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.

  • google.com/…
    – user900
    Jun 20, 2013 at 21:30
  • You should answer this question. The current answer is lacking.
    – fгedsbend
    Aug 28, 2013 at 5:49
  • 1
    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, 2014 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. Jun 6, 2014 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. Jun 6, 2014 at 13:15

1 Answer 1


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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