The Moral & Ceremonial Laws
There is a winsome Hebrew Roots teacher called Zachary Bauer who regularly takes Christians to task for suggesting there are moral and ceremonial categories to the laws given in the Torah. In fact, it is a common target of his. For example, here is a short excerpt of a much longer diatribe from his recent video The Moral and Ceremonial Doctrine of Men:
And if you’re holding [to] the moral and ceremonial law—something that’s not found in your entire Bible ever, not even once—I’m going to call you an idiot. Because that’s what you are . . . The distinction between the two is never given in your Bible, never, not once. Those phrases do not exist!Zachary Bauer from the video “The Moral and Ceremonial Doctrine of Men.“
The first thought I had when I heard Bauer launch into this argument is, “I wonder if he believes there is such a thing as heresy.” Other similar questions came to mind that I would love to ask of Bauer. Is God omniscient? Do you believe in the incarnation? Did the transfiguration really happen? Did Jesus actually teach the beatitudes?
In his video, Bauer labors the point that the terms “moral law” and “ceremonial law” are man-made terms not found in Scripture. And he’s right. Here are other man-made terms not found in the Bible: heresy, omniscient, incarnation, transfiguration, beatitudes. These are names theologians over the years have given to concepts that are found in Scripture.
For example, you’re not going to find the word incarnation in your Bible. It’s a man-made doctrine. And why did man make it? To describe a truth he found in the Bible. The idea that, in Christ, God became man is a concept taught throughout Scripture (Isa 7:14, 9:6; John 1:14, 3:16; Gal 4:4-5; Phil 2:6-8; 1 Tim 1:15-17; Heb 1:1-2). Bauer wants to reject the idea of moral and ceremonial laws because those particular phrases are not found in the Bible. By that same flawed logic, we could reject the concept of the incarnation because that specific word is not found in the Bible.
The question isn’t whether or not the Bible contains the phrases “moral law” and “ceremonial law.” The question we should be asking is, “Does Scripture contain the concepts described by those terms?” And the answer, of course, is yes. Let’s take a look.
In his video, Bauer offers the argument—and it’s one he has used many times over the years—that in the same book of the Torah where God forbids the eating of pork, He also prohibits homosexual activity. On that basis, Bauer accuses Christians of cherry-picking the verses we like. He says we accept the laws against homosexual activity yet ignore the commandments about kosher food.
In the book of Leviticus, it says a man should not lie with a man; that’s an abomination. But just a few chapters before [that] it says “you should not eat these things because they are an abomination unto you.” You’re picking and choosing your abomination. There are some things you like and some things you don’t, so the way you can navigate this gigantic minefield—the way John MacArthur does—is to take certain things and put them into categories that don’t exist in your Bible. They don’t exist! [Christians say] “We’ll put that whole pork thing in the ceremonial law. And will put that whole ‘man lying with a man’ in the moral category. That’s convenient for us. Because we love our piggie. We love our bacon.”Zachary Bauer from the video “The Moral and Ceremonial Doctrine of Men.“
There’s just one problem with Bauer’s line of reasoning here. It’s not true. The Christian position on these two laws—or any of the Laws in the Torah—has nothing to do with personal preference. It’s based on Scripture.
Bauer agrees that the Law of Moses was given as the terms of the Sinai Covenant. God told Israel that if they obeyed His laws, they would be blessed (Deut 28:1-14), and if they disobeyed them, they would be cursed (Deut 28:15-68). As the Hebrew Scriptures testify again and again, Israel continually and constantly broke those laws. So God, in His mercy, promised a new covenant (Jer 31:31-34), which was inaugurated through Jesus’ death and resurrection (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). And because of the ministry of Jesus, the Sinai Covenant ended (Heb 8:13), and we are now under His New Covenant.
Under the New Covenant, Jesus has become our high priest. And guess what? “When there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well” (Heb 7:12). One change we see in the law is that the dietary restrictions are no longer in effect (Mark 7:18-19; Rom 14; Acts 10, 15:1-29). They’ve ended. For example, in Mark 7, Jesus is talking to His disciples:
And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach and is expelled?” (Thus, he declared all foods clean.)—Mark 7:18-19
Did you catch that? Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus declared all foods clean.
Sidebar on Mark 7:19
When Mark 7 is brought up, our Torahist friends will invariably argue that the parenthetical phrase at the end of v19 was added later and not written by the original writers. However, I have yet to see a Hebrew Roots teacher produce evidence supporting this claim. And evidence is of paramount importance when one is suggesting we ignore or remove a line of Scripture. That’s scary stuff! It’s also a bit suspicious considering that the phrase our Torahist friends want to ignore happens to undermine their theology.
By way of evidence supporting the parenthetical comment, I would point out that the phrase “He declared all meats clean” is found in Mark 7:19 in the Codex Sinaiticus. This is the oldest complete copy of the New Testament in Greek. (You can read Mark 7:19 in Greek here. The phrase to look for is Καθαρίζων πάντα βρώματα (katharizōn panta brōmata); “to cleanse all/every food.”)
Mark’s original Gospel was written about 30 years after the Resurrection. And the CSB Study Bible notes:
Recall that Mark was written under Peter’s influence and that Peter learned in Ac 10:15 that all foods are clean. Thus, the parenthetical statement of Mk 7:19 indicates that Mark, Peter, and others looked back afresh on Jesus’s saying and realized that he had pronounced all foods clean. They failed fully to grasp this when Jesus originally uttered it.CSB Study Bible, Mark 7:19
Translators typically add the parentheses to make it obvious to the reader that the phrase is not part of Jesus’ words but rather Mark’s commentary. So, contrary to Bauer’s claim, the kosher food laws didn’t come to an end because Christians really like pork chops. Jesus is the one who brought them to an end. The law of Moses was “holy and righteous, and good” (Romans 7:12), but it was never intended to last forever (Acts 15:1-29; Rom 7:6; 2 Cor 3:7-11; Galatians 3:24–25).
A Distinction in the Law
Bauer accuses Christians of cherry-picking because we keep the law about homosexual activity but do not keep the commandments about pork. We just saw why we’re not required to keep the kosher food laws. So why do we still keep the prohibition against homosexual activity?
Again, it’s not a matter of personal preference but the authority of scripture. Unlike the kosher food laws, the laws about sexual immorality—including homosexual behavior—are repeated and re-taught in the New Testament (Matt 15:19; Rom 1:26-28; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Tim 1:8-11.) And therefore, unlike the kosher food laws, the commandments about sexual immorality are still in effect. And that brings up a fascinating question.
Under the New Covenant, why did God repeat and endorse the laws about sexual immorality but end the rules about food? That question got Christians pretty curious. They began studying scripture closely and started to notice a pattern. Across the NT, many Mosaic laws are repeated, endorsed, or sometimes even quoted directly (Matt 15:19, 19:18; Mark 7:21, 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom 13:9, etc.). These include the commandments against murder, adultery, stealing, greed, worshipping idols, bearing false witness, and so on.
At the same time, there are other Mosaic laws that the NT teaches are no longer in effect (Mark 7:19; Acts 15:1-29; Rom 14; Col 2:16-17; Heb 7, 10, etc.). For example, in addition to the kosher food laws we just looked at, under the new covenant, there is no more Levitical priesthood, which was required by the law of Moses. Sacrifices are no longer required. Neither is the temple, or the feasts, or circumcision. So what’s going on here? Did God arbitrarily pick and choose which laws would continue and which would end?
Well, as Christians continued to study their Scripture (and by the way, I’m summarizing centuries of theological discovery into just a few lines here!) they started seeing a pattern. The Mosaic laws that are repeated and endorsed under the new covenant seem to deal with issues of right and wrong. Think about it. Issues like murder, adultery, stealing, greed, and so on are objectively wrong. By that, I mean they are always wrong for all people at all times. These are moral values that transcend nations, and cultures, and eras. The laws regarding these issues are grounded in God’s unchanging moral perfection, and therefore they apply at all times to all people. As a shorthand, the biblical laws that deal with morality are sometimes referred to as the “moral laws.” Not because the Bible uses the phrase moral law, but because we find the concept there.
On the other hand, the laws that ended under the New Covenant are of a different nature. For example, it is not wrong for all people at all times to eat bacon. Unlike murder or adultery, food in and of itself is morally neutral. We know this because these dietary restrictions weren’t given to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or anyone who lived before the Law was given at Mount Sinai. And we never see God judging or denouncing Gentile nations for eating unkosher foods. His dietary laws weren’t given to Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon. (Those nations could eat all the pork chops they wanted.)
God gave Israel alone these unique food laws. And not as a matter of right and wrong, but as a matter of obedience and identity. He chose Israel out of all the nations of the earth and wanted to set them apart (Ex 19:4-6; Deut 7:6; 2 Sam 7:23-24; Amos 3:2, etc.). So in antiquity, if you came across a family of people who, for example, did not eat pork or do any labor on the last day of the week, and all the males were circumcised, you knew they were Israelites. They belonged to YHWH, the one true God.
So which laws were given to set Israel apart from the Gentile nations around her? It was the commandments dealing with food, the Sabbath, sacrifices, the temple, the Levitical priesthood, the feasts, and so on. These laws are sometimes referred to as the “ceremonial laws,” for short. Not because the Bible uses the phrase ceremonial law, but because the concept is found there.
Why Did The Ceremonial Laws End?
Under the Law of Moses, the People of God were defined by their ethnicity. The physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac—aka the Jews, the nation of Israel—were God’s people. Everyone else was a Gentile, a non-Jew. That all changed under the New Covenant. The People of God were no longer defined by their ethnicity but by their faith in Jesus.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.—Galatians 3:27-29
Under the old covenant, the Jewish people alone were considered the offspring of Abraham and the inheritors of God’s promises. But the passage above reveals that under the New Covenant, anyone who has placed their faith in Jesus is considered Abraham’s offspring and an heir of God’s promise, whether they are Jewish or not. Therefore, it makes sense that the specific laws given to set Israel apart from the Gentile nations—which we sometimes refer to as the “ceremonial laws”—have ended. They are no longer needed. The distinction between Jews and Gentiles has come to an end in Christ. Those laws were only given until Christ came. And now that He has come, we are no longer under the law. (Gal 3:24-25). Look at how the change in the relationship between Jews and Gentiles is described in Ephesians 2:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off [referring to the Gentiles] have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [and how did Jesus do that?] by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, [so] that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two [the Jew and the Gentile], so making peace, and might reconcile us both [Jew and Gentile], to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.—Ephesians 2:13-16 (bracketed comments added)
Contrary to Bauer’s strident protestations, Christians do not pick and choose which laws we want to keep based on our enjoyment of ham sandwiches. Scripture is our authority in these matters. That said, if Bauer wants to observe the kosher food restrictions, then I say God bless him! He’s entirely within his freedom in Christ to eat or not eat what he wants. The same thing goes for keeping the feasts and circumcision and so on.
These Jewish traditions have not been forbidden under the New Covenant. The NT teaches that they are permitted but not required. So Bauer—or any other Hebrew Roots or “Torah-observant” Christian—is free to observe whatever Mosaic traditions they want. Provided, of course, they acknowledge that doing so is a matter of personal preference, not a requirement of salvation or obedience.
The problems start when our Torahist friends start teaching—as Bauer often does—that Christians are required to keep the Law of Moses. They argue that Christians who do not keep the Mosaic Law are sinful and rebellious. And at that point, they’ve crossed the line into dangerous and unbiblical territory. They are fomenting division in the body of Christ and undermining both the Gospel of Jesus and the sufficiency of His work in making us right with God. And it’s these dangerous and errant teachings that motivate me to spend so much time and energy calling out these Hebrew Roots teachers on their false doctrine.