Testament law started with Thomas Aquinas. It’s been around for a long time.

But can we maybe stop talking this way?

You see, if you were living in ancient Israel how could you ever separate the moral from the civil? Or the moral from the ceremonial? Or even the civil from the ceremonial? They were all wrapped up together. It was immoral not to obey God in his civil law. And it was uncivil not to go to the temple and engage in the sacrifices at the temple.

I guess the reason people talk this way is because they are trying to teach that we need to submit to all the moral laws of the Old Testament even though we are now free from the ceremonial and the civil laws that related to Israel and her governance and sacrifices.

But how can I honestly go through the bible with a pen and just separate these categories so cut and dry? “Civil….yep…oh that one is definitely moral…oh and there’s ceremony.” That’s impossible.

No the reality is that the law was all one massive piece of work – the New Testament writers regard it as one, organic, interconnected whole: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:10). He’s talking about the whole thing.

So then, the million dollar question: do the Old Testament so-called “moral” laws apply to us today if moral, ceremonial, and civil are all interconnected” The new testament answer: “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest [i.e., Jesus] to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” (Hebrews 8:11-12 ESV)

So we are under the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21). And that same Christ is the one who on one hand completely fulfills the law without relaxing or abolishing it, and then takes the Ten Commandments and plows then deeper into our hearts then it ever had been before (Matthew 5:17-30). In sum, we have a new and greater and in many ways more difficult law in Christ than we did under the Old Covenant, which we can still learn from, but are no longer bound to.

(Man, I can’t believe I just called Aquinas’ teaching dumb…I feel kinda bad about that.)


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