Rebecca Stark is the author of The Good Portion: God, the second title in The Good Portion series, a series written to encourage women to immerse themselves in the depths of Christian doctrine.

The Good Portion — God explores what Scripture teaches about God in hopes that readers will see his perfection, worth, magnificence, and beauty as they study his triune nature, infinite attributes, and wondrous works. 

Rebecca also blogs at Out of the Ordinary.


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Theological Term of the Week

You’ll find slightly different views in the quotes and links included. Good people differ on the issue and I’m still waffling a little.

threefold division of the law
The division of the Mosaic law into three categories: the moral law, the ceremonial law, and the civil (or judicial) law. Also called the tripartite division of the law.

  • From the Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter XII, The Law of God:
  • For the sake of clarity we distinguish the moral law which is contained in the Decalogue or two Tables and expounded in the books of Moses, the ceremonial law which determines the ceremonies and worship of God, and the judicial law which is concerned with political and domestic matters.
  • From the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 19, Of the Law of God:
    II. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man. III. Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the New Testament. IV. To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.
  • From 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law by Tom Schreiner:
  • The distinction between the moral, ceremonial, and civil law is appealing and attractive. Even though it has some elements of truth, it does not sufficiently capture Paul’s stance toward the law. …Paul argues that the entirety of the law has been set aside now that Christ has come. To say that the “moral” elements of the law continue to be authoritative blunts the truth that the entire Mosaic covenant is no longer in force for believers. Indeed, it is quite difficult to distinguish between what is “moral” and “ceremonial” in the law. For instance, the law forbidding the taking of interest is clearly a moral mandate (Exod. 22:25), but this law was addressed to Israel as an agricultural society in the ancient Near East. As with the rest of the laws in the Mosaic covenant, it is abolished now that Christ has come. This is not to say that this law has nothing to say to the church of Jesus Christ today. …[I]t still has “a revelatory and pedagogical function.”
    …Still, the distinction has some usefulness, for some of the commands of the law are carried directly over to the New Testament by Paul and applied to the lives of believers. It seems appropriate to designate such commands as moral norms. For instance, the injunction to honor fathers and mothers still spplies to believers (Eph. 6:2). Paul teaches that love fulfills the law (Rom. 13:8-10), but he clarifies that those who love will not commit adultery, murder, steal, or covet (cf. Rom. 2:21-22; 7:7-8). Those who live according to the Spirit fulfill the requirement of the law (Rom. 8:4). The prohibition against idolatry still stands, though Paul does not cite the Old Testament law in support (1 Cor. 5:10-11; 6:9; 10:7, 14; 2 Cor 6:16; Gal 5:20; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). Other commands and prohibitions that reflect the Ten Commandments are found in Paul. 
Learn more:
  1. What is the difference between the ceremonial law, the moral law, and the judicial law in the Old Testament?
  2. Justin Taylor: On the Tripartite Division of the Law, A Primer on the Mosaic Law and the Christian
  3. Richard Alderson: Law - Civic, Ceremonial and Moral
  4. Mike Riccardi: Schreiner, the Threefold Division, and the Law of God
Related terms:

Filed under God’s Nature and His Work.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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Reader Comments (1)

That book by Tom Schreiner sounds like something I want to add to my wishlist.

April 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKim Shay

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