THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE
MORAL AND THE CEREMONIAL LAW
When God created man, He made him in His image, Gen. 1, 27, implanting into his heart the knowledge of His holy will. Man thus was created after God in righteousness and true holiness, Eph. 4, 24. The minds and thoughts of Adam and Eve were pure and holy; they had but one desire, to serve their heavenly Father and each other in love. Both the man and the woman had this feeling toward God and were happy in this relation toward Him and toward each other. But when Adam and Eve sinned, the image of God in their hearts was destroyed. Their love for God gave way to fear and opposition, their unadulterated love for each other was mixed with accusations and recriminations. Of their former perfect knowledge of the will of God a mere shadow and memory remained in the form of the conscience, the work of the Law written in their hearts, Rom. 2, 15, which caused their thoughts to accuse and excuse one another.
Since this mere shadow of knowledge was not sufficient for God’s purposes, since He wanted His holy will known in a more perfect manner among men, He gave to the children of Israel, by the hand of Moses, a summary of His holy will in the form of the Decalog, together with many other precepts and injunctions, Ex. 20-23. The Decalog, as contained in Ex. 20, is not identical with the Moral Law; it neither includes all the demands which are put to man in the great command of love, nor does it confine itself to such cases as concern all men. Thus the version of the Third Commandment as it was given to the Jews, Ex. 20, 8-11; Deut. 5, 12-15, contains material which is specifically Jewish in character. On the other hand, many of the general explanations as found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are manifestly explanations of the will of God, as it concerns all men.
We distinguish, therefore, between such laws and commandments as were given to the Jews in particular, in their capacity as the chosen people of the Lord, according to their polity, which was that of a theocracy (a state under God’s immediate direction), and ouch as concern all men. That part of the Mosaic legislation, therefore, which referred specifically to the Jewish state and to the Jewish religion, all the regulations concerning the inflicting of punishments, concerning sanitation, public decency and order, property, personal hygiene, etc., and all the laws concerning the various religious feasts and holidays, the priests and Levites, the sacrifices, the appointments of the Tabernacle and the Temple, - all this was intended for the Jews only, it was their police and church code and ceased to have binding force after the dissolution of the Jewish state.
For the people of the Old Testament outside of the Jewish nation, then, and for the people of the New Testament the Ceremonial Law and the police code of the Jews are no longer in force. Paul very pointedly reproves the Galatians for submitting to the rite of circumcision as binding upon the conscience in the New Testament, chap. 5, 2. 3. And of their yielding to other ordinances he writes: “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain,” chap. 4, 10. 11. To the Colossians he writes, with the same emphasis: “Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath-days: which are a shadow of things to come, but the holy is of Christ,” chap. 2, 16. 17.
Neither is there any need for disputing as to the division of the Decalog, whether there were respectively three and seven, or four and six, or five and five commandments on the two stone tablets, nor as to the sequence of the single commandments. Jesus Himself changed the order of the commandments when He recited them to the rich young ruler: “Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honor thy father and mother,” Mark 10, 19. St. Paul observes almost the same order Rom. 13, 9, where he also plainly states that nothing depends upon the sequence: “And if there be any other commandment.”
The summary and substance of the Moral Law is not codified in specific injunctions, not even in those of the Decalog, although this order is excellent as a guide for self-examination and for instruction. Jesus summarizes the holy will of God in the words: “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets,” Matt. 22, 37-40. St. Paul repeats this statement when he writes: “Love is the fulfilling of the Law,” Rom. 13, 10: “All the Law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” Gal. 5, 14. It follows, then, that many a point which is not expressly mentioned in the Decalog nevertheless comes under the heading of the Moral Law, that, for instance, as St. Paul writes to the Romans, even things indifferent will become sinful if they come into conflict with the law of love. On the other hand, the injunctions of the Jewish police code cannot be laid as a burden upon the necks of the New Testament Christians, since their disregard in no way is equivalent to the transgression of the law of love.
The test which may be said, in general, to give the distinction between the Moral and the Ceremonial Law, is this: in the first place. the command or injunction in question must be plainly stated in the New Testament in some express form. This is true of the text of the commandments, altered to meet the requirements of all men, as St. Paul shows Eph. 6, 2. 3. And in the second place, the demand in dispute must come under the general rule of the law of love, as summarized by Jesus, Matt. 22. 37-40. 41)