The Old Testament Law – Tripartite Analysis

To provide some background for discussion of the law of God, it is important to understand the categories involved:


The law of God in the Old Testament is of three kinds:

1. Moral

Moral law, because it reflects the character of God, is enduring and immutable. It never was and it never will be permissible to worship any god but God, it never was and never will be permissible to worship God other ways than He ordains, it never was and never will be permissible to dishonor God’s name, it never was and never will be permissible to appropriate all seven days of the week for our work, it never was and never will be permissible to dishonor the authorities over us, to kill, to steal, to lie, to covet, and so forth. In short, it is always the case (for all history) that we must love the Lord our God wholeheartedly and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

2. Ceremonial

Under the Adamaic, Noahic, Abramic, Mosaic, and Solomonic administrations of the covenant of grace, the worship of God was manifested in certain outward ceremonies that were designed to point to Christ. Eminent among these ceremonies were the rite of animal sacrifice, the practice of tabernacle and later temple worship, and in some cases a specialized priesthood. These things all have been fulfilled in Christ, the one true and perfect sacrifice. He is our high priest and his sacrificial work is finished. Consequently there is no more sacrifice and no more priestly class among us. There were other associated ceremonies as well, such as dietary laws and laws related to physical cleanliness as a picture of spiritual cleanliness. All these ceremonial laws, being fulfilled in Christ, have been done away.

3. Civil / Judicial / Juridical

This third category of laws were the laws specific to the Mosaic administration of the nation of Israel. They are the laws by which the country was run. They are not binding on all humanity. Nevertheless, they are important as to their “general equity,” by which I mean that they show to us a just system of government. There are moral aspects of the civil law of Israel, and these moral aspects remain significant. There were circumstantial aspects, and these aspects necessarily vary under different circumstances. Finally, there were ceremonial aspects, and these aspects have been fulfilled or supplanted in the New Testament.

Errors Distinguished

There are four major (and numerous minor) errors that arise from holding to expired portions of the law (Judaizers and “Extreme” Theonomists) or to disposing of still-relevant portions of the law (“Extreme” Two-Kingdomists and “Extreme” Dispensationalists / Antinomians).

1. Judaiziers

Judaizers seek to impose part (or perhaps all) of the ceremonial law on Christians. Thus, for example, the Judaizers argue that it is necessary for Christians to be circumcised.

2. “Extreme” Theonomists

The term “theonomist” has a wide range of meanings. In some cases, folks who call themselves “theonomists” will insist that virtually all and every detail of the Mosaic law with respect to the Nation of Israel must be followed. The problem with this approach is that it overlooks the fact that the Mosaic law was tailored to two particular forms of government and accompanied a nation-state that has ceased to be.

3. “Extreme” Two-Kingdomists

I am using the term “extreme” here because I’m not sure all “two-kingdom” folks would say this description applies to them. In some cases, it appears that “two-kingdoms” folk treat the civil law of Israel as though it were entirely ceremonial. Thus, these folks say that the civil law is essentially done-away-with and consequently for instruction on how governments should be just, we must appeal exclusively to “natural law,” the light provided by God in general revelation.

4. “Extreme” Dispensationalists / Anti-Nominians

“Extreme” Dispensationalists and also Anti-Nominians take the view that all the laws of the Old Testament are done away with, including the moral law. This error arises from a failure to understand the nature of the moral law, and the relation of God to the law of God. God does not change, and consequently the definition of morality does not change.


The issue of God’s law is not a simple one to be handled carelessly or callously. We must be careful to observe to do all that God has commanded us, and yet we need to be careful not to bind men’s consciences beyond what the Word of God states. Excess in the first regard leads to legalism, excess in the second regard leads to antinomianism. There is one way to see the path to stay on it, without going either to the left or to the right: that one way is by careful attention to the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures.


7 Responses to “The Old Testament Law – Tripartite Analysis”

  1. natamllc Says:

    TF:[[To provide some background for discussion]]…when do we begin the discussion? Are you going to open a dialogue blog for this? Or just post away here?This is great stuff!I will go ahead and post here nevertheless! :)It just so happens that here where I am a part of the Body of Christ we have a Scholar, Dr. xxxx, visiting us who began this morning with the men of my Church a weekend of discussions that center around this very Tripartite Analysis! Wow. How coincidental?There was posed this morning as foundational, seven things and five questions.The seven foundation points posed for our consideration and discussion over the weekend are:One, the worldTwo, the fleshThree, the devilFour, the homeFive, the churchSix, schoolSeven, vocationsThe five questions to be answered over the weekend are:One, what is life?Two, what is death?Three, how do I secure the future?Four, what is worth dying for?Five, what is worth living for?With regard to your point number two under that section of the article above:2. "Extreme" TheonomistsThe term "theonomist" has a wide range of meanings. In some cases, folks who call themselves "theonomists" will insist that virtually all and every detail of the Mosaic law with respect to the Nation of Israel must be followed. The problem with this approach is that it overlooks the fact that the Mosaic law was tailored to two particular forms of government and accompanied a nation-state that has ceased to be.This being your "words", I have to commend you for such clarity in them!Thanks.It does seem that this very issue was dealt with by Jesus Himself and the Apostles as we read in Scripture and the "Council of Jerusalem", Matthew 5:17 and Acts 15?And this also:Rom 11:11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Rom 11:12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Rom 11:13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry Rom 11:14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. Rom 11:15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? Rom 11:16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. Rom 11:17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, Rom 11:18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Also, particularly addressing Acts 15 we read Paul wrote this in Galatians:::>Gal 2:7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised Gal 2:8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), Gal 2:9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. I am excited where you are going and am ready to go there with you!!!

  2. Turretinfan Says:

    “when do we begin the discussion? Are you going to open a dialogue blog for this? Or just post away here?”This particular blog I tend to keep rather one-sided – mostly me doing the discussing, with other people chiming in occassionally in the comment boxes and on their own blogs.Nevertheless, I hope to continue to discuss these things, if people are interested.-TurretinFan

  3. Stephen Garrett Says:

    Dear TF:Where is your scriptural support for dividing the law into those three categories of moral, ceremonial, and civil? Are we under the lawgive Moses or the lawgiver Christ? The Old Covenant or the New? Or, perhaps a little of both?Is the sabbath law moral, ceremonial, or civil? How much of the Sabbath laws are binding on Christians of the New Covenant? Is there a command in the New Testament to observe Sabbath or a condemnation for doing so?Blessings,Stephen

  4. Nick Says:

    I’m glad I stumbled across this blog and this post especially.I am Catholic, but I think the key problem in discussions with Protestants is that we don’t understand each other when it comes to ‘faith versus works of the law’ (Rom 3:28).You said the Judaizers looked to impose some/all of the ceremonial law, but I think that is inaccurate.They pushed circumcision because circumcision was formally subscribing to embrace the whole Mosaic Covenant, not just ceremonial parts (Gal 5:3).Thus, when Paul said we are saved apart from works of the Law he meant the whole Mosaic Law, not just ceremonial. I think this issue hits at the heart of the Protestant-Catholic dispute, because it clarifies why Paul was arguing for justification apart from the Law. From my reading and discussions with Protestants, they basically propose an ‘either/or’ message for Paul in the form of: ‘Either you obey the whole Mosaic Law or you trust Jesus did it for you.’This is where the “Righteousness of Christ” comes in, and I think where the Protestant side has it seriously wrong and foreign to Paul’s thought process. The issue for Paul was that the Mosaic Covenant cannot save, while only the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit can and does. This makes the notion of imputation and the “righteousness of Christ” non sequitor in Paul’s teaching.I’d like to see your thoughts on this issue, because I think once these issues are clarified the Catholic position will agree with the Biblical evidence.p.s. are you the Tur8in guy from AOmin?God Bless,Nick

  5. Turretinfan Says:

    Stephen, I have answered your comment in a new post (here).-TurretinFan

  6. Turretinfan Says:

    Nick,I’ve also responded to you in the same post.-TurretinFan

  7. brandon Says:

    Turretinfan, I'd really love to get your thoughts on this piece on general equity:

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