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How Did Jesus and the Apostles View the Law of Moses?

Two extremes characterize views of the Old Testament and the Law of Moses.  While some treat the Ten Commandments and the 613 other Old Testament commandments as if they are just as fresh and binding today as when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, others view the 66 books of the Old Testament and their laws as if they are dusty history. 

Is there a middle ground?  What can we learn about the use of the Ten Commandments from Jesus and the Apostles?  Is it possible that some Old Testament laws remain eternal while others were temporary?

"God Laws"; "Man Laws"

Intently studying the Law of Moses for thousands of years, the Jews noticed that the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17) fell in two distinct categories.  The first four laws governed man's relationship with God and were called "God Laws."  The final six laws governed man's relationship with other men and were called "Man Laws."  The table below divides the Ten Commandments into the four that teach man how to treat God and the six that teach man how to treat other men. 

God Laws

Man Laws

(1) You shall have no others gods before me.

(2) You shall not make idols.

(3) You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.

(4) Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.

(5) Honor your father and mother.

(6) You shall not murder.

(7) You shall not commit adultery.

(8) You shall not steal.

(9) You shall not bear false witness.

(10) You shall not commit adultery.

Matthew 5

If Jewish religious scholars were the only ones who noticed a God Laws/Man Laws distinction (others have described this difference as a difference between "Ceremonial" and "Moral" laws), their conclusion would not be very meaningful.  If, on the other hand, Jesus and his designated Apostles also recognized the same difference, then there must be something to it.

Jesus' most profound statement about the authority and use of the Ten Commandments is found in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:17-48).  Declaring that Christian righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the painstakingly scrupulous Scribes and the Pharisees (Mt. 5:20), Jesus reconsidered the Ten Commandments, but which ones?  The table below lists the Old Testament laws that he reapplied.  Glaringly absent from Jesus' list is any mention of "God Laws."

God Laws

Man Laws


(6) You shall not murder (Mt. 5:21).

(7) You shall not commit adultery (Mt. 5:27).

Romans 13

Paul also revisited and reapplied the Ten Commandments in Romans 13:9.  The table below presents this verse.  Notice how that, again, the "God Laws" are excluded.  Only the "Man Laws" are included in the conclusion, "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10). 

God Laws

Man Laws


“You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet”


Nothing in the New Testament supports polytheism, idolatry, or employing the Lord's name in empty and unspiritual ways (the law of the Sabbath has specifically been replaced by the first day of the week).  Still, closely associated with the vast ceremonial system of Temple, Levitical priesthood and sacrifice, the "God Laws" do not play a prominent part in the New Testament.  A good rule of thumb about Old Testament laws is to see if they are reaffirmed by News Testament passages.

By repeating the "Man Laws," however, and by restating and reapplying the Old Testament laws that govern how men are to treat each other, Moses' "Man Laws" are prominently placed within Christ's New Testament system.  One is not too far off of the beam if one understand the Ceremonial Laws to be temporary and the Moral Laws to be eternal.  One honors God and His laws to recognize that the great moral principles of the Ten Commandments are as important today as they every have been.