Moral Laws & Ceremonial Laws? What are the true divisions in Scripture?

When God redeemed His people from bondage in Egypt, He brought them to Sinai to make a Covenant with them. This agreement between YHVH and the people of Israel, commonly known as the Mosaic Covenant, contained a host of requirements and laws which God wanted His people to follow.

The majority of Mainstream Christianity has vilified and shunned this Law of God viewing it as a kind of bondage; as if God broke the Children of Israel from Egyptian Bondage only to put them back in bondage through His Law. Proponents of this idea submit that the “Old” Mosaic Covenant has been done away. Yet, we have seen in an earlier study that the Ten Commands are the basis for the Mosaic Covenant, and one cannot exist without the other. Some even go to the extent to say that the “Ten Commandments” have also been replaced with “2 New Commandments”, when it is quite clear that the Golden Rule is merely a summary of God’s Law.

In recent years, most Christians have viewed God’s Law to have 2 main divisions, namely

1) The Moral Law (consisting of moral precepts such as “The Ten Commands”) and
2) The Ceremonial Law (consisting of all other forms of precepts)

It is important to point out that the above classification is not found in the Bible and is a man-made division of His Law. It is just how some, if not most, theologians view the Law. Such a classification is inherently flawed as any person can give their own opinion on how the Law should be divided or adhered to. For example, one person could say “X” is part of the Moral Law and is in force, while another can say that the same “X” is part of the Ceremonial Law and is done away. Anyway, our objective will be to seek out the Scriptural divisions of the law instead of man-made divisions.

What does the Bible say? The Biblical Divisions of God’s Law
I believe that if there is any classification or division that Law is subjected to, it must be Biblical. Fortunately, we do see that the Scriptures and God Himself classifies His Law under a few categories. Although there maybe some classifications in the Law, this does not mean some parts take precedence over others. The whole body of the Law comes together under one Covenant, and as long as the Covenant stands, the minutest details will remain intact.

Let us now delve into the categories of Law mentioned in the Scriptures and the true meaning of all the terms God has used to describe His Law. The Law can be compartmentalized into the following sections:

  1. Dabar – (H1697) – Word, Matter, Saying
  2. Mishmereth – (H4931) – Ordinance, Charge, Watch, Duty, Observance.
  3. Khuqqah – (H2708) – Enactment, Appointment, Statute
  4. Mitzvah – (H4687) – Commandments, Precept
  5. Mishpat – (H4941) – Verdict, Judgement
  6. Torah – (H8451) – Law, Instruction

1. Dabar
The Hebrew word Dabar is generally used to refer to any “Matter” or “Word” which is said or done in the Hebrew Scriptures. This same word exclusively appears along side “Ten”, wherever the “Ten Commandments” are mentioned in our English Translations. In short, the 10 Commands would be better translated as “The Ten Words/Matters” as the Hebrew word used in these instances is not “Commandment”(Mitzvah) but “Matter/Word/Saying”(Dabar).

Exo 34:1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words(Dabar) that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.
Exo 34:28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words(Dabar) of the covenant, the ten commandments(Dabar).
Deu 4:13 And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments(Dabar); and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.
Deu 10:2 And I will write on the tables the words(Dabar) that were in the first tables which thou brakest, and thou shalt put them in the ark.
Deu 10:4 And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the ten commandments(Dabar), which the LORD spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the LORD gave them unto me.

These “10 Matters” take centre-stage over all other Ordinances, Commandments, Customs, Laws & Judgements, as they are a summary of God’s Law, and can be viewed as the “Constitution” under which the Children of Israel live.

The rest of the categories fall under the 10 matters which form the constitution of Israel and we see these categories mentioned in the words uttered by King David to his son Solomon, on his deathbed.

1Ki 2:3 And keep the charge(Mishmereth) of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes(Khuqqah), and his commandments(Mitzvah), and his judgments(Mishpat), and his testimonies, as it is written in the law(Torah) of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself:

2. Mishmereth
The Hebrew word “Mishmereth” constitutes to the calling God has placed on His people. It is the office of “citizen”, “priest”, “judge” or “king” that each person duly fulfills. Accordingly, there are Mishmereth for Citizens, priests, judges and kings – each have their own Duties to fulfill as citizens of God’s Kingdom. Each is called to Observe these Mishmereth to the best of their abilities.

Lev 18:30 Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance(Mishmereth), that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God. (Regarding sexual misconduct among the Children of Israel)
Num 1:53 But the Levites shall pitch round about the tabernacle of testimony, that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel: and the Levites shall keep the charge(Mishmereth) of the tabernacle of testimony. (Regarding Levitical office)
Eze 40:45 And he said unto me, This chamber, whose prospect is toward the south, is for the priests, the keepers of the charge(Mishmereth) of the house. (Regarding Priestly office)

3. Khuqqah
The Hebrew word Khuqqah refers to decrees made by God. These decrees span a host of categories from appointed days to manners of living and customs of worship.

Lev 17:7 And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute(Khuqqah) for ever unto them throughout their generations.
Lev 23:41 And ye shall keep it a feast unto the LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a statute(Khuqqah) for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month.
Lev 24:3 Without the vail of the testimony, in the tabernacle of the congregation, shall Aaron order it from the evening unto the morning before the LORD continually: it shall be a statute(Khuqqah) for ever in your generations.
Num 27:11 And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute(Khuqqah) of judgment, as the LORD commanded Moses.

4. Mitzvah
The Hebrew word Mitzvah is rightly translated as “command”. These are direct principles set in order by God and together with the judgements(Mishpat) comprise the biggest portion of the Law.

Lev 4:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments(Mitzvah) of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them:
Lev 27:34 These are the commandments(Mitzvah), which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai.
Deu 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep thecommandments(Mitzvah) of the LORD your God which I command you.

5. Mishpat
The Hebrew word Mishpat stands for verdict, and is composed of Judgements, penalties and sentences regarding justice for all kinds of acts prohibited by the Law. Mishpat was carried out by judges and could not be dispensed by any individual without proper order.

Exo 21:1 Now these are the judgments(Mishpat) which thou shalt set before them.
Deu 16:18 Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment(Mishpat).
Deu 17:9 And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment(Mishpat):

6. Torah
The Hebrew word Torah which is translated throughout our English Translations as “Law” generally refers to all instructions given by God. The word can be used for a single law or even the complete body of law depending on the context. Each matter under the other 5 sections (Dabar/Mishmereth/Khuqqah/Mitzvah/Mishpat) can be considered a “law”, while the entire sum can also be known as Torah.

Exo 24:12 And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law(Torah), and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.
Deu 17:18 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law(Torah) in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
Deu 28:58 If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law(Torah) that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD;

Conclusion
Looking at the divisions in Scripture according to how God categorized His Law, we can see that you cannot remove parts of His law, while keeping others. They are not divided into “Ceremonial laws” and “Moral laws”, rather to “Duties”, “Appointments”, “Commandments” & “Judgements”.

While there is clearly no division called “Ceremonial” & “Moral” mentioned in His Word, some even go further, dividing the law to “Civil”, “Moral”, “Ceremonial”, “Dietary” & “Sacrificial”. While all of these categories are addressed by God in His Law, the Scriptures do not divide the body of the law this way. People whom suggest these divisions to His law, do so without any Biblical basis.

P.S.

Loving our Heavenly Father is connected to the law with its many divisions;

Deu 11:1 Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge(Mishmereth), and his statutes(Khuqqah), and his judgments(Mishpat), and his commandments(Mitzvah), alway.

And whomever despises and does not obey the law with its many divisions is said to be breaking His Covenant;

Lev 26:15 And if ye shall despise my statutes(Khuqqah), or if your soul abhor my judgments(Mishpat), so that ye will not do all my commandments(Mitzvah), but that ye break my covenant:

 

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6 thoughts on “Moral Laws & Ceremonial Laws? What are the true divisions in Scripture?

    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Mike,
      This is one of the questions I ran into in my research as well. Thank you for putting it in a very concise manner. God’s Law tackles many topics and are addressed to many groups. For example some laws are for women, others are for priests, some are for land owners, others are for judges ad some are for everyone. It is quite similar to bodies of law in governments across the world. God is very specific when it comes to Sacrifices, just as He is with all other cases. One of the main requirements for Sacrifices is the Temple in Jerusalem… without it, no sacrifices can be done anywhere else as per the law. Because of the Temple not being there, the full body of law pertaining to sacrifices (which easily constitutes for one third of the Law) is not applicable today.
      On the question that arises next: whether lambs should be sacrificed if the temple was still standing… I will leave you with the below link for further study.
      https://biblethingsinbibleways.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/understanding-sacrifices-and-offerings-and-whether-they-are-done-away-in-christ/
      Be a blessing to everyone around you!

      Reply
  1. Sue in Aqaba

    Reblogged this on The Lamb's Servant and commented:
    Mike Tipton, author of the blog “Bible Things in Bible Ways” (https://biblethingsinbibleways.wordpress.com), has done a truly excellent word study of the various scriptural terms used in the Tanakh (Old Testament) to speak of God’s instructions. He shows us that we “categorize” His instructions, nor can we pick and choose what we want to accept of those instructions, because they are all inter-related and inter-dependent. Thanks, Mike, for an outstanding article!

    Reply

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