Good Day,

In the Old Testament Moses was given the Ten Commandments which we all know and try to follow as best as we can. The general usefulness of these Ten Commandments have shaped western law and morals for centuries, they even are the basic rules of any society of any size regardless of what the local religion teaches. I however have a hard time of understanding the purpose of the Commandments and the laws set by Moses in relation to each other.

  • Were both set of rules given by God?

If yes, then why is it that some laws can contradict the Ten Commandments? If no, then what was the point of having a set of laws besides from the holy ones (the ten commandments)? And even worse, how is it justifiable to set these laws such that even one law can contradict one of the commandments?

I'm not asking these questions from a position disbelief or critique; I am merely trying to understand the relationship we have to the laws of Moses vs the Ten Commandments. I guess I'm also struggling to understand why we no longer follow the old laws if they were considered to be holy.

  • 2
    Can you give an example of which laws you think contradict the Ten Commandments? Jan 22 '19 at 19:32
  • Welcome to C-SX. Do not forget to take the tour. I am mystified as to which laws you believe are contradictory.
    – user43409
    Jan 22 '19 at 19:39
  • Perhaps the OP is thinking "Thou shalt not kill" is contradicted by the sacrificing of animals? I can't think of much else. Sep 18 '19 at 7:58

The Torah laws consisted of a great deal more than just the 10 Commandments and ceremonial laws. The Law of Moses can be loosely divided into several sections that overlap somewhat, but this will help to clarify the discussion.

  1. Ceremonial system - includes all the regulations around sacrifices, temples services, annual holy days, circumcision, the priesthood, etc, etc.
  2. Jurisprudence and civil law - includes regulations around how court cases were to be conducted, how wars should be fought, how foreigners were treated, property laws, tort laws, criminal treatment, etc.
  3. Health and Hygiene laws - includes things such as quarantine laws, some dietary laws, purification laws, etc.
  4. Moral Laws including the Ten Commandments and some others (eg, Lev 19:18 and Deut 6:5).
  5. A range of personal ethical laws such as generosity to the poor, attitude to foreigners, respect for authority, the rule of law, safety rules, oaths, tithe, offerings, treatment of animals, treatment of slaves, etc. Some writers include these laws with the Moral Laws listed above.

Historical Positions

Until at least the 19th century, most mainstream churches taught that the Ceremonial system in the Law of Moses had been fulfilled by Jesus and that the only law incumbent upon Christians was the Moral Law (10 commandments and a few others). Indeed, the Church of England 1662 liturgy for Holy Communion required the minister to read each of the 10 commandments and the congregation would respond, “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.”

King Alfred the Great of England based his original civil code of law on section (2) above - Jewish jurisprudence. That is, while not adopting the Jewish laws directly, he used them to inform his civil code.

In the history of the Church, there have been several official theological positions regarding the ceremonial laws in the Pentateuch. Here is a short list (I will ignore such refinements as Adamic Law and Noahide Law as extra-Biblical ideas):

Position #1: The entire Mosaic Law should be kept.

Position #2: The Ceremonial System should be kept, including sacrifices and holy days, but not the priesthood and temple parts. The Ten Commandments should also be kept.

Position #3: Only the Holy days should be observed, and the Ten Commandments kept.

Position #4: Only the Moral Law should be kept and possibly the personal ethical rules as well

Position #5: No law should be kept because we "under a covenant of grace".

Position #1 is not possible because the temple does not exist and neither does the priesthood. If this position had been intended by God, then God would have preserved both the priesthood and the temple.

Position #2 is similarly inconsistent - the Ceremonial System cannot be implemented without the temple and priesthood - the Pentateuch makes this very clear. Even the Jews understand this. Many Jews want to re-start the whole ceremonial system but realise that without the temple and priesthood they cannot. Therefore, they do not do it.

Position #3 is equally inconsistent as Position #2. The ONLY way to keep the annual holy days is as per the extensive regulations in the Leviticus, including its sacrifices; but all these requirements need the temple and priesthood, and thus cannot be implemented.

Position #4 as stated above, used to be that of most churches. (Now many are not clear.) The usual justification for keeping the Ten Commandments as opposed to the ceremonial laws was based on several observations:

  • The stated purpose of the Jewish ceremonial system was as a teaching device to inculcate the plan of salvation (Heb 9:8, 9, 11-14, 10:1) and had no salvific function (Heb 9:9, 10:4, Ps 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22). That is, it used symbols to teach about the coming Messiah. When Messiah arrived and offered sacrifice for sin and the example of the exemplary life, the ceremonial system’s usefulness ceased to exist.
  • Even in Old Testament times, the ceremonial system had been misunderstood and abused and did not provide propitiation but only symbolised the sacrifice of Jesus (yet to come), eg, Isa 1:10-17, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22, Hos 6:6, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Jer 6:20, Micah 6:6-8, etc. Therefore, in New Testament times, after the reality of Jesus had come, its value was gone.
  • When Jesus died on the cross, the ceremonial system was finished and the temple curtain diving the Holy from the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom (Matt 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45, see also 2 Cor 3:13-16) to symbolise this.
  • No sacrifices were ever offered by the Apostles and no Jewish feasts were celebrated by them .
  • The council at Jerusalem excused Christians from the ceremonial law requirements except for the prohibition about eating blood (a health regulation!) See Acts 15:29.
  • The famous passage in Col 2:14-17 discusses the “handwriting of ordinances” – a clear reference to Moses’ hand-written law (ceremonial regulations + the annual Sabbaths) on a scroll placed outside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut 31:25, 26), while the 10 commandments were written by the finger of God on stone and placed inside the Ark (Ex 40:20).
  • Jesus encouraged people to keep the moral law (Matt 5:17-19, John 15:10, etc), for example when approached by the rich young ruler (Matt 19:18, 19, Mark 10:19). However, the 10 commandments are not the only binding requirements that remain as shown by Jesus in Matt 22:36-40 as He listed at least two more. Therefore, even position #4 is incomplete.

Position #5 is untenable as encouraging lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and anarchy, and is unbiblical. Paul specifically tackles this problem by saying a number of times that by grace we should uphold the [moral] law (Rom 6:15, 7:7-12, 14, etc).

Thus, there is much debate (still) about what laws are still relevant today. Some of the plagues of medieval Europe that devastated much of the population were often stopped (at least on some regions) by implementing the hygiene and quarantine health laws in the Torah. Every church group has a different position that are often historically based rather than really Biblically based.

  • says "... the Apostles and no Jewish feasts were celebrated by them". There is little support for that position. E.g. Acts 18:21: “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem.”, and the Expositor's Bible Commentary says “Having been unable to get to Jerusalem for Passover, Paul remained at Philippi to celebrate it and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread”. Britanica says “The first Christians…continued to observe the Jewish festivals…as commemorations of events of which these had been the shadows. Jan 22 '19 at 20:08
  • Bug? The system threw away my leading "@Mac's Musings". (And in case that got thrown away too, I just said "atsignMac's Musings". Jan 22 '19 at 20:09
  • @ Ray Butterworth. Many thanks for your comment. I think that is valid for the KJV and TR. However, NA28, UBS5 do not have this comment from Acts 18:21 which reads: But as he left, he promised, "I will come back if it is God's will." Then he set sail from Ephesus.
    – user43409
    Jan 22 '19 at 20:13
  • "“handwriting of ordinances” – a clear reference to Moses’ hand-written law". The reference isn't clear. That phrase is from "cheirographon" which refers to an IOU or certificate of indebtedness. It refers to our debt for sinning, not the law. See rbutterworth.nfshost.com/Management/examples/exegesis Jan 22 '19 at 20:18
  • @Ray Butterworth Fair point if that is your interpretation. I am not trying to defend anything here but explain a series of historical positions and show that very few have been even internally consistent.
    – user43409
    Jan 22 '19 at 20:20

Same Source

The ten commandments and the laws and statutes and judgments all came from God to Moses to the Israelites.

And he [God] declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it. Deut 4:13-14

That they might observe his statutes, and keep his laws. Praise ye the LORD. Psalm 104:45

And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. Exo 24:12

The word "law" is torah, which may, among other things, refer to the first five books of the Old Covenant. The word "commandments" is mitsvah, which also refers to laws. So yes, both were given by God.

The purpose of the commandments were, if one could observe them all, to provide righteousness before the LORD.

And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us. Deut 6:25


I'm not sure which laws the OP believes contradict the commandments.


As shown, the purpose of the 613 laws and commandments were if one could observe them all to make one righteous before God. Because all would fail at that, part of the commandments given was a sacrificial system, priests to act in sted, and a temple in which to offer.

Obviously, some today still feel their works will work somehow to establish their righteousness.

For Christians, we side with Paul who said this.

And be found in him [Christ Jesus], not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law [the law and commandments as noted above], but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: Phil 3:9

Should we go sin the more? No way (Rom 6:1-2). Nonetheless we are saved by grace through faith in the work of righteousness found in Christ who did fulfill the law and commandments, not in our own. It is a gift.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Eph 2:8-9

  • How does this answer the question?
    – user43409
    Jan 23 '19 at 10:16
  • Are you suggesting that Christians are completely free of the law despite Rom 3:21, 6:15, 7:7-12, 14, James 2:8, etc?
    – user43409
    Jan 23 '19 at 10:22
  • The OP questions are answered under the three sections. #1 Is 10 Commandments and other laws from same source? Yes. #2 What contradictions? #3 Christians are not under law, but under grace. I understand some still try to work for their righteouness. Can you follow the 10 commandments or the rest of the Law (again same source) perfectly? On your #2, aren't Christians dead? Romans 8 could help. I cited Rom 6:1-2, as you cited 6:15.
    – SLM
    Jan 23 '19 at 15:21
  • 1
    This answer came across so clearly that it caused me to think of this quote by Christian author Tim Kellar who said, "The Law is not a check-list that we keep; it’s a benchmark that we fail." Such failure casts us upon the grace of God, in Christ, to then joy in living holy lives. We desire to please God whose righteousness alone deals with our failures. "Avoid every kind of evil. May God sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless..." 1 Thes. 5:22-24 The high moral calling of Christians is not legalism when maintained to point to God's holiness.
    – Anne
    Jan 24 '19 at 12:09

Complementary to @Mac's Musings's answer, one can also distinguish the kinds of laws from how they are presented in the Bible.

In particular, even though it isn't always obvious which is which, there is a significant difference between absolute laws that are for all mankind for all time, those that are part of the first covenant with Israel, and those that are covenants with individuals.

God had laws that were in effect long before Moses, as can be seen by:

  • Cain learned that murder was wrong (Gen 4:8).
  • Noah distinguished between clean and unclean animals (Gen 7:2).
  • Abraham tithed and God said of him: "Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." (Gen 26:5).

Some laws are described with respect to God, not to Israel, such as:

  • "And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it" (Gen 2:3).
  • "For all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the LORD thy God." (Deu 25:16).

Some laws are specifically directed at individuals or given as part of the terms of the first Covenant with the chosen nation of Israel, such as:

  • "This is my covenant, which ye [Abraham] shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised." (Gen 17:10).

  • "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people" (Ex 19:5).

Some laws are part of the new covenant, such as:

  • "And for this cause he [Jesus] is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." (Heb 9:15).

And some laws can be inferred as being for all mankind by their future existence, such as:

  • "And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles." (Zech 14:16 - considered a millennial prophecy).
  • Thanks for these useful comments. +1. I get the impression that this question of "Which Laws" is sometimes kept deliberately vague; but that is only an impression.
    – user43409
    Jan 22 '19 at 21:36

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