Biblical Laws

God’s law reflects God’s Will regarding his standard of righteousness.

The word law can be viewed as a term that represents the revelation of God’s standard to humankind. Law began in the Garden with the commandment not to eat of the forbidden tree.

Biblical law is characterized as commandments, statutes, and judgements. Commandments are that which we are to observe (do or not do). Statutes are the ordinances that tell us in greater detail how we are to live according to God’s standard. Judgments instruct us how we are to judge various situations and actions of people. 2 Chronicles 19:10 has the phrase “law, commandment, statutes, and judgments” to emphasize both the whole (law) and the individual aspects of the law.

The first place the word law appears in the Bible other than having to do with marriage (as in father-in-law) is in Genesis 47:26 where it says: “And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part; except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh’s.”

In Gen 47:26 the word law is used to establish a civil taxation law as in an ordinance, statute, commandment, a charge. It is a law established by a human as a matter of human preference and God given human authority. The Hebrew word used is choq (H2706). This Hebrew word is translated numerous other times in the KJV as statute or ordinance as well as some other words. It is different from and more generic than Torah for it precedes Torah.

The word Torah (H8451) is the Hebrew word used for law given by God in the Old Testament. In the New Testament the Greek equivalent used for law Given by God is the word nomos (G3551). Nomos refers to both the law of Moses and the Gospel (Law of Christ). The context in which the word is used determines to what extent, if any, if refers to the law of Moses and/or the law of Christ.

The Hebrew word Torah first appears in scripture in relation to Abraham (Gen 26:5) where it says: “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” We know that Abraham did not have all of the Torah as later would be given to Moses. Therefore, it is clear that the Torah (that is, the law of God) has changed over time. Therefore, it is not without precedence for the law to change under the New Covenant of Christ (Hebrews 7:11).

God speaks of his laws being written on the hearts of humankind. For even before and during God giving the documented law written with hands of men, God interacted with humans giving them instructions and explaining his law to them. We see this in the case of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Noah, Enoch, and Abraham among others. Scriptures such as Romans 1:19-20 and Romans 2:14-16 speak of God not only giving his law to Israel but also to Gentiles.

God chose Israel to be that nation through whom he would reveal his written law to all humankind. Under the law of Moses, the primary audience was the Israelite as the written law first came under Moses to biological Israel. Yet, that audience included those non-Israelites who came to join the family of God as represented by the nation of Israel. These non-Israelites are classified as proselytes. Therefore, the law has never been meant for just Israelites by design nor practice.

One major difference of proselytization under Moses from that under Christ is that under Christ Israel is SENT into the world to proselytize Gentiles rather than waiting for Gentiles to come to Israel.  Proselytized Gentiles are also SENT to Israelites and other Gentiles.

Perhaps the most prominent difference is that God’s law now encourages humans to extend grace to fellow humans rather than inflicting physical or socio-economic harm on fellow humans for violation of God’s will or standard of righteousness.

So then God initially used the prophet Moses for his revelatory purpose. Later he used other prophets under the Old Covenant/Testament as the primary vehicle through whom he revealed and documented his standard.

Then came Jesus (Yeshua, etc.) Christ who God used for his revelatory purposes (Hebrews 1:1-2). This Jesus who ushered in the New Covenant at his death on the cross (Hebrews 9:15-18) having before hand given us a precursor example (John 8:1-11) of increased grace and elimination of God’s requirement of death at the hands of humans under the New Covenant.

Jesus raised the standard to focus more on the inner man than the outer person. In so doing the new standard is compliance to the spirit of the law rather than the letter (as written) of the law. This is illustrated by his response to those who accused him of violating the Sabbath laws. He instructed them that he was in compliance with the spirit of the Sabbath law even though not in the letter of the Sabbath laws. The letter of the law says healing is work and no work is to be done on the Sabbath. But the spirit of the law says if the healer is not going to be in town tomorrow and a person needs healing today, then it is right to heal the person today for his healing can bring more glory to God than not working on the Sabbath. In fact, may hospitals do just that everyday of the week including the Sabbath.

Under the New Covenant/Testament, God used apostles of Jesus Christ as the primary vehicle through whom he revealed and documented his standard as compiled in what we know as the Holy Bible. He also secondarily used other ministers such as prophets. Today God uses Ministers and Witnesses of Christ to continue that work consistent with the foundation laid by Christ and the faithful biblical apostles.

It is abundantly clear that God revelation of his written standard has been progressive. God’s revealed standard has changed in both detail and scope as to whom the revelation is made known.

Under Christ, the written law was upgraded and given not only to Israel but also SENT to the rest of the world on a large scale.

Just as the law changed under Moses from what it was under Abraham and before Abraham, the law changed when Christ was born.

The Torah yet applies. Yet not all the Torah yet applies for some of it has been superseded by God’s law as given under Christ. One example of where the Torah yet applies is given in Eph 6:2 which is a quote from Exodus 20:12 concerning honoring parents .  One example of where the Torah does not still apply is given in Acts 15 where it clearly says people are not to be cut off for not getting circumcised.

Below are the Ten Commandments and some examples of where they are found in the New Testament. Note that John, James, and Paul writings of the Holy Spirit occurred after Jesus death on the cross. Therefore, it would be illogical to say they only applied before Jesus death on the cross.

1) Do not worship any other gods — Exodus 20:3 — Matthew 4:10; 22:27; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Timothy 2:5

2) Do not make idols — Exodus 20:4-6 — 1 Cor 6:9; 10:14; Eph 5:5; 1 John 5:21

3) Do not misuse the name of the LORD — Exodus 20:7 — James 5:12;1 Timothy 6:1

4) Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. — Exodus 20:8-11 — Matthew 12:8; 24:20; Mar 2:27-28; Luke 4:16; 23:56; Acts 13:14; 15:21; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4-11; Hebrews 4:1-11; Galatians 3:1-3; 4:10; Colossians 3:16; Rom 14:5

5) Honor your father and your mother — Exodus 20:12 — Matthew 15:3-6; 19:16-21; Ephesians 6:1–2

6) Do not murder — Exodus 20:13 — Matthew 5:21-22; 19:16-21; Romans 13:9; Gal 5:19-21; 1 Peter 4:15

7) Do not commit adultery — Exodus 20:14 — Matthew 5:27-28; 19:16-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10

8 ) Do not steal — Exodus 20:15 — Matthew 19:16-21; Ephesians 4:28

9) Do not give false testimony — Exodus 20:16 — Matthew 19:16-21; Col 3:9; Eph 4:25; Revelation 21:8

10) Do not covet — Exodus 20:17 — Romans 7:7; Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5

Obedience to the Sabbath commandment is more about spirit (Rom 7:6; 2 Cor 3:6) than letter.

Indeed, people have various formula today for determining what day is the Sabbath.

Example formulas include:

1) New Moon Sabbath Keepers – Here the Sabbath is the 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th of each Hebrew month regardless of what corresponding Gregorian Calendar Day of Week (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday) those dates fall on. This is the only formula that can be tied to the Pentateuch Books of Moses. In Bible Days with Moses and the Priests and the Sanhedrin Council this formula was workable. But today this formula is extremely difficult if not impossible to follow unless one owns his/her own business or works for an employer who supports the New Moon Sabbath formula. Even then connecting with enough folks to assemble on the changing days of the week may be difficult since the holy convocation of Leviticus 23:3 is community worship not individual worship. Moreover, the issue of who determines the correct New Moon Date and Time is a consideration. Most New Moon Sabbath Keepers in America seem to trust the American Governments National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) New Moon data. But that is far different than having religious people like in the days of Moses and the Sanhedrin Council with the appropriate command and control and communication structure.

2) Some use the Seven Day Calendar Day of the Week Formula either where Sunday is the first calendar day and therefore Saturday is the seventh day; this is the case for United States of America, Canada, and Israel. Other’s calendars show Monday as the first calendar day of the week and therefore Sunday as the seventh day; this is the case for Britain, France, and Germany in compliance with the International Standards Organization (ISO) decision of 1988. This method has no basis in the law of Moses or the prophets or the Sanhedrin Council. The words Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday do not exist in the Bible. Some claim Sunday ties to the first seventh day of the week as mentioned in Gen 2:1. But that is mere speculation on their part. Nowhere in scripture does it say Saturday is the seventh day. In fact, the word Saturday is from the Roman God of the planet Saturn. Therefore, they cannot prove that the Romans did not name the fifth day of Genesis 1 Saturday or any of the other non-seventh day.

Hence regarding the when, how, and to what extent one keeps the Sabbath, the applicability of Col 2:16 which says let no one judge you as to Sabbath days and Rom 14:5 which says let each be persuaded in his or her own mind. It is abundantly clear that it is best for every human to work no more than six days and take at least one day a week to worship in assembly with others and to physically, mentally, and otherwise rest from everyday production of goods and services not only for the person’s well being but also for that of his/her family. It is abundantly clear that employers are to follow this principle with respect to themselves and their employees/contractors.

It is useful to divide the biblical laws into three categories as given below.  However, one should note that the Bible does not divide the laws into such categories.  This is similar to the fact that the original manuscripts do not divide the text into chapters and verses.  The chapters and verses were added by humans to facilitate reference.  So it is with dividing the laws into the below mentioned categories.  Note that some laws cross categories.

There are three types of laws in the scriptures: moral laws, ceremonial or religious laws, and civil laws. Herein the word ceremonial is used primarily to refer to the vertical relationships between God and humans whereas civil refers to the horizontal relationships between humans.  Ceremonial and civil laws encode and/or teach  moral laws/principles.

Generally, strictly moral laws focus on individual/personal activities to include activities involving consecration unto the Lord as a peculiar people, a people different than surrounding people. Moral laws include personal diet (Leviticus 11:1-47; Acts 10:9-16), personal dress (Deuteronomy 22:5; 1 Tim 2:9-10) and personal hair and skin grooming including facial hair and cuttings such as tattoos (Leviticus 19:27-28; 21:5; Isaiah 22:12; 1 Peter 2:4-10). It certainly would be difficult for a man with a beard to put on a dress and go around pretending or claiming he is a woman. But so would it also be for a man with a mustache even without a beard.  So maybe the beard and dress provisions go together.

Ceremonial laws generally focus on actions of priests and interactions with priests.

Civil laws generally focus on interactions between people in the community whether private or public.

Criminal laws are included in both ceremonial and civil where the word criminal apply to laws involving more than financial restitution.

Collectively, these laws teach us that we do not measure up to the nature of God for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and all need a Saviour outside of ourselves.

Moral laws (e.g., Exodus 20:1-17) provide the foundation (e.g., love, holiness,  murder, adultery, justice, judgement, respect) for ceremonial and civil laws as they establish the fundamental doctrines, principles, will, and nature of God.  Moral laws also provide or imply potential of eternal penalties for violation.  Mercy withholds the measure of punishment we deserve; grace grants the measure of blessing we don’t deserve.  The highest measure of grace and mercy came/comes in the form of Jesus Christ.

The Decalogue or Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) is a key foundational expression of the moral laws established by God.  The first four have focus on love for God.  The latter six focus on love for humankind to include oneself.  The fourth says to remember the sabbath and keep it holy.   The sabbath like all of the ten commandments is a moral law. Under Moses, the Sabbath moral law had ceremonial law implementations.  Each of the Ten Commandments are mentioned in the New Testament as part of what God expects disciples of Christ to strive to do.  They are not mentioned in a list as in Exodus 20 but one can find each of them in the New Testament though some if not all are expanded upon and clarified as in the case of adultery and the Sabbath.  In the reference section is a link to a chart that shows some correspondence between Old Testament Ten Commandments and the New Testament inclusion of them.

Ceremonial laws (e.g., Leviticus 1:1-17) regulate how one worships and relate to God. This includes, but not limited to, cleanliness, sacrifices, as well as authorities, responsibilities, obligations of priests and non-priests.  It also includes tithing. These are the customs and statutes.  These also include feasts and festivals celebrating God’s work in Israel and/or among or on behalf of his people.  It may also includes dietary and clothing restrictions especially concerning priests as well as other restrictions; many restrictions were intended to distinguish the Israelites from other nations.  The spirit of these feasts/festivals and restrictions carry forward to the New Covenant although the letter does not (John 17:14; 1 Cor 5:6-8; 2 Cor 3:6).

Most if not all Old Covenant ceremonial laws apply to Israelites only.  New Covenant ceremonies/feasts/festivals apply to Christians only.

For example, the Old Testament Passover applies to Israelites primarily since it is a remembrance of their ancestors’ freedom from slavery; this includes the performance of it by Jesus and the apostles before Jesus death on the cross.  Yet, Christians may celebrate it out of remembrance for what God has done for his people; but Christians are not required to celebrate it as Christ is the Christian Passover/Easter (1 Cor 5:6-8; Acts 12:4).  The Lord’s Supper apply only to Christians.

Ceremonial laws remind people of things like thanksgiving, obedience, holiness, sin, atonement,judgement, repentance, forgiveness, and salvation.

Old Testament ceremonial laws ended at the cross for they were insufficient for the permanent atonement for sin in that they were temporary and pointed to Christ (Mark 15:38; John 19:28-30; Hebrews 10:1-4; Colossians 2:14).  Jesus brought an end to the ceremonial laws but not the moral laws (Matthew 5:17-20; 1 John 3:4; 5:17).  New Covenant ceremonial laws include the Lord’s Supper.

Civil laws (e.g., Deuteronomy 24:1-22) regulate behavior (e.g., killing, stealing, adultery) between persons in daily living and temporal penalties (e.g., imprisonment, restitution) for violation.  Governmental laws are civil laws with a moral foundation. Religious/Church/Synagogue laws are ceremonial with a moral foundation.  These also form customs and statutes.

Civil and ceremonial laws apply to a particular culture, nation, location and generation.  Some may be shared by various cultures, nations, locations, and generations. Biblical Old Testament civil and ceremonial laws apply to the Jews under the Old Covenant.  They do not apply under the New Covenant except where they are brought forward in modified or unmodified terms into the New Covenant.

Biblical Old Testament civil and ceremonial laws primarily apply to biological Israel. They have never applied to the non-Israelite except when they were physically a part of or in Biblical Old Testament Israel. In Acts 15 the apostles attest to this truth in their consideration of circumcision concerning Gentiles. This truth applies to Gentiles who are a part of  spiritual Israel.

However since both the Old and New Testament Laws are righteous, non-biological Israelites may choose to comply with OT ceremonial laws and civil laws as long as there is no conflict with the doctrine of Salvation through Christ as specified in the New Testament.

Persons may also choose to comply with Leviticus 11 dietary laws though they have been superseded by Peter’s vision in Acts 10.

Persons may also choose to comply with Leviticus 19 and 21 head and facial hair laws though according to the spirit of Acts 15 such laws are not mandatory for Gentiles though the moral spirit/principles of consecration of such laws are yet applicable. This non-mandatory nature of such laws is especially applicable given the widespread disagreement in both Judaism and Christianity and other circles as to what the letter of Leviticus 11, 19, 21 and Acts 10 says, means, and allows.

Under the New Covenant, God gives  churches and nations the liberty and right to devise and implement their own ceremonial and civil laws as long as such laws are consistent with the spirit but not necessarily the letter of the moral laws/principles established in the Old and New Testaments.

The sabbath is implemented as ceremonial and civil laws; the implementation therefore may differ across cultures, nations, locations, and generations.

Since moral laws are foundational, they cut across civil and ceremonial laws to the extent some of the same terminology is employed or some measure thereof, e.g., murder, theft.  Also, since moral laws are foundational, they transcend all cultures, nations, locations, and generations as they are eternal.

The ceremonial and civil laws taught and implemented moral laws as well as foreshadowed things to come (Galatians 3:18-26; Colossians 2:14-17; Hebrews 10:1-10).

Jesus and Paul discuss the greatest commandment, foundation of the law and prophets, and fulfilment of the law (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8-10).  They establish that love provides the framework for compliance to all three types of laws: moral, ceremonial, and civil.

For laws allowing Egyptians and Edomites to enter the congregation of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:7-8).

For laws governing Gentiles (Strangers):

  • Are not to vex or oppress the stranger in buying or selling (Exodus 22:21)
  • Are not to intermarry with the stranger (Deuteronomy 7:1,3)
  • Are to love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19)
  • Aare allowed to force payment of the debt of an alien but not of an Israelite (Deuteronomy 15:3)
  • Are allowed to lend to an alien at interest but not to an Israelite (Deuteronomy. 23:20)

For more details on the sabbath click here

For more details on dietary laws click here.

For info on beards click here.


List –

Old Testament Ten Commandments Scriptures and New Testament Scriptures Correspondence Chart

Divisions of Old Testament Laws

Distinction Between Moral, Ceremonial, and Civil Laws

Moral Laws in Old Testament

All 613 Commandments in the Old Testament Law

613 Laws in the Old Testament – Another Perspective

613 Laws in the Old Testament – Another Perspective 2

613 Laws in the Old Testament – Another Perspective 3

Ceremonial Laws

Below is a link to one list of New Testament Laws.  Of course, the foundational law is given by Jesus in Matthew 22:34-40 concerning loving God first and then others as one loves oneself.

1050 New Testament Laws

Interpreting the Bible

Christianity Judaism Health Government

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *