God’s Law: the Ceremonial Laws

We saw previously that we may not add to or subtract from God’s law (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32).  But God (as the Law-Giver) can and has.  There are Old Testament laws which the New Testament tells us are no longer binding on us.  These are sometimes called the “ceremonial laws.”  The Bible recognizes two aspects of God’s law: moral laws (which define universal justice for all people), and ceremonial laws (which are binding only on God’s people as a symbol of separation and of the coming Savior).  Moral laws stem from the nature of God.  Since God does not change, neither do moral principles (though God may modify specific laws to deal with changing conditions).

Ceremonial laws are different.  Ceremonial laws included instructions on animal sacrifice (Exodus 20:24), circumcision (Genesis 17:10), ceremonial feasts (Deuteronomy 16:10), dietary restrictions (Leviticus 11:4–8), and so on.  Such laws pointed forward in time to Christ’s atonement for sin on the cross.  They gave the Israelites hope of a future Savior, who would pay for their sins.  But we no longer look to the future for Christ to pay for our sins.  That is now a part of history.  Therefore, we do not practice the Old Testament rituals that point forward to Christ’s first coming.  Paul explains in Galatians 3:24–25, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”

In this context, what does Paul mean by “the law?”  Does he mean that all Old Testament laws have been set aside?  Are we now free to murder, kidnap, lie, steal, and so on?  Clearly not (Romans 6:15).  Paul is using synecdoche: “the law” in this context is referring to the ceremonial law.  This is clear because it is the ceremonial law which was a “tutor to lead us to Christ.” Does God’s moral law lead us to Christ?  No, rather, it shows us that we are sinners.  But it does not tell us how to be redeemed.  Rather, it is the ceremonial laws which showed the need for blood atonement (Leviticus 17:11).  It was these ceremonial laws that foreshadowed the coming of Christ—the Lamb that would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  Now that the object of our faith has come (Christ), we are no longer under a tutor (the Old Testament ceremonial laws).

Animal sacrifices were only a symbol of the salvation that Christ would provide (Hebrews 9:9, 10:1); they did not actually provide salvation in themselves.  Hebrews 10:4 states, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”  Salvation has always been by God’s grace received through faith (Romans 4:3, Hebrews 11:1–40).

Why then sacrifice animals?  It was a reminder of the consequences of sin (Hebrews 10:3) and foreshadowed the coming Savior (Hebrews 10:1).  That is why the animal had to be without blemish—a symbol of the sinless Christ (Ezekiel 46:13, Deuteronomy 17:1, Hebrews 9:14).  Scripture implies that God Himself initiated animal sacrifice when Adam and Eve fell into sin; the Lord provided (animal) skins of clothing. (Genesis 3:21).  This action did not remove the shame from Adam and Eve—it simply “covered” it.  It was not the solution to sin.  Rather it indicated that the solution to sin would come in the future.  Ceremonial laws also showed the separation of God’s redeemed people from the Gentiles in the Old Testament.  But in the New Testament, salvation is extended to the Gentiles as well (Romans 11:11, Acts 28:28, 11:18, 13:46–48,  Matthew 21:43, 8:11, 12:21).

It was the ceremonial laws that taught the Israelites about salvation in Christ.  But we no longer need these shadows, because we now have the substance to which they pointed (Colossians 2:16–17).  The New Testament makes it clear that we are no longer bound by Old Testament ceremonial laws (Colossians 2:16–17, Galatians 5:2,6, 4:9–11, 3:24–25, 2:11–13, Hebrews 7:18, Acts 11:1–9).  However, there is a sense in which we do “keep” the ceremonial laws, by receiving Christ as Savior—the substance to which all these shadows pointed.

Sincere Christians may sometimes disagree on which laws fall into which category.  The Old Testament does not separate moral laws from ceremonial laws in terms of where they are found in Scripture.  But that doesn’t mean there is no difference.  It just means we will have to do our homework.  The Bible does indeed distinguish between those moral laws which are binding “until heaven and earth pass away” (Matthew 5:18) and those ceremonial laws which pointed forward to a better covenant and have been set aside in the New Testament.

There are several questions we can ask to help distinguish between the laws, such as, “Does this law symbolize the separation of Jews and Gentiles in the Old Testament?” or “Does it point forward to Christ’s atonement on the Cross?” If so, then God reveals in the New Testament that it is not binding on us (Galatians 3:24–25, 4:9–11, Colossians 2:16–17).  However, if the law is moral in nature and is nowhere rescinded in Scripture, then to disobey it would be sin (1 John 3:4, Deuteronomy 4:2, Matthew 5:18–19).

37 Responses to God’s Law: the Ceremonial Laws

  1. Francis Ruseell says:

    Dr. Lisle, I enjoyed reading your commentary on the Law and its various aspects. Indeed I have read many of your articles published by AiG etc, and have found them to be very uplifting and informative.
    However I must question your assertion that the Law Paul was speaking about in Gal 3: 24-25 he was referring to the ceremonial laws.
    Firstly Paul makes no such distinction, not even an allusion. Secondly, in his letter to the Romans chpt 7 Paul speaks of our release from the Law and compares it to the freedom a married woman obtains upon the death of her husband. Significantly, in vs7 Paul uses a moral law, that of covetousness, to drive home his point.
    I agree that all moral Laws can never be changed except by God. But our redemption is not from ceremonial laws but from the moral laws. Otherwise, what would be the purpose of Christ’s death? The Law, the whole Law, both moral and ceremonial, have been taken away by Christ through His sacrificial death on the cross. This is why we are under a New Covenant, one which makes the old Covenant “obsolete” (Heb 8:13). Christians will not be judged for the sins they have committed. Our judgement will be based on what rewards we will receive based on the good works (or lack of them) we are supposed to perform as a result of our faith. It is the world (those who reject God’s offer of salvation) who will be judged by the moral laws (Rom 2: 12-16).
    Yet we are keepers of the Law when we carry out the command to love one another. So although the law is not imposed upon as via statutes and edicts, we conform to Christ’s likeness through our deeds that are based on Christ’s “second commandment”. In other words our obedience (to God) has shifted from being directed by various commandments (outside direction if you will) to one directed from within us – the love of Christ! Now this love commits no murder, no covetousness, no jealousy, no disrespect or hatred for others.
    God Bless you and strengthen you in your work.
    Francis Russell

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      Hi Francis,

      The term “law” has a number of meanings in Scripture, and so we must understand it in light of context, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. We know that Paul was referring to the ceremonial aspects of the Law in Galatians 3:24-25 because of the context. Paul refers to those commandments which were a “tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.” The moral laws do not do this. They teach absolutely nothing about justification by faith. The moral laws only condemn us as sinners. They do not point the path to salvation or teach anything about substitutionary atonement. It was the ceremonial laws that foreshadowed the coming of Christ. The ceremonial laws taught the Jews about blood sacrifice, about substitutionary atonement, about the importance of a spotless lamb which symbolized Christ (John 1:29), and thus were a tutor to lead us to Christ that we may be justified by faith.

      Paul does indeed make a distinction between (1) those aspects of God’s law that pointed toward Christ and were set aside at His coming (the ceremonial laws) and (2) the eternal moral law of God which cannot be altered (Hebrews 2:2), and therefore which we should continue to obey. Paul tells us that we are no longer under a tutor (the ceremonial aspects of the law: e.g. Galatians 5:2). But that we are not free to sin (to break the moral laws of God: Romans 6:1-2,15, thus they are still binding on us.)

      You state, “The Law, the whole Law, both moral and ceremonial, have [sic] been taken away by Christ through His sacrificial death on the cross.” But this is the exact opposite of what Jesus says. He said that He did not come to abolish (take away) the law, but to establish it (to confirm it in full measure) (Matthew 5:17). Indeed Christ says that not the smallest letter or stroke of the law shall pass away until the end of history; heaven and earth may be taken away, but not the law of God (Matthew 5:18). Christ then said that anyone who subtracts from even the least of the commandments of God and teaches others to do so will be considered least in the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19). So we dare not teach that Christ removed the Law of God. The moral law of God is rooted in the Holy and unchanging character of God, and therefore cannot be simply taken away.

      By the way, if the moral law of God could be changed, or taken away, then Jesus died needlessly! Christ died to pay for our disobedience to God’s law; so why didn’t God just change the law – lower it to a standard that we could obey, rather than sacrificing His own Son? The reason is: the moral law of God cannot be altered (Hebrews 2:2).

      You state, “our redemption is… from the moral laws.” But that is not the case. We are not “redeemed from the laws.” The moral laws are good if used properly (1 Timothy 1:8) and are eternal (Matthew 5:18). We are redeemed from sin – from the curse associated with breaking those laws (Galatians 3:13). Christ freed us from the curse so that we are now free to obey His law – not to continue in sin! Indeed the thing which characterizes the unbeliever is his inability to be subject to the law of God (Romans 8:7).

      In Romans 7, Paul continues his argument from chapter 6 that we are not slaves to sin (Romans 6:7) but slaves to God by God’s grace. In this context, Paul uses the term “law” not to mean obligation to obedience, but rather the condemnation of the curse placed on all who break the law of God (Galatians 3:10). It is in this sense that we are under grace and not under law (Romans 6:14). Our divorce is from sin (breaking God’s law) and self-righteousness (attempting to earn salvation by obedience to the law), and our marriage is unto Christ. However, Paul cannot mean that we are now under no moral obligation to obey the law of God, otherwise the very next verse would make no sense: “What then? Shall we sin [break God’s law] because we are not under the law [its penalty] but under grace? May it never be!” Paul emphatically denies that we are now free from obligation to obey God. Rather, we are free from the curse of sin so that we may obey the law of God by the power of His Spirit.

      If the law really had been taken away, then there could not be any more sin; for sin by definition is the breaking of God’s law. Paul affirms this in Romans 4:15. But clearly, there is still sin in this world. Thus, God’s law is still binding today. And if we are truly saved, we will naturally want to obey God’s law (Jeremiah 31:33, Romans 3:31). We obey God not to earn salvation, but out of gratitude and love for the salvation that God freely bestowed upon us.

      You are correct that “we are keepers of the Law when we carry out the command to love one another”; however, I contend that you cannot do this without obedience to all the (moral) commandments in Scripture. You do not love your neighbor if you kill him, steal from him, bear false witness against him, commit adultery with his wife, etc. The Law of God shows us how to love God and how to love our neighbor. Christ’s commands to love God and love our neighbor are not replacements for all the other commandments, rather they are a concise summary of all the other commandments.

      I hope this helps. And I would suggest you read the other entries in this series, since a lot of this is covered in them. Thank you for your feedback. And God Bless you.

      – Dr. L.

      • Francis Ruseell says:

        Hi Dr. Lisle,
        My response has been long in coming due in part to the fact that I have been taking my time to read your articles on the Law but more to giving my response a little more thought than I normally do. Nonetheless I appreciate your response to my initial comments and would now like to respond to them. There are many points in your response that I agree with, so please don’t take the following as contention for contention’s sake, but rather as part of my journey to understanding the Bible better.
        I am concerned that you understood me to be teaching Christians not to follow God’s law. Maybe through brevity I may have given this impression, but certainly it is not what I teach or preach, never mind advocate. Perhaps a little more light needs to be shed on it from my side 
        First, let me thank you for correcting my assertion that we are redeemed from the moral laws. I had in mind to say “…. from the condemnation of the moral laws”.
        However, my main issue with your commentary on ceremonial laws was that Paul did not specify which part of the law he was referencing when writing to the Galatians. This may sound like splitting hairs but if Paul was referring to the ceremonial laws why didn’t he just come out and say it outright or make the distinction? But more on this later.
        I used Romans to indicate that the moral laws were also involved. I think at this point I need to clarify what I am saying: The law spoken of by Paul is the Mosaic Law or the Laws of Moses. I gather we agree on this? IN CHRIST (who fulfilled the Mosaic Laws in their entirety), we have been forgiven our sins. Christ DID NOT abolish any part of this law. Agreed? (I think you may say “except for the ceremonial parts of the Law”). Let’s let that stand for now.
        In your Introduction you referenced Deut 6: 1 – 9. To me, it is clear that the law was given to Moses for the nation of Israel. This law underpinned the covenant made between God and the people of Israel ONLY. This covenant was not made with any other nation in the world at that time, or since, so the Mosaic Law was not applicable to the peoples of the other nations. What law was governing the world at that time? Was it not the law that governed the world from day one immediately after the Fall? There was no written law for the descendants of Adam and Eve to follow but they were considered sinful, which is why God destroyed them with the global Flood and saved only those that were in the Ark. Even after the Flood, still there was no written law until Moses, yet God gave the Promised Land to the nation of Israel because the sinfulness of the nations living in that land at that time had reached its fullness in God’s sight.
        For ease of reference, let’s call this unwritten law the “universal law of God” (ULG). So Moses’ time comes and God now takes the nation of Israel and separates them from all other nations, makes an agreement (covenant) with them and sets the rules and regulations governing this agreement with the “Law of Moses” or the “written code”. What law is governing the rest of the world? The ULG of course. This ULG was not written and so man during that time had no knowledge of sin per se (see Rom 5:12 – 14). Paul refers the gentles as being under this in Rom 2:12 – 16. Further, in Rom 3:20 Paul says that knowledge of sin comes through the law. But it’s not like the law can make one righteous, for the law, though holy and good (Rom 7:12) condemns, without exception, those who fall under it – the Jews and anyone else who follows its precepts. The Mosaic Law, even today, does not apply to the rest of the nations of this world. As far as I can tell, and I stand to be corrected, there is no verse either in the OT or NT that says the Mosaic Law should be taught to other peoples except the Israelites.
        It seems to me that the ULG found its expression, maybe not fully, but within God’s plan for humanity, in the Law of Moses. God wanted a people that would be like Him, that would conform to His goodness, His holiness and His righteousness, in short – to His nature. Now any transgression of the Law (and ULG) required that God bring judgement upon that person or persons without fear or favour. God’s justice demands nothing less. When Christ came and in all purity and holiness took upon his sinless self the sins of the world, God had to judge Him in accordance with His Holy character. Thus John speaks of Christ as “a propitiation of our sins” (by his blood) (1 John 2: 2). This being the case, we are regarded as no longer under sin but under Christ, who is now our Master. Consequently we must now keep Christ’s commandment. As John says (1 John 2: 3 -11) this commandment is new yet at the same time not new. We are to love one another, and walk as Christ walked, even to obedience unto God our Father.
        Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, whilst informing them of the freedom they have in Christ, warned them not to take advantage of this freedom, but urged them to love one another, and by so doing would fulfil the law (Gal 5: 13 – 14) Note, he says “the whole law” is fulfilled by the commandment to love one another. Question – what has loving one another got to do with the ceremonial laws? Note also that in the first 12 verses of this chapter he was talking about “circumcision” – a ceremonial law – but almost in the same breath he switches to the “the law of love” – a moral law. Was Paul confused? Hardly, since he was under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To me this shows that the whole Mosaic Law was in view in Galatians, with Paul singling out specific laws in relation to the points he was trying to make with the Galatian church (a Gentile church by all accounts).
        Thus in a way we are keeping the written code but in a different manner; we are complying with the ULG but in a different way. If we transgress the law of Christ we ought to repent, if we sin knowingly or think we can take advantage of God’s grace then we are in real danger of being cast out of God’s family.
        If I may take this a step further: Are you a Jew? If “Yes” then you would fall under the written code because of your lineage from the nation of Israel. If “No” then what law do you fall under but the ULG, like everyone else? However, if you, whether a Jew or Gentile, have become a Christian, then you fall under the Law(s) of Christ, the majority of which is enunciated by Paul in Ephesians 5 through to 6: 1- 9.
        I think an example of this (new) law we fall under is when Paul berates the Church at Corinth for the manner in which they settled lawsuits. In 1 Cor 6: 1 – 8 he clearly advises them to lay their grievances before other members of the church. I find it instructive that Paul does not direct them to any part of the Mosaic Law (though I’m sure he could have) but rather points to their future positions as judges over the earth and even angels.
        So I guess one could say that the Mosaic Law was one way of articulating the ULG, and the Law of Christ is another way of expressing it, the former requiring a person’s effort to justify themselves before God, the latter a person’s faith by which they can gain justification from God.
        God Bless you Dr. Lisle. Please keep fighting for the faith.

        • Dr. Lisle says:

          Hi Francis,

          Thank you for taking the time to read through my posts and give them thought. There is so much confusion within the church on the law of God, and that’s one of the reasons I wrote this series. I am glad you are looking into this issue. There are a few areas where I’d like to tighten up your exegesis a bit, and hopefully the following will be helpful.

          Concerning your comment; “However, my main issue with your commentary on ceremonial laws was that Paul did not specify which part of the law he was referencing when writing to the Galatians. This may sound like splitting hairs but if Paul was referring to the ceremonial laws why didn’t he just come out and say it outright or make the distinction?” My response would be that Paul did indeed specify which part of the law he was referencing; He did make a distinction. In Galatians, He was referring to that aspect of God’s law that acted as a tutor to point us to Christ – those laws that taught about justification by faith (Galatians 3:24). It was the ceremonial laws that taught about substitutionary atonement: about blood sacrifice. There is no doubt that Paul had in mind the ceremonial laws here.

          Why didn’t Paul call them “ceremonial laws” and talk about them the same way we 21st century Americans do? The answer is: Paul was a Jew, writing to Jews. He didn’t use modern terminology because it didn’t exist yet. He knew that his readers understood that certain laws defined God’s justice for all people, and other laws were a “teacher” that pointed forward to the Redeemer. It is incumbent upon those of us who have been “grafted in” to the olive tree (Romans 11:17-18) to learn the style and customs of the Jews, not the other way around.

          Here is where I would like to challenge your thinking: “To me, it is clear that the law was given to Moses for the nation of Israel… This covenant was not made with any other nation in the world at that time, or since, so the Mosaic Law was not applicable to the peoples of the other nations.” The Bible actually teaches that the moral laws given through Moses are universal. They apply to all people. Perhaps the reason you were thinking otherwise is because only Israel was given a written revelation of the law of God. (And only God’s people have the obligations and privileges of the ceremonial laws). But Israel was supposed to be an example, and share their knowledge of God’s Law with other nations. God’s standards of right and wrong apply to all human beings, and the Scriptures do teach this in a number of ways.

          There is indeed a “universal law of God” (ULG) that applies to all people, and is expressed in their conscience. But for some reason, you have assumed that the ULG is different than the Mosaic Law. I suggest to you that the Mosaic Law IS the written expression of the ULG. We can demonstrate this scripturally by hypothetically assuming the opposite and showing that it contradicts the Scriptures. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that God has one standard of laws for Jews, and another standard of laws for everyone else. This is called a “double-standard.” A double standard is defined as “any code or set of principles containing different provisions for one group of people than for another.” If God has a different moral code for Jews than for Gentiles, then by definition He has a double standard. But what do the Scriptures teach?

          A number of Scriptures indicate that God does not have a double standard. He shows no partiality (double-standards) in terms of His moral law; rather, He judges all people equally and fairly. Consider Romans 2:11, Deuteronomy 10:17, 2 Chronicles 19:7, Acts 10:34, Galatians 2:6, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, and 1 Peter 1:17. It is clear that God treats all people equally in terms of His moral requirements. He does not have one standard for some people-groups, and then another standard for other people-groups. Romans 2:11 is particularly helpful, because in context (see Romans 2:10) Paul is specifically saying that God does not show partiality between Jews and Gentiles. They are both held to the same moral standard!

          In fact, Proverbs 24:23 tells us that it is not good to show partiality in judgment. Therefore, it would be “not good” for God to show partiality in His judgment between Jews and Gentiles. And God commands us to also be impartial: Deuteronomy 16:19. He specifically tells us that we should not have a double standard in verses such as Deuteronomy 25:13-14, Proverbs 20:10. These verses are referring to the practice of using one weight for yourself (as when selling something) and then a different weight for others (as when buying something). We are not to have a double-standard; rather we are to have just balances (Leviticus 19:36, Proverbs 11:1, 16:11, Ezekiel 45:10, Micah 6:11). And so when God tells Israel through Moses what is right and what is wrong, He is giving them His standards for how all people should behave. The Mosaic Law is the written expression of the ULG.

          Even our own conscience tells us that right and wrong are universal, not person-dependent. Imagine the judge who dismisses one case because the defendant is of a particular “race,” but then sentences another defendant under identical circumstances because this other defendant is of another “race.” We would say that such a judge is corrupt. He is a racist for holding different people-groups to different standards. Well, God does not do this. He is fair and holds all people to the same moral requirements.

          Many other verses show that God holds Israel to the same standard as the other nations – namely the moral standards set forth in the Mosaic Law. Consider Leviticus 18:24-25. Here God tells the Israelites not to disobey the Laws He has given them through Moses (see the previous verses: Leviticus 18:1-23). He tells them in verses 24-25 it was for violations of these laws (the Mosaic Law) that God drove out the pagan inhabitants of the land. God held the non-Israelites to the ULG as expressed in the Mosaic Law, and punished them when the failed to obey. There can be no doubt that God is referring to the Mosaic Law because He specifically says that is was for “these” sins that He punished the pagan nations. And what if Israel should fail to obey these same commands? God will treat them exactly the same way (Leviticus 18:-26-28)! He promised to expel the Israelites from the land if they failed to obey the same moral requirements. God required not only the Israelites, but all other nations to obey all the moral laws He set forth and promised to treat them identically if they failed to obey. See Leviticus 20:22-23. God does not have a double-standard.

          Israel was supposed to be an example of the way God wanted all nations to be. Deuteronomy 4:5-6 explains: “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me… So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” The other nations were supposed to emulate Israel as they observed the godliness of the laws given to Moses, and observed the blessings that God poured out as a result of Israel’s obedience. Were the other nations supposed to emulate only the Ten Commandments? No: the text states, “ALL these statutes” – not just some.

          So the Bible does indeed indicate that the Mosaic Law applies to all nations. Israel was supposed to be an example to the other nations, and teach them how to be obedient to God. David said, “I will speak of your statutes before kings…” (Psalm 119:46). David wanted to teach the kings about God’s Law so that they could enjoy God’s blessings as well. Was David referring only to Israel’s kings? No – he was the king of Israel! Obviously he is referring to kings of other nations. David clearly believed that the Mosaic Law applied to all nations, not just Israel.

          You mentioned, “God wanted a people that would be like Him, that would conform to His goodness, His holiness and His righteousness, in short – to His nature.” Quite right. However, I would add that God wants ALL people to conform to His goodness (Psalm 33:8, 2 Peter 3:9, Psalm 2:10-12, Acts 17:30, Psalm 47:7). The Israelites were supposed to be an example and share their knowledge of the Lord with the surrounding nations, teaching them about salvation and obedience to God, just as we Christians are supposed to do today (Matthew 28:19-20).

          Regarding your comment about Galatians chapter 5, recall that Paul in the previous chapters had argued that the Israelites are no longer under the “tutor” of the ceremonial laws. In chapter 5, Paul begins to address those Jews who want to return to the Old Covenant system as a means of salvation. I first have to point out that the Old Covenant never taught salvation by works. Nonetheless, some Galatians apparently felt that they had to obey the law of God – the ceremonial laws in particular – in addition to faith in Christ in order to be saved. It is this faulty idea that Paul is refuting in Galatians 5. Verse 4 makes this very clear: “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Paul explains that ceremonial laws such as circumcision mean “nothing” in Christ (Galatians 5:6). Paul reiterates the idea that Christians now have a freedom that they did not have in the Old Testament (Galatians 5:1, 13) since they are no longer under the tutor of the ceremonial laws (Galatians 3:25), however they should not think that this means that they are now “free” to disregard the moral laws of God – i.e. to sin (Galatians 5:13). Paul makes it abundantly clear that we are still obligated to obey God’s standing moral laws – we are not supposed to sin (Romans 6:1-2, 15). We obey God not in an attempt to earn salvation, but out of gratitude for the salvation that God by His grace has bestowed upon us.

          Regarding this comment: “So I guess one could say that the Mosaic Law was one way of articulating the ULG, and the Law of Christ is another way of expressing it, the former requiring a person’s effort to justify themselves before God, the latter a person’s faith by which they can gain justification from God.” First and most importantly, the Mosaic Law did NOT teach that a person’s effort is to be used to justify himself before God. It’s a very common misconception, but it’s not biblical. Both in the Old and New Testaments, salvation has always been by God’s grace received through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 4:3-8,13, Hebrews 11:1-40). Since the fall of man into sin, the Law of God has never been the means of salvation. God’s moral laws show us that we are sinners. And the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament showed the way of salvation in symbolic form, pointing forward to the Savior. But salvation has always been by grace through faith in Christ – not by works. The difference between the Old and New Testaments is primarily one of perspective: in the Old Testament people looked forward to the coming of the Savior, whereas in the New Testament we look back in history to the work of our Savior.

          Yes, the Law of Christ and the Mosaic Law are indeed different ways of expressing the Law of God. That’s certainly true. I would just point out that they are not different laws, but different expression of the same law; different ways of wording it. The law of Christ (that we love one another – see John 13:34, 1 John 2:7-8, 2 John 1:5) is not a replacement for the (moral) Mosaic Laws – rather it is a summary of the Mosaic Laws. And Jesus specifically teaches this in Matthew 22:37-40. Some Christians mistakenly say, “We don’t need to obey the Old Testament Laws; we just need to love God and love each other.” However, the Bible teaches that you cannot love God and others unless you obey His commandments (John 14:15, John 15:10, 1 John 2:3, 1 John 5:2, 3 2 John 1:6). If we love God, we will keep all of His standing laws.

          I hope this helps clarify. God bless you.

  2. Delica Castaneda says:

    How refreshing to read such insight on the two laws. I have not been able to present it so clearly. It seems that the christians I fellowship with on a regular basis cannot accept this so I seek fellowship through reading articles such as this. We can rarely get beyond the surface because of our diffrences. So to keep peace we avoid the subject of law and grace; works and no works. In the future, I would love to make a case for the dietary law as an eternal and unchanging law. THank you for sharing your knowledge. God Bless your work!

  3. Chris says:

    Dr. Lisle, I was wondering if you could tell me in what way did dietary restrictions point to Christ? Thanks!

  4. Vance says:

    Very well done Dr. Lisle…there are another set of laws found OT as well..those are the Civic Laws, teaching us how live in a civil society (like not sleeping with a sister,etc).

  5. Daniel says:

    Dear Dr. Lisle,

    I have read your debate with Mr. Russell above with care and have learned a great deal. Nevertheless, I have some questions. Firstly, I would note that you say we are obligated to keep the moral laws but then then you add the caveat that we do so out of gratitude. How can one be obligated out of gratitude? Isn’t that contradictory? Sir. Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins precisely because we cannot keep the moral laws with the body of this death hanging about us. This is what Paul makes clear in Galatians when he says he can’t stop sinning though he desperately wants to, (Romans 7:14-25), and what Christ makes drastically plain in his Sermon on the Mount when he tells those men who look on women lustfully that they had better pull out their eyes and chop off their hands if they want to keep the law of their own accord and not be cast into hell. See Matthew 5:27-30. The law (both moral and ceremonial) is clearly spiritual (Romans 7:14), and is there to point the way to Christ because the effect of those laws is to convict us of our exceeding sinfulness (our carnality) and it is this realization which should drive us to realize our poverty of spirit and to mourn our lost condition and our ultimate need for spiritual sustenance in Christ, our Savior. See Matthew 5:3-6: Romans 7:14-25. It is the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son which definitively illustrates God’s forbearance and goodness towards us, because while we were yet sinners (his enemies) God’s only Son dies for us, (Romans 5:8), and it is God’s unconditional love which leads us to repentance and faith. See Romans 2:4. See also 1 John 4:17-19. Dr. Lisle, the law (in it’s entirety) is not for the righteous, i.e., those whom God has justified. See 1 Timothy 1:8-10. It is, doubtlessly, eternal because the law (God’s Word) is the revelation of the eternal Spirit which is God. See John 1:1, 14. But those laws are written upon the hearts of the righteous, i.e. those in Christ, (see Ezekiel 36:22;36; Romans 8:15), and they will never pass away because we are joined to Christ and therefore one spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:17 (“But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.”); see also Ephesians 5:31-32. Dr. Lisle, from my exegesis, (and I could well be wrong for you are clearly more learned than I), I see that there is truly only one sin that leads to death (in light of the foregoing) and that is unbelief and that all unbelief is unrighteousness. See Romans 1:18-25; 1 John 5:16. Christ’s death atones for our unbelief and all other transgressions of the law because it is by Christ’s faith in, and obedience to, all God’s laws unto death, that one is made righteous before God. Romans 5:19; Hebrews 4:15. This way it is only by God’s grace, not by ourselves, that we are granted the gifts of repentance and faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Acts 5:31; 2 Timothy 2:25), and it is also thereby that God makes plain to us that Christ alone is the author and finisher of our faith. Hebrews 12:2. I dare also say that for all the glory to be God’s alone, so that no flesh may glory before him, (1 Corinthians 1:29), it is no longer we who obey anything, rather it is God in us who works and wills to do of his good pleasure while we merely fear and tremble. See Philippians 2:12-13; 2 Corinthians 7:15. Christ is the Lord our Righteousness, (Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16), for we have no righteousness of our own. See Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23. May the grace, peace and wisdom of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      Hi Daniel,

      The answer to your first question about obeying God out of gratitude or obligation, is that both are true. There is more than one reason to obey God. First, it is the right thing to do. He is our Creator and our King, and therefore we are ethically obligated to do what He says. Second, we are grateful that He has created and saved us. He has graciously paid the penalty for all our sins, and out of gratitude and love for Him we do as He tells us. There is a third reason as well: it goes better for us and everyone around us when we obey. Even though Christ has paid the ultimate penalty for all our sins, sin still has negative consequences in this world.

      By obligation, I mean that we are ethically obligated – it is the right thing to do. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). To disobey God is wrong, wicked, and immoral. The fact that we who are in Christ do not have to pay the ultimate penalty for such wickedness does not mean that sin is now acceptable. Obedience is not a requirement for salvation; salvation cannot be earned. Obedience is but the lifestyle of those who have been saved by God’s grace.

      I agree that one of the purposes of the law is to show us that we fall short of God’s glory. Only the ceremonial laws, however, show the way to be saved. They taught in shadow form about the Savior who would provide blood atonement. The moral laws only condemn. Now some Christians have supposed that this is the only purpose of the moral laws, and once we are saved they no longer apply to us. But this is not Scriptural. Paul argues passionately against such a licentious attitude in Romans 6. Yes, God by His grace has paid the price for all our sins. Should we therefore “continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). God did not save us so that we can freely sin. He saved us so that we can obey His law (Jeremiah 31:33).

      Yes, the Law is not for the righteous but for the unrighteous. But who is righteous? All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Therefore, the law is for everyone. But haven’t Christians been made righteous? Only in principle, but not in practice. Christians continue to sin on occasion even after Christ saves us (1 John 1:10). And as long as we continue to sin on occasion, the law is for us. If we did not have a sin-nature, then there would be no need for God to give a long list of commandments because we would instinctively always do what is right. But until glory, until we are made in practice what we are now only in principle, the law continues to apply to us, and therefore we should obey God.

      When Jesus forgives the adulteress in John 8:11, He did NOT say, “Go and don’t worry about the law because all your sins are forgiven.” Rather He said, “Go, and sin no more.” In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus charges his followers NOT just to evangelize, but also to “make disciples of all the nations… teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” We should teach about forgiveness and salvation in Christ (implied by “baptizing them”) but we are also supposed to teach the nations to obey God’s law.

      I agree that only continual rejection of Christ will lead to (eternal) death. Other sins can be forgiven. But that doesn’t mean that we should continue in sin that grace may abound. Imagine someone murdering another person, and then saying, “Oh, it’s okay. Christ has forgiven all my sins. So I don’t have to worry about that ‘thou shalt not murder’ thing.” Sin is still sin, and it is very serious, and it has negative consequences in this world.

      Although disregarding God’s law will not lead to hell for those who have been forgiven in Christ, it still has eternal consequences. Jesus said that subtracting from God’s law and teaching others to do the same will result in eternal demotion in His Kingdom – such people will still be part of the Kingdom (there is no loss in salvation), but will be considered “least” (Matthew 5:19). Obedience to God’s Law is not the cause of salvation, it is the effect of salvation. Those who truly belong to God will obey His commandments (1 John 2:3-4).

      I hope this helps.

  6. Christopher Cutler says:

    Dr. Lisle,

    I know you don’t like to take a public stance on this so maybe you could answer partially, because it’s a multiple part question. I know there is some debate about whether or not the sabbath would be considered a ceremonial law, but if it is not then would it be, a moral law? If it is a moral law, then is it written on our hearts? If it is not a moral law or a ceremonial law, then is there another option?

    • Robert says:

      It seems it is a moral law in that it’s main point is for us to take time away from earthly concerns and focus on God (Ex 20:10; Ex 16:27-30; Matt 12). The moral law appears to come into play in the “take time to revere God” portion rather than in observing it on any particular day or in a particular way (Mark 2:27,28).

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      Hi Christopher,

      The Sabbath day issue is nuanced, and I haven’t completed my studies of the issue. It seems to have some moral aspects and some ceremonial aspects. The mandate to take a day per week to rest and focus on God seems to be a moral mandate. There is no question that this should therefore continue to apply in the New Testament. However, the Sabbath also ceremonially commemorates God resting from His work of creation, and anticipated the rest we have in Christ from the yoke of the Old Testament administration.

      There were specific aspects of Sabbath day law that were attached to the Old Testament administration of it, and which are set aside in the New Testament. For example, the Hebrews were not allowed to kindle a fire on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:3). The penalty for breaking the Sabbath laws was death (Exodus 35:2). There were also other Sabbaths – Sabbath years for example (Leviticus 25:8). These pointed forward to the rest we have in Christ (Matthew 11:28-29). The ceremonial laws which pointed forward to Christ have been set aside in the New Testament (Hebrews 7:18, Galatians 4:9-11, Colossians 2:16).

      On the other hand, the New Testament also suggests that there are ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath day that still have a future fulfillment (Hebrews 4:9). We do not yet have rest from our struggle with sin, and will not until glory, even though we have rest from the Old Testament administration. Therefore, some ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath remain in effect. Not all ceremonial laws of the Old Testament are set aside in the New; some are redefined instead. Jesus redefined the Passover rather than setting it aside (Matthew 26:19-28). Likewise, the Sabbath day is redefined in the New Testament. My preliminary conclusion on the matter is that Sunday is to be observed as the Christian Sabbath.

      There is very good evidence in the New Testament that Sunday is the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10) – the day that God’s people are to assemble to rest and focus on God. This commemorates the Resurrection of Christ (Mark 16:9), which gives us hope of our future rest in Him in glory. The apostles assembled together and celebrated communion on Sunday, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). After the resurrection, Jesus always assembled with His disciples on Sunday – not Saturday (John 20:19, 26). I hope this helps.

      • Christopher Cutler says:

        So your position is that the Sabbath is to be observed, but not to extent that it was in the Old Testament? Because wouldn’t it be rather difficult to observe the Sabbath today the way it was observed in the OT? Driving, using electricity, ect would all be violations, wouldn’t they? So what would resting on the Sabbath look like for us? Also what are your thoughts on verses such as Col 2:16 and Rom 14:5-6?

        • Dr. Lisle says:

          Hi Christopher,

          Yes, the Sabbath is to be observed, but not in the same way as in the Old Testament. But as I wrote earlier, I have not completed my studies on the issue. Yes, it would be difficult to implement all the Old Testament ceremonial portions of the Sabbath day laws. Driving would not be permitted because it involves kindling a flame, which was forbidden on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:3). These physical rituals helped the Old Testament believers to look forward to the coming of their Messiah, in whom they would have their rest. So it seems to me that our obligation is to keep the Christian Sabbath (Sunday) holy by resting and remembering what Christ did for us, and looking forward to His second coming. In the New Testament, we learn that believers assembled together on Sunday and, among other things, took communion. This seems to be the biblical pattern.

          Colossians 2:16 is teaching that New Testament believers are no longer held to the dietary restrictions and festivals of the Old Testament administration. “Sabbaths” are also mentioned, but this may refer to Sabbath years rather than the Sabbath day. That is, New Testament believers are not required to have a Sabbath year. Some translations say “Sabbath day” but the word “day” is not in the original Greek.

          I suspect that Romans 14:5-6 is likewise referring to the various holy days that were to be observed under Old Testament law. There were a number of festivals that were to be observed on certain days under the Old Testament administration. New Testament believers are under no obligation to observe them, since they were symbols that pointed to the coming of Christ (Galatians 4:9-11).

          • Christopher Cutler says:

            Thank you for reply. Sorry “extent” was probably not the best word for me to use. I understand what you are saying now. That makes a lot of sense. I have heard some people argue that the Sabbath is just a ceremonial law and others that it’s a “creation ordinance;” but I never knew what that meant in relation to moral laws. You said it did have some moral aspects to it. I still don’t understand if that means it’s “written on our hearts.” But I’m guessing it is in a way. I agree, the Sabbath is a tricky one, but I understand way better now than I did before. Thanks again Dr. Lisle!

  7. Larry Burdon says:

    I believe that you would receive great benefit from watching the ministry of Joseph Prince at various places such as TBN TV or josephprince.org (web broadcast)

  8. Anthony Aton says:

    Matt 24:12 says, “and many people’s love will grow cold because of increased distance from Torah.” Distance from the Torah (Law) is cause our love to grow cold. If we are not to observe the Law of Moses, then why did Jesus do and teach us to do it? Matt 7:23 says, “Then I will tell them to their faces, `I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!” He will say this to people who practice “lawlessness.” Christ’s death did not set of free from keeping ourselves holy unto him. His sacrifice saved us from death from deviation of the law.

  9. Lael Osborne says:

    Hello Dr. Lisle!

    I have recently come across some of your lectures on creationism on youtube and they really blessed me! Thank you for standing firm on the Word of God; it encourages and challenges me.

    I have been greatly encouraged reading these blog postings on the Law of God too. But this one discouraged me a bit. I strongly believe in what Jesus said: “till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Not all is fulfilled, yet. He will fulfill much more of the scripture when he returns. And clearly heaven and earth have not yet passed away. I believe even the so called “ceremonial” law is still in effect today. It is a long argument, and I do not want to bombard you with information and questions. But I will ask you to consider one question: Why, if the cermonial of animal sacrifice has been done away with, would it be brought back again when the third temple is built? (Ezekiel chapters 40-48)

    As far as the dietary law and feast days and sabbath days. I believe we have long misunderstood Paul just as Peter said people even in that day did. “He (Paul) writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless.” -2 Peter 3:16-17

    I know you must be a busy man, but if you have the time and if the Holy Spirit has been stiring a love for God’s Law in your heart, I pray that you may find more of what He’s stiring in your heart in these.

    Dietary Law: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcHukVMPC88
    Sabbath: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C4H-9moe2o
    Feast Days: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NB2yrJaq6S0
    Quest for the Real Paul: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kfXXnrUWp0

    Whether you agree or disagree, you seem to truly be a God fearing man. I pray you will be blessed in all you do. Thank you for giving your all for the LORD. Peace of Christ, Brother!

  10. Chris C says:

    Dr. Lisle,

    Do you know of any good commentaries on Galatians? So far everyone I’ve read interprets Gal 3:24-25 as both the moral law and ceremonial law. I was hoping you could point me to someone who understands it the way you do. I’ll give you an example of how John MacArthur understands it; he said:

    The greek word denotes a slave whose duty it was to take care of a child until adulthood. The “guardian” escorted the children to and from school and watched over their behavior at home. Guardians were often strict disciplinarians, causing those under their care to yearn for the day when they would be free from their guardian’s custody. –The law was our tutor which, ~by showing us our sins~, was escorting us to Christ.–

    Is it not the moral law that “shows us our sins?” According to John MacArthur, it is in that sense that the law “escorts us to Christ.”

    I’m sure it will only take one response from you to clear this up for me. But I would still love a recommendation for a good commentary on Galatians. Thanks!

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      Hi Chris,

      The moral law condemns us as sinners. But it does not escort us to Christ. There is nothing in “You shall not murder” that tells us how to be redeemed if we do murder. It is the ceremonial laws – which are sometimes called “redemptive laws” or “restorative laws” – that point to Christ using symbolism. They teach us how to be restored to a right relationship with God when we violate the moral laws. Galatians 3:24 states, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” But there is nothing in any of the moral laws that teaches “justification by faith.” It is the ceremonial laws alone that teach about substitutionary atonement, and the sanctification of God’s people.

      Therefore, the ceremonial laws were the tutor that pointed to Christ. If Paul meant that all the law was a tutor, and that we are no longer under that tutor, then that would mean that we don’t have to obey any of the laws of God today. That would contradict what Paul teaches in Romans 6:1-2, 15. Indeed, it would be impossible to sin if we are not morally obligated to obey any of God’s laws – and that would contradict 1 John 1:8.

      The best commentary on Galatians that I’ve experienced is an audio series by Dr. Greg Bahnsen. It is really masterful. http://www.cmfnow.com/galatiansmp3oncd.aspx

      • Chris C says:

        Thanks Dr. Lisle, I’ll check that out. And just for the record, I’ve read up and down your comments on both this page and the introduction page many times. I didn’t mean for you to have to repeat yourself. I’ve been learning more and more every time I read it. But I noticed one thing that was not mentioned, Gal 2:19 and 3:19. Are those talking about the ceremonial laws too, or the moral laws, or both? Does Paul switch up it up there? And if so, what is the significance? I can’t seem to find an answer to this anywhere. I’d really appreciate some clarification on those. Thanks Dr. Lisle!

        • Dr. Lisle says:

          Paul uses the term “Law” in several different ways, even within Galatians, and the context clarifies which meaning applies. Galatians 2 is dealing with the error of thinking that salvation comes by obedience to the law (see Gal 2:16, and Gal 2:21). As I understand Galatians 2:19, it indicates that it is through the Law (primarily the moral laws) that Paul recognized that salvation cannot occur by obedience, because none of us can live up to its requirements – therefore, we “die” to the idea that the law brings salvation, and cling to faith in Christ as our Savior.

          Galatians 3:19 seems to be addressing the Mosaic administration, the moral and (especially) ceremonial laws as written in the Torah. I get this from verse 17 which indicates that this Law came 430 years after Abraham. That can’t be the moral law of God which has existed from creation and is written on our hearts; rather, it refers to the Mosaic administration of God’s Law.

  11. Shireen says:

    Hello Jason…….greetings to you from a sister to a brother in The Lord!
    I bumped into your site (by Divine guidance, I believe) and have enjoyed reading your conversations with others immensely!!

    I know you informed us in one of your statements that you haven’t completed your studies on the Sabbath but your comment: “So it seems to me that our obligation is to keep the Christian Sabbath (Sunday) holy by resting and remembering what Christ did for us, and looking forward to His second coming. In the New Testament, we learn that believers assembled together on Sunday and, among other things, took communion. This seems to be the biblical pattern.” Along with your comment: “The apostles assembled together and celebrated communion on Sunday, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).

    I agree with you whole heartedly on the fact that we are to keep the Sabbath holy and remember what Christ did for us, etc….after all, it is part of the moral law. The only thing I believe is in error is when we believe, as Christians, they gathered together on “Sunday” when Scripture technically calls it the “first day of the week” and not Sunday. Our assumption of their gathering together on Sunday is incorrect for the following reasons. We are told that the “evening and morning” make the first day, the “evening and morning” make the second day, etc… (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31) so we must look at Scripture through the eyes of the Creator on how he established a day. Also, the Jews do not have our reckoning of time from midnight to midnight when it comes to Biblical days. They have the Creator’s reckoning of time from sunset to sunset and that’s why on Friday at sundown (sunset) it starts the Sabbath, the 7th day, and ends the following sunset which falls on Saturday. We must put ourselves in this mindset or we will be mistaken in what day it truly is in Scripture. The Creator, also, never names the days of the week, He only numbers them. It is still this way to this day in Israel.

    You mentioned John 20:19 and assumed it was “Sunday” which says: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

    As stated earlier, we must know the reckoning of time according to the Creator’s calendar to get the corrected day the disciples gathered together. Remember, Friday sunset started the 7th day so on Saturday at sunset it ended the 7th day. Once the sun set on Saturday, THAT started the first day of the week which in our time frame is still Saturday. “Evening and morning” is the Creators reckoning of time, remember. With this mindset, at sunset on Saturday (the first day of the week), the disciples were gathered together. It was not yet “Sunday” as we call it. It would not have become “our Sunday” until midnight which then would have become the first day of the week for us. It’s a bit confusing if you are encountering this for the first time but with training or retraining our mind, we get a better picture of a biblical day. We can not assume with our American mindset to translate Hebrew timing to which the Creator taught them.

    Jesus always honored the Sabbath as did Paul and neither of them broke the Sabbath law, the 7th day. They would not have broken this moral law/commandment especially Jesus. IF He did, he would not have been/could not have been considered the Messiah and Savior of the world! We know He did not break one of His Father’s laws, though, because He himself said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the LAW or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mathew 5:17). Jesus’ very next sentence says: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from THE LAW until everything is accomplished.” (Mathew 5:18). So Jesus honored the 7th day Sabbath, from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, as commanded by the moral law which He would have obeyed. It is the 4th commandment which we can not change nor have the right to change. Sunday is not considered the Sabbath in Scripture.
    Deuteronomy 4:2 says: “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.” So the Creator specifically commands us not to change any of His commandments which is in direct opposition to what we do now a days by honoring the first day of the week, Sunday. I know Sunday is our tradition to do so but Jesus did not honor Sunday and did not tell us once He died to honor Sunday. We can not, as created beings, decide to change when to honor the Sabbath even if we call Sunday the Sabbath no matter what day Jesus rose. It is in direct violation to what the Creator said as mentioned in Deuteronomy 4:2 as well as Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5:17 previously mentioned. It may be a sweet gesture to honor Jesus on a Sunday but sweetness doesn’t cut it when it breaks a moral law given to us by the Creator. We are on dangerous grounds by picking and choosing which day we want to honor as the Sabbath when way back in Genesis the 7th day was established as THE Sabbath. Even Paul did not break this commandment and most certainly, would not have! He met constantly at the Temple and taught the people on the 7th day Sabbath “as was his custom” (Acts 17:2).

    Anyway, My prayer is for all of us to walk a walk of obedience the Creator’s way and to help each other along that road to better understand Scripture. If you have a pearl to share with me and others than halleluyah! And my pearls I will share with you and others so we can understand The Creator and His ways better, to be pleasing to our Creator so we can one day hear those wonderful words of “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      Hi Shireen,

      Thank you for your comments. They were interesting, and prompted me to go back and read the text very carefully, and that is always enjoyable. Let me try to pull what I believe to be right about your comments, and see if there are areas that can be tightened up a bit.

      First, you mention that keeping the Sabbath holy and remembering what Christ did for us is part of the moral law. That is a rather unorthodox position. Moral laws are rooted in the character of God and are non-symbolic, e.g. “you shall not murder.” Ceremonial laws commemorate a past event (observing the feast of Passover), and symbolically teach about salvation and sanctification. The Sabbath day law commemorates creation, and helped the Jews to look forward to the rest they would enjoy in Christ. Moreover, even unbelievers have the moral law written on their hearts (Romans 2:14-15). They know it is wrong to lie or murder. But it is doubtful that unbelievers would intuitively know that work is forbidden on the seventh day of the week; this just doesn’t have the characteristics of a moral principle.

      Of course no law of God, whether moral or ceremonial, may be set aside by men. Deuteronomy 4:2 teaches this, as you pointed out. However, notice that Deuteronomy 4:2 does not say that nothing may ever be added or subtracted from the law of God; rather, it indicates that you shall not add or subtract. God as the law-giver is free to add or subtract from His law. It is, after all, His law. And we know that God has in fact changed some aspects of His law when the New Covenant was instituted (Hebrews 7:11-12). We know, for example, that circumcision is no longer required of believers (Galatians 5:1-12). Apparently, the dietary requirements of the Old Covenant administration have also been set aside by God (Romans 14:14,20, 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, 8:8-13, 1 Timothy 4:3-5, Acts 10:12-15).

      So the question we must ask is, “Is there New Testament evidence that the Sabbath day law has been set-aside or modified by God?” This might be indicated by direct decree, doctrinal teaching, or by example. If the answer is “no,” then you are right that we dare not set aside a law that God has not set aside. But I believe the answer is “yes” for the reasons I’ll give below.

      If I understand your claim, you are supposing that the disciples met right after sunset on the first day of the week by Hebrew reckoning, which would correspond to our Saturday night. But even if that were so, it is still the first day of the week by the biblical standard, and therefore not the seventh-day Sabbath (which ended at sunset). In other words, there can be no doubt that Jesus and the disciples did not assemble on the Old Testament Sabbath; rather, they assembled on the day after the Old Testament Sabbath. Whether this was after sunset, at the start of the Hebrew first day of the week, or before sunset near the end of the Hebrew first day of the week, either way it was not the seventh day – the day the Lord set aside for Old Testament believers (Exodus 20:11).

      Second, the Greek word for “evening” (opsios) is similar to our English word in that it refers to any time after about 3 p.m., or from about 6 p.m. until the beginning of night. It does not normally mean “sunset” though it might include sunset. Context suggests that the disciples met on the evening, before sunset, of the first day of the week – the day of the resurrection (compare John 20:1 with John 20:19). This is after Mary Magdalene had seen the resurrected Christ and told the disciples (John 20:18-19). If they met after sunset, and the “first of the week” meant our Saturday evening, then the story proceeds backwards – that is verses 19-23 would happen chronologically before verses 1-18. If that were the case, then there would have been no need for Mary to tell the disciples about the resurrection (verse 18) because they would have already seen Christ. Context suggests that they met sometime after Mary told them about the resurrection, before sunset, on the first day of the week by both Hebrew and modern reckoning.

      If the Sabbath were to be observed in the same way today as in the Old Testament, then all of its corresponding qualifications must be met. For example, you could not drive a car on Saturday because this involves kindling a flame which was forbidden under the Old Testament administration (Exodus 35:3). The penalty for violating this rule was death (Exodus 35:2).

      Did Jesus honor the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week? Yes – before His resurrection. He also kept the dietary laws, and was circumcised. This is because the Old Covenant administration was still in place until the cross. After His resurrection, Jesus only appeared on Sunday as far as is recorded (John 20:19,26). This was the day Jesus chose to assemble with believers. Following His example, we do likewise.

      Did Paul honor the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week? Before his conversion it would seem likely since he was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). But after his conversion he met with the disciples on Sunday – the first day of the week and not the seventh (Acts 20:7). Paul certainly went to the Temple to teach Jews on the Sabbath. Can we conclude that He was endorsing the seventh day as the New Testament day of rest? Or was he teaching the Jews in the Temple on the seventh day because that’s when they assembled there? Paul was not meeting with them as fellow believers in Christ. They were unbelievers that Paul was trying to persuade (Acts 18:4). Paul was presenting the Gospel (Acts 13:16-41) in the synagogue (Acts 13:16) to Jews who were not yet saved. But when Paul assembled in fellowship with believers in the church, it was always on Sunday (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2). By the example set forth by Paul and Christ, I believe that we are to observe the first day of the week as the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10).

      I hope this helps. God bless.

  12. Chris C says:

    Dr. Lisle,

    You said that Gal 5:4 is particularly talking about the ceremonial laws. But could it also be applied to those who believe salvation is by faith plus works? I have pointed that verse out to catholics. Would that be a misuse of the text?

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      Paul addresses both problems in Galatians: (1) Wanting to keep Old Testament laws that are set aside with the coming of Christ, and (2) attempting to earn salvation by obedience to the law (either ceremonial or moral). The two are closely connected, because only if you were attempting to earn salvation would you insist on keeping laws that God Himself has set aside. Paul uses circumcision as a specific example in Galatians 5.

      Verse four does address attempting to justify oneself by outward obedience to the law, which Paul condemns. So, yes, it can be appropriately applied just as you say, and would be good to point out to Roman Catholics. Paul was using a particular ceremonial law as a specific illustration, but the general principle is that obedience to the law is not a way of justification.

      • Chris C says:

        Got it. Thank you! You should do a commentary on Galatians. You have helped more than anyone else I’ve read on it. Thanks again.

  13. Chris C says:

    Dr. Lisle,

    If Gal 3:17 is just talking about the ceremonial laws, because “it came 430 years later,” (therefore it couldn’t include moral laws because those were around prior to it) how do we explain the fact that there was sacrifices prior to the law?

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      The concept of justification by faith in God with the payment for sin by substitutionary atonement has been around since Adam sinned. Animal sacrifice was initiated by God when He provided skins of clothing to cover Adam and Eve, perhaps foreshadowing the Savior to come. And Adam’s descendents honored that tradition and showed their gratitude to God for the salvation to come by offering sacrifices (Genesis 4:3-4, 8:20). But it wasn’t required as a covenant law until the time of Moses. At that time, God introduced detailed requirements for exactly when, where, and how sacrifice was to be done.

      • Chris C says:

        That’s very helpful. Thank you. I have a follow up question. Would you say that ALL of the ten commandments are written on our hearts or just some of them? And why would we need them written on tablets of stone if they were written on our hearts? Rom 7:7 seems to suggest that had it not been for the law we wouldn’t know sin (e.g. thou shalt not covet). How do we reconcile that with Rom 2:15? In other words, on one hand, the law is written on our hearts, and on the other hand we wouldn’t know sin if it wasn’t for the law given to us at Sinai.

        • Josef says:


          I think the answer is simply that if God didn’t write the law in tangible form, then we couldn’t actually know whether or not what we feel is objectively wrong.

          For example, most people know it’s wrong to lie, but if not for the written law, how would we know that this is objectively wrong? I believe the Bible often confirms what we already know to be true.

          • Chris C says:

            Hey Josef, thanks for reply. So you would say that Paul was talking about objective knowledge in ROM 7:7? Do you think it might also be because of harden hearts and suppression of the truth? I’m thinking there is something to all of the above. But I’m just not sure, feels like I’m missing something.

        • Dr. Lisle says:

          The “law” can mean one of several things depending on context. I’m not sure that the Law in Romans 7 is limited to the written expression of the law given at Sinai. Rather, it means the law in a more general sense. I think Josef is right, that God give the law in a written format so that it is very clear and open to objective analysis. Our conscience, reflecting the law of God written on our hearts, can be distorted and “seared” (1 Timothy 4:2). It’s harder to do that with an objectively written law – particularly one that is written in stone.

  14. Chris C says:

    Dr. Lisle,

    If knowledge is justified true belief, how can innate knowledge of God and His Law be knowledge? Would you just say that the unbeliever DOES believe and CAN justify but he suppresses both the belief and justification?

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      Our innate knowledge of God is something we believe, and it’s certainly true. So the question is: how is innate knowledge justified? What is what is our reason? It seems to me that our most foundational knowledge is justified by its ability to make knowledge of anything else possible. Because I believe in God, I am able to know other things as well; and so that seems like a great reason. Yes, the unbeliever (ironically) does believe in God, and can indeed justify that belief, but he suppresses both the belief and his justification thereof.

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