Does the Bible separate the law of Moses into a moral law and a ceremonial law?

Some theologians separate the law of Moses into a ‘moral law’ (the Ten Commandments etc.) and a ‘ceremonial law’ (circumcision, sacrifices, feasts etc.). Their theology necessitates such a distinction since they teach that while Christians are not under the ‘ceremonial law’, the ‘moral law’ must be applied in order for them to live godly lives. However, the Bible never speaks of a moral or a ceremonial law. The law is always viewed as one. Thus, the apostle James (writing to a mixed group of Jewish believers and unbelievers) says “For whoever shall keep the whole law and shall offend in one [point], he has come under the guilt of [breaking] all” (James 2: 10). The offender either broke the law or he did not. You could not break the law in one part without breaking the whole. Again, in Gal. 5: 3 Paul says, “I witness again to every man [who is] circumcised, that he is debtor to do the whole law”. What men class as ceremonial in the law is bound to what is moral in the law, and no distinction between the two is made.

   Of course, those in favour of a distinction have a number of so-called ‘proof’ texts. For example, it is said that because Christ has “condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law should be fulfilled in us” (Rom. 8: 3, 4, my emphasis) it follows that there must be a separate non-moral element to the law. This novel interpretation ignores the fact that law (as a whole or in part) can have nothing to say to a dead man (see Rom. 7: 1) for, as Christians, we “have been made dead to the law by the body of the Christ, to be to another, who has been raised up from among [the] dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God” (v4). Dead to law, and in association with a risen Christ is the only way for us to bear fruit to God. Yes, the Christian can “fulfil the righteous requirement of the law” (Rom. 8: 4)—that is, he can meet its demands—but it is not done through law-keeping. Instead, we are to walk “according to Spirit” (v4), for, if we “Walk in [the] Spirit, and ye shall no way fulfil flesh’s lust … if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under law … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace … against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5: 16, 18, 22, 23). What is walking in the Spirit? Occupation with Christ (see John 16: 14)! Thus, we are to be like Christ, and we are to walk “even as he walked” (1 John 2: 6). Did Christ fulfil the righteous requirement of the law? Certainly, but the Father’s will not the law was the measure of His obedience. Thus, our standard is higher than the Ten Commandments, for we are to follow in Christ’s steps “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who [when] reviled, reviled not again; [when] suffering, threatened not” (1 Pet. 2: 22, 23).

   Attention is also drawn to the fact that Paul takes up the case of “the uncircumcision” who “keep the requirements of the law” (Rom. 2: 26)—that is, without circumcision—and it is then said that because they keep the moral and not the ceremonial aspect of the law, then the law can rightly be split in two. Now the nations are not under law at all as the word “letter” in relation to the Jew in v27 and the words “which have no law” in v14 prove (indeed, Gentiles are never instructed to put themselves under the law—and Acts 15: 29 is not an exception to this). Yes, the uncircumcised “shew the work of the law written in their hearts” (Rom. 2: 15) but it being only in their hearts, it would be impossible for them to keep anything other than what is moral. In reality, Rom. 2: 26 has no bearing on whether the letter of the law is to be split in two.

   Finally, much is made of various Scriptures that distinguish ceremonial aspects of the law from the law as a whole (see 1 Sam. 15: 22; Ps. 40: 6; Jer. 6: 19-20 etc.). However, such passages do not prove that the ceremonial can be divorced from the moral (as if, in fact, there were practically two laws) but simply teach that the ceremonial must be accompanied by the moral if it is to be acceptable to God.

   Sadly, a great many Christians fail to realise that in Christ they have finished with the principle of law, not just in regard to justification, but in its entirety. Rom. 6: 14 says that “sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law but under grace”. Limiting the concept of law in this verse by saying that it only means that you are not under law for justification is not tenable. The subject in Romans 6 is the power of sin in a believer’s life, not justification by faith in the Gospel. There is no thought there of not being under the law in one way (for justification) but under it in another (for rule of life). Similar teaching can be found elsewhere. Thus: “Christ is [the] end of law for righteousness to every one that believes” (Rom. 10: 4). Here the absence of the definite article before the word law means that it is not just the Ten Commandments that is in view but the whole principle of law as a system. It is the end of that principle entirely, not only for justification but for the whole matter of righteousness.