The Problem with the Moral Law

When discussing Torah with someone from many a church, a dilemma will arise in that the believer will believe their sins are done away with and the Torah, too (like a bonus!), but then asked if it’s okay to cheat on your spouse or whether children should give a hoot about what their parents say, the same person will say of course, it’s not okay. They might elaborate in one of two ways:

  1. They’ll say, “Well, not all the law is done away with. We still keep the moral law, but not the civil or ceremonial. [This is usually the mark of someone who’s studied church doctrine in some degree]
  2. They’ll say, “We don’t have to, but we do out of love.” Of course, the followup would be, “Why would God do away with something that’s an act of love?” Or, “So you don’t have to show God love, but you do. So does that include not eating pork?” Then they’ll say, “That’s old Testament.” An unending circle might ensue, but beneath you’ll find they don’t have the words, but they actually are trying to express #1.

However, to someone who studies and practices Torah, this doctrine is difficult to understand.

Where do we find ceremonial, civil, and moral catagories?

Uusually, something like adultery is dubbed a moral commandment–no one wants to say they think that’s okay to cheat on their spouse! Whereas something like not working the Shabbat is ‘ceremonial.’ But how do we know which is which? The Torah or the Bible in general never calls one versus the other. One could argue that some commands are simply called commands, mitzvot (which literally means something you put in your nature). That sounds like a ‘moral’ standard, but the problem is every command is a mitzvah. If Elohim says to do something, it’s a mitzvah, so you’d have to conclude (kind of like me) that all commands are moral.

But if you get past that hurdle, there are also mishpatim, which means rulings so you could argue that’s civil. And chukkim, which means customs, so that’s kind of ceremonial right?

That’s well and good, but you have the ten commandments (which the Bible doesn’t even call commandments, it calls them wordsaserot haDibroyt. But in this set of commandments are ceremonial (keep the Shabbat), moral (don’t murder), along with some that could be either or both. Is taking the name moral or ceremonial, since you’d have to say the Name at some point? Is adultery moral (for some reason…?) or is it ceremonial since it involves ceremonies like weddings and divorces, offerings, and vows? Is it civil since it involves punishment for wrong doing?

That’s Old Testament

You quickly realize that mitzvot, mishpatim, and chukim have very blurry and overlapping lines. Some will solve this problem by saying essentially that the moral law is what’s repeated in the Brit Chadeshah (New Covenant). That kind of makes sense because a lot of the BC is written to gentile audiences who are distant from the temple, hence a lot less ceremony, and not under a Sanhedrin’s jurisdiction. What you see, does look like a lot less related to ceremonies and civil ordinances (at least if you don’t think about how Paul actually did sacrifice like the entire congregation in Jerusalem, or how even the gentiles still met on the Shabbat in synagoges and studied Moshe, not Paul…).

But let me ask you this, Paul deals with a runaway slave and then sends him back. What was the moral law he was following? The Torah has a lot to say on the subject, but the BC says very little. How was the master supposed to receive this servant ‘as a brother’, what does that mean when you’re talking about a slave?

Paul uses the term ‘fornication’ quite a bit, which means immoral sexual activity…well…without referencing the Torah, what is immoral sexual activity? You could derive some incest, but not beastiality. You can’t even clearly show premarital sex counts (even though the Torah doesn’t forbid it, per se, only failing to marry afterwards). The BC says nothing about forgiving financial debts or how to treat an employee, the Torah covers that. The BC doesn’t say how to keep Pesach (Passover), even though Yeshua said “As often as you do this“, ‘this’ being the Pesach meal.

So how do we break up the Torah, so nice and neat?

Didn’t we just leave this party?

Now, we’re told that Yeshua’s death ended the law. Why would it do that? As I’ve said before, that belief only makes sense if you believe the law was actually arbitrary, odious, burdensome, and cruel. If it was good, why would you cheer for it to end? But we’re told this happened because our sins were no longer counted against us. So why then would even the moral law remain? If our debt is paid, and the law wasn’t good anyway, then why are we doing any part of it?

And it gets even stranger. Okay, you want to keep the moral law. Is baptism moral law or ceremonial? Can you be baptized in your heart, but not with your body? Is communion ceremonial law or is it moral? What about tithing? When the epistles talk about delivering one unto Satan for the destruction of the body after a mortal sin, is that people sitting in judgment of someone’s morality? Is that a civil proceedure? When Peter oversaw the divine execution of Ananias and Saphira, was the civil? Because I’m told it’s cruel to stone a woman for adultery, but no one has a problem with someone lying in church and getting killed on the spot?

I’m not disparaging, I’m just saying, those sound like civil and ceremonial and moral all strangely blurring and overlapping.

How can we be moral without being ceremonial or civil?

The above point seems to lead to this one. How can one be moral without these other divisions? Can I be moral before Elohim, but not keep his ordinance, his ceremonies of baptism or communion? Or the same Shabbat that Yeshua and all the apostles did?

Can I be morally faithful to my wife, if I am not physically faithful? Can I ‘defraud not’ a brother morally, while exacting usury (which the Torah forbids, generally, and the BC is strangely silent on) or forgiving his debts or paying him a timely wage or not being overly burdensome in exacting of his debts still current? Can I show hospitality in my moral spirit, while denying food and water and clothing and shelter as the Torah commands? Can I ‘provide’ for my house, so that I’m not worse than an infidel, without providing for my estate’s proper division to my children and financial provision for my wife?

When I look at the Torah, considering a mitzvah, that says for example, don’t barge into a person’s house to collect collateral, how can one violate the mitzvah’s civil ordinance (don’t go in and get his stuff) while keeping it morally? If I get in a scuffle with someone and break their nose, the Torah says that I should pay for him to be healed: how do I do that morally, without also doing it civilly?

The Problem is not a Moral vs. Civil or Ceremonial

The Christian often thinks he’s reaching for a ‘higher standard’ than the Torah when he seeks to a moral law. But doesn’t this only show hard heartedness? Christian, do you think your loving, all knowing God, who set the standard that sin misses the mark as the Torah (1 John 3:34?)…do you believe that God gave a bad law? Do you believe his law that is “holy, just, good” according to Paul lacks the moral element?

To avoid blasphemy, you must conclude the moral law is already embedded in the Torah. And the argument for keeping the ‘moral law’ admits it anyway. The Moral law is already there. So do you think God just imposed the ‘civil’ and the ‘ceremonial’ because he thought people had too much time on their hands? Or do you look at the mitzvot covered above and say, “How could you be moral without keeping the civil?”

Isn’t it obvious, that the moral must work itself out into a civil or ceremonial expression? How do you sanctify a woman to be your particular wife, without a ceremony? How do you keep the Sabbath day, even if you think it’s become sunday, without ceremonial trappings? Didn’t Yeshua sing hymns? Didn’t he teach his talmidim to pray, instead of leaving it up to them to ‘figure it out’? Isn’t it obvious that not defrauding your brother will have to have entail actual transactions of goods and worth? The not defrauding would insist upon a just measure and weight (as the Torah insists)?

I think if you’re honest, you realize the moral law has to find expression in both the ceremonial and civil. It cannot exist any other way.

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2 Responses to The Problem with the Moral Law

  1. Bethany says:

    Can I just say thank you. This is a frequent argument/defense and you did an excellent job of pointing out the flaw in the reasoning.

    • jsclark says:

      you’re welcome. one of the good things about the argument is that not only does it admit thE Torah has morality in it, but it also tells you the one making the argument WANTS commandments. Any true disciple, deep down wants to know how the Father wants to be loved.

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