Moral, civil, ceremonial?

The Bible’s laws can easily be assigned to three categories. I use them and teach them.

But in doing serious Biblical analysis, they can be misleading.

For example, I’ve read people claiming the decalogue contains “only moral” law. Since the civil penalty for murder goes back to Noah, I have doubts about this. But apart from that, what about the ceremonial law? How are laws about images (2nd command) and Sabbath (4th command) not ceremonial?

The answer seems to be that “ceremonial” laws are viewed by some as only temporary. Therefore the decalogue must contain no ceremonial laws. But this gets to be a circular definition.

And what about the dietary prohibition on drinking blood? That goes from Noah (where meat eating is first permitted) to Acts 15 and laws for the Gentiles.

And what is the Biblical penalty for the civil crime of involuntary manslaugher? One had to flee to a city of refuge and stay there until the High Priest died. Is that civil law or ceremonial?

And when Reformed exegetes argue from circumcision to baptism, aren’t they agreeing that the principles of the ceremonial law still apply by analogy? Don’t the ceremonial laws have “direct equity”?

1 thought on “Moral, civil, ceremonial?

  1. pduggie

    I think the “ceremonial” category isn’t designed to identify laws about worship, but is to identify “positive law” about rites.

    There really seems to be a large assumption about natural law known to reason (and also revealed by God) versus positive law set up arbitrarily.

    God demanded particular rites for sacrificing sheep, but could have instead devised other rites for sacrificing eels. But he didn’t.

    But God, being true to himself could not have sanctioned adultery, or sanctioned images of himself being served.

    The sabbath is a tricky one, where some would say he couldn’t sanction not having a day of worship, but sanctioning only the seventh day of a week is arbitrary positive law.

    Not eating from the tree is arbitrary positive law.

    Circumcision to baptism is a discussion of positive law and positive law. There are principles in it, but they wouldn’t seem to be law, just theological principles.

    FWIW. Does that make sense?


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