This is an awkward place to argue for it, but I must, since the Confession goes on in the following three paragraphs to talk about the moral, ceremonial and Judicial Law. Basically, the threefold division of the law stresses the superiority of the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments above the ceremonial and judicial/civil, which were abrogated and fulfilled by the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord of Glory. I have benefited from:
- Dr. Philip S. Ross – From the Finger of God: The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law
- David Chanski – The Law of God II – Threefold Division
- Tripartite Division of the Law of God: A Patristic and Reformed Orthodox View
- Jonathan F. Bayes - The Threefold Division of the Law
It has been a classic Christian doctrine to divide the Law of Moses or the law of the Pentateuch into three divisions, which are 1) the moral laws, 2) the ceremonial laws, and 3) the judicial or civil laws. This does not mean that we have neat categories and we know to which category every law belongs, because some laws are difficult to discern or are a combination. But we do believe that the Bible gives us such a division to understand the abiding validity of the moral law and the abrogation of the ceremonial and Judicial Laws. The question that we need to answer is: Does the Bible make a distinction between the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and the other laws? If the answer is positive then a division of the law is established. If not, then the threefold division would be proven false.
For those wanting a detailed, exhaustive and interactive treatment of this subject, I recommend Philip S. Ross’ From the Finger of God. The book is technical containing a lot of Hebrew and Greek, and interacting with a lot of pro and con literature. It is not a book for the average reader, but it is a very detailed book. What is to follow is not a detailed case for the threefold division, but this is what convinces me of the validity of the division.
That the threefold division is not neat and exact is acknowledged by the Confession. In paragraph 3, it is said that “God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship…partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties”. This means that just because there are ceremonial laws does not mean that they do not have moral aspects. In fact, the ceremonial laws were moral as long as they were binding on the people of Israel and had not yet been fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. They were positive laws for only a limited time, unlike the Decalogue which is moral law for all time and rooted in the nature of God.
The Division Of The Law In The Old Testament
The Division in the Pentateuch
From the beginning, the Decalogue is distinguished from the other laws which God gave. Most of the Pentateuch contains laws given by God to Moses. Although the Pentateuch is often called the Law of Moses, this does not refer to the origination of the laws, but rather the way in which they were communicated to Israel. The Decalogue alone was spoken and delivered dire...