Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

This distinction is often called tripartite division of the law.

I ran across this series of blog posts, which considers the division of the law into "moral", "civil", and "ceremonial" parts:

The Westminster standards (and others), even go on to claim that the "moral" law is one and the same with the Ten Commandments. This sometimes becomes something of a hermeneutical key, e.g., when interpreting passages that point out that the law is overturned, asserting that the passage is referring to the ceremonial law.

That said, Confessional Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists are not typically considered Thomists, and yet find this principle as no minor point in their confessional documents. Aquinas's reasoning is usually rejected when directly addressed, but the essential division is held nonetheless. Is there some other supporting reasoning, or an alternative origin other than via Aquinas? Likewise, is there support for equating the "moral law" (which is said to remain on Christians) with the Decalogue?

share|improve this question

You can look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church for more information about equating the moral law with the Ten Commandments.

Here you can read a nice summary of this section. But, to break it up into some parts to help explain, you may want to look at the definition of a moral law:

  • 1950 The moral law is the work of divine Wisdom. Its biblical meaning can be defined as fatherly instruction, God's pedagogy. It prescribes for man the ways, the rules of conduct that lead to the promised beatitude; it proscribes the ways of evil which turn him away from God and his love. It is at once firm in its precepts and, in its promises, worthy of love.
  • 1952 There are different expressions of the moral law, all of them interrelated: eternal law - the source, in God, of all law; natural law; revealed law, comprising the Old Law and the New Law, or Law of the Gospel; finally, civil and ecclesiastical laws.
  • 1953 The moral law finds its fullness and its unity in Christ. Jesus Christ is in person the way of perfection. He is the end of the law, for only he teaches and bestows the justice of God: "For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified."

So, the first stage of revealed law is the Ten Commandments, but these were perfected by the New Law (the grace of the Holy Spirit), so we can see by the CCC that moral law is more than just the Ten Commandments, but, also covers the New Law.

Now, as much as I am a huge fan of Aquinas, I tend to think that there can be problems with his divisions, but they can also be useful for explanation, but the problems should also be understood.

This article does a good job of explaining problems with dividing them.

We should not decide which is critical to obey and which can be ignored, safely. I like this quote from the link above:

If God says it, it is immoral to disobey. Morality is not a standard independent of God. God decides what is right and what is wrong.

Here is a likely reason for the three-part division, taken from this historical background:

Why were the dogmatical terms of Moral, Civil and Ceremonial developed if there is no division in the Bible and the Jews never considered the Law as threefold? The division probably was developed because there are 3 natural parts to the Mosaic Law. It also makes for easier teaching when we study the Old Testament Law in a threefold sense. The Law of Moses is massive in scope.

So, you are correct that it appears to have started with Aquinas, as far as I can tell, but there does seem to be a natural split of the Law into two parts, a moral and ceremonial, as well.

share|improve this answer
It is interesting to note that Rabbi Yosef Albo, in his Sefer ha-Ikkarim, accepted Thomas Aquinas' perspective of the Law of Moses, as far as "moral," "ceremonail," etc. – Simply a Christian Jan 23 '13 at 5:13

The bible is to be our guide if we call ourselves a Christian; one who follows Christ. It is important to note that the Scriptures clearly state that the Law was given to Israel and not to the Gentiles or the Church ~Deut. 4:7-8; Ps. 147:19-20; Mal.4:4). The Laws of Moses were to show man what sin is.Gal. 3:19:

Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

At no time is it taught in Scripture that the Mosaic Law was the means of salvation. No man except God in the Flesh,-Jesus. Ever kept the law perfectly nor can or even BE justified by it. The law is holy and good but has it's place, to show man what sin is. MAN has tried to divide it into three parts, moral, ceremonial, sacrificial but what does the bible actually say?

Duet. 27 says;

Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to DO them. And all the people shall say, Amen.

The law requires obedience, and that perfect and constant, and in failure thereof curses, in proof of which the apostle produces this passage;

Galatians 3:10 Apostle Paul wrote;

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in ALL things which are written in the book of the law to do them.(we see here it says ALL not part)

11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

What did James say? James ch. 2:10

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

2 Cor. ch. 3 explains it all.

What is the ministration of death written ON STONE ?..that was done away with? But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:

8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?

9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.

10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. 11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:

13 And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:

14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.

15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.

16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.

17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Now, we are under the laws of Christ, and a New Covenant. Some have tried to say," God does not change" and use Malachi 3:6. But keep this in context. This speaks of his character as all the other scriptures do when it is written he changes not or does not change. God said he would make a New covenant "not like the one he made before". Jer. 31; 31,

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:

32 NOT ACCORDING to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I WAS an husband unto them, saith the LORD:

33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Hopes this helps. Let the scriptures be our authority.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to the site! This doesn't really have much to do with your answer, but I find that sharing the following tends to help new visitors avoid mistaking the purpose of this site. I do hope to see more from you! When you get a chance, please see How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? – David May 24 '14 at 21:52
Please separate your Bible quotations with the quotation format. Click "edit" below your post. There will be instructions on that page to show you how to do the formatting. As it is this answer looks far too long and not worth reading. Hopefully with some formatting it will look much more inviting. – curiousdannii May 25 '14 at 6:14

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.