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Are there any historic Christian documents that provide a comprehensive categorization of the commands of the OT Law / mitzvot using the three categories from the WCF?

And, if so, then as a secondary question: Why is it such a list so difficult to find??


The "threefold division of the law" into the categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial, was standardized in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter nineteen, and according to some scholars can be traced, in various forms, as far back as the writings of Barnabas.

This page at GotQuestions.org links the "moral" category with a "mishpatim," and the "ceremonial" category with a "hukkim or chuqqah," apparent references to Judaic teachings. The "civil / judicial" category is said to be a creation of the Westminster Divines.

Efforts to research the words "mishpatim," and "hukkim," "chuqqah," online have quickly led to lots of Hebrew text that I don't understand on Jewish sites, and I'm not sure if the GotQuestions page is correct in connecting the Christian and Jewish categories in the first place.

I have found the C.SE questions (1) and (2) to be helpful, but this question doesn't seem to have been directly addressed here (or elsewhere, for all I can tell) in the past. Thanks.

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google.com/… –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jun 20 '13 at 21:30
You should answer this question. The current answer is lacking. –  fredsbend Aug 28 '13 at 5:49
If it helps, Chukim (singular: chok) are the laws which do not have an obvious rational explanation. I'm not sure if "ceremonial" is the correct word to describe this category as it includes laws such as kashrut which are not really part of any particular ceremony. Mishpatim are the laws which have rational explanations (such as "Do not murder"). The third category of laws, called Edot are what I would call ceremonial. These are laws that commemorate something (such as eating Matzah). We would not have thought of them without the Torah, but after the we know about them, they are rational. –  Daniel Jun 5 '14 at 20:56
If you ever find these lists, even from Judaic sources (have you tried Mi Yodeya?) please post them because it is an interesting question. –  gideon marx Jun 6 '14 at 10:55
If we don't know whether a particular law is moral or ceremonial, how can we insist on people following it? For example the one about gay sex being strongly punished by Christians for hundreds of years while tattoos are ok? Or cooking on the sabbath isnt considered a sin anymore while masturbation is, even though it's not even specifically mentioned in the Bible? Always seemed strange to me. –  Gregory Magarshak Jun 6 '14 at 13:15

5 Answers 5

There is no risk in saying that no well known person has ever tried to categorize all of the commands of the Old Testament into moral, ceremonial and civil categories. The reason is that although it is helpful to consider the Law among those divisions Christians have never felt it that important to do so. Christians do not even have a unanimous view on wether the commandment in the 'Ten Commandments' to obey the Sabbath, it moral, civil, or ceremonial.

For example:

In Sabbatarian apologetic, it is common to distinguish between moral, ceremonial, and civil law. The Sabbath commandment is then thought to be binding on all, not only because it is alleged to be a “creation ordinance,” but also because it is part of the Decalogue, which is classified as “moral.” The distinction between moral, ceremonial, and civil law is apt, especially in terms of functional description, but it is not self-evident that either the Old Testament or New Testament writers neatly classify Old Testament law in those categories in such a way as to establish continuity and discontinuity on the basis of such distinctions. Even if such categories are applied, it should be noted that both David’s law-breaking and that of the priests (found only in Matthew) come from ceremonial law. It is difficult, then, to resist the conclusion that their applicability to the Sabbath case puts Sabbath law in the ceremonial category with them. (Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, “Jesus and the Sabbath in the Four Gospels,” pp. 68–69.)

If Christians can't agree on how to classify the Ten Commandments under this scheme (which I still think is very useful) how would one even attempt to denominate every precept in the Old Testament strictly under it?

I think it is fair to say that in general Christians at the time of the Apostles understood that the ceremonial law was obsolete, that separation of Jew and Gentile was obsolete and that love for God and one's neighbor summed up 'whatever' was not obsolete in Christ. They also recognized the moral law in some form existed before Moses.

The freedom was so great and the glory so grand, that there was no need to strictly define everything. Rather to allow for the weaknesses of individuals who held to traditions of their upbringing, as well as the ignorance of some who had no moral upbringing at all, a culture of tolerance over the subject was adopted as it did not matter. The only time it did matter is when someone tried to add a condition to faith as a requirement to be a 'real' or 'strong' Christian. Then the Apostles made a strong stance. For example, if someone thought circumcision had some value then Paul would say:

Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. (ESV 1Co 7:19-20 )

However, if someone tried to pressure others to be circumcised he would then say it differently:

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. (ESV Gal 5:2)

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Yes, St. Thomas Aquinas categorizes them this way in his Summa Theologica. The links below link to his Summa:

There are three kinds of law, forming a hierarchy: eternal (or divine), natural, and human.

There are three types of precepts of the Old Law: moral, ceremonial, and juridical. The latter two were meant to prepare the Jews for Christ, and they ceased to bind after Christ, but the moral laws (natural law) are forever binding.

The divine law is immutable because it is eternal, participating in God's eternally unchanging nature: "every knowledge of truth is a kind of reflection and participation of the eternal law, which is the unchangeable truth," as Augustine says in De Vera Relig. xxxi (source).

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This question is asking if the individual laws have been categorised. I couldn't see that in any of the links you provided. –  curiousdannii May 21 '14 at 7:24

The Mosaic Law

Well, they are today categorized, mostly my reformed christians, into these three categories. Has God ever specifically categorized them as like that, himself? No, humans have done that. It does make sense though, because the moral law is represented by our conscience, gained when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 3:6-7 KJV

6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

So basically we became screwed, but wait, there's more. Moses gave us the law, and the Ten Commandments (not all of them, ex keep the Sabbath) became the moral law engraved in our conscience. People continued to sin, and Moses gave us a way to partially atone for our sins, by killing animals in our place, usually lambs. That's the ceremonial law. Jesus fulfilled that (and the Sabbath) by doing his thing (living sinlessly, dying, rising up). Civil law was also abolished. Jesus and his resurrection serve as a "loophole" if you will. He fulfilled the Law so you don't have to.

Hebrews 4:15 KJV

15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 5:1-6 KJV

1For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: 2Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. 3And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. 4And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. 5So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. 6As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

Romans 5:6-21

6For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. 12Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: 13(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. 15But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 16And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 17For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. 20Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

So much more to say, not enough time. Read romans and hebrews for more info

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This doesn't answer the question. All your verses, while good verses, are off topic. –  curiousdannii Jun 5 '14 at 23:31
Oh snap. The Question was changed i think, because i remember reading if the bible itself categorised the laws into 3 categories and if we had to follow them. If that were the case, my answer would be on topic, But it isnt the case, unfortunately :). However, i do not have an answer to the question now. maybe i read wrong –  user11076 Jun 11 '14 at 15:18
No, the question hasn't been changed for a year! You must have just read it wrong. Happens to us all. –  curiousdannii Jun 11 '14 at 22:41

the Bible is the historic document.

the moral law was written by God's finger. this was placed inside the ark of the covenant.

the ceremonial laws are about ceremonies (all of which pointed to the Messiah, and therefore ended or was fulfilled at the cross).

the remaining are probably the civil laws (mostly of moses). they were placed beside the ask of the covenant.

there are also health laws...

many overlap categories

all of them are there for a purpose.

reference: https://adventistbiblicalresearch.org/sites/default/files/pdf/Is%20Sabbath%20Part%20of%20new%20covenant.pdf

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Welcome to C.SE. When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. While I agree with you on just about each of these points, this is an academic site where we need to back up our claims. –  Affable Geek Feb 28 '14 at 15:00

The divisions in the Westminister Confession are based on the Judaic divisions. But the early church focused more on teaching about Grace, not the Law. Starting from Acts 15, Gentiles were admitted to the faith without Jewish conversion or any requirement to follow the Law. There were Christians who kept the Law to varying degrees but those who wanted to know more on it went to the Judaic texts.

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You did not answer the question. –  Steve Sep 27 '13 at 4:14

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