What Law?

Ted Noel

What is the law? Where do we find it? In the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 4, we find two sets of laws mentioned.

13 “So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.
“And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it.

ДекалогGod gave the Ten Commandments. He spoke them (Exodus 20:1) and wrote them with his own finger on tables of stone (Exodus 31:18). God also commanded Moses to instruct the people in “statutes and judgments”. We find these “statutes and judgments ” discussed at length in Exodus and Leviticus. They are the laws of civil governance and of the ceremonies of the Tabernacle. Moses wrote them down, then commanded in Deuteronomy 31:26

26 “Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you.

But neither of these sets of commandments was given in “the beginning” (1 John 2:7) when Moses presented them to the Israelites! The Exodus was on the order of two thousand years after creation. So to which commandments is John referring? These commandments must have been given just after the fall. Unfortunately, the Bible does not list a set of commandments given at the fall. It does, however, give us some very good hints about what the people of that day understood to be God’s instruction to them. We will begin in Eden, during Creation Week.

Genesis 2:3

3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (NIV)

The seventh day is the Sabbath, and is repeated in the fourth commandment.
Exodus 20:8

8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

This was clearly given in “the beginning “. It was given before the fall. This holy rest existed before sin. Had sin never entered the world, we would still have the Sabbath! It is part of His perfect creation. This cannot be overstated. The Creator, in his infinite wisdom, provided a Sabbath for his creations who had no sin. The entry of sin into the world merely interposed a finite period of sin between infinite periods of sinlessness. Sin has NO EFFECT on God’s ultimate plan for his creations. Anything he provided for us while we were sinless will remain in the ultimate sinless world.

We can see this in the Garden of Eden. The centerpiece of the Garden was the Tree of Life (Gen 3:22). This same tree will be present in the new earth. Revelation 2:7.

7 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.’

The prophet Isaiah also points this out in his description of the new world in Isaiah 66:

22 “For just as the new heavens and the new earth Which I make will endure before Me,” declares the LORD, “So your offspring and your name will endure.
“And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from sabbath to sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the LORD.

Let’s look at the rest of the Ten Commandments. None of the other nine are listed with the same degree of clarity as the Sabbath, but a careful reading of the book of Genesis shows that they were understood. In one quick reading, I found evidence of all ten. Without quoting the passages, I will list representative passages which show by context an understanding of the particular commandments. I am sure that others could be added to this list.

  1. No other Gods before God. This is implicit in all of Genesis. See also 35:2
  2. No graven images. 31:19, 35:2
  3. Taking the Lord’s name in vain. 21:23-24, 24:3,37, 25:33
  4. The Sabbath. 2:3
  5. Honor your father and mother. 22:9-10, Chapters 24 and 28
  6. Murder. 4:8-11, 49:6
  7. Adultery. 6:2, 16:1-5, 39:7-12, 38:12-26, 49:4
  8. Stealing. 27:35, 30:33
  9. Lying. 3:13-14, 12:13-19, Chapter 27
  10. Covetousness. 26:14

This list shows that the entire Decalogue was known long before it was formally listed on the tables of stone at Sinai (Exodus 20). The patriarchs all knew God’s law. Genesis 26:4-5

4“And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;

5because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.”

The children of Israel strayed from the law, but it clearly was understood. Exodus 16:4

4Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. (KJV)

The manna (and its test of lawkeeping) was given before the Israelites reached Sinai. At Sinai, God restated the law in a codified form to which they could refer. He then added a formal set of tabernacle services which helped to keep the people focused on the law, and which pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as our Passover lamb. 1 Cor 5:7

7 …For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.

We must make this point totally clear. God destroyed the earth with the Flood because of sin. Genesis 6:5

5Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Yet without the law, there can be no sin. Romans 5:12-14a

12Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned–
for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses.

Paul makes it clear that the Law existed in Adam’s time.

It would appear that the Ten Commandments are the commandments to which Jesus and the New Testament writers refer. They were known from “the beginning”. The ceremonial and civil laws which governed the Jews did not come into place until they were enumerated by Moses during the Exodus.

It can be argued (and has been) that the references I have listed are insufficient to show that the Ten Commandments were known before the Exodus. Fortunately, we have other reasons to state that the commandments were well known. Speaking of the Sabbath, in Mark 2:27, Jesus says (translated literally):

27 “The Sabbath was made on account of man, and not man on account of the Sabbath.”

This indicates that the presence of man, not man’s sin, required the presence of the Sabbath. Exodus 20:8 (the beginning of the fourth commandment) starts with “Remember the Sabbath day] ” clearly implying that the Sabbath was not new at Sinai, but had existed for quite some time. In Hebrews 4:4 the writer of Hebrews clearly links the Sabbath with creation.

4 For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”;

Since we are specifically focusing on the Sabbath, I will not extend the discussion to the other nine commandments. It is sufficient that we have clearly established that the Sabbath began at creation.

In the interest of completeness, let us look at two more commandments which are commonly mentioned. Matthew 22:35-40

35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
“This is the great and foremost commandment.
“The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

(This story is repeated in Mark 12:28-31.) These two commandments are given in a sense as summaries of the two parts of the ten: the first four give our responsibility to God, and the final six our responsibility to men. Note that Jesus is quoting the OT, as he did so many times during his ministry. He was not giving new law, he was repeating old law, already known to his audience. Deuteronomy 6:5

5 “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Leviticus 19:18

18 ‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.

It was understood that these laws were a way of stating that the law was a law of love, Romans 13:10…

10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.

…and a law of liberty. James 1:25

25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.


There are two “Laws” in view in the Old Testament. The first is the Ten Commandments, given directly by God to Adam and his descendants, immediately after the fall, then formally restated at Sinai. The Ten Commandments are further summarized in the two “Great Commandments”: Love God, and Love your neighbor. This is the “law of God” referred to by Paul.

The second law in view is the Mosaic law. While the Ten Commandments were written by God’s own finger on tables of stone, the Mosaic law was given to Moses by God. Moses then wrote it down. The bulk of the Mosaic law is in the book of Leviticus. This is what any devout Jew would have understood to be “The Law.” And that is what is discussed in the New Testament whenever “the Law” is mentioned. We find it described in Deuteronomy 31:26

26 “Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you.

The Mosaic law served until the crucifixion. It pointed forward to Christ’s sacrifice, and when that sacrifice had been made, there was no longer any reason for the sacrifices of the Mosaic law to continue. In fact, when Jesus died on the Cross, the Mosaic law of ” sacrifices and grain offerings ” came to an end.

Let us see how this came to be. Daniel’s vision in Daniel 9:24-27 looks forward to the Messiah. Clearly, Jesus is the Messiah. The passage of interest is found in verse 27:

27 “And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering;…

The only system of sacrifice and grain offering known to the Hebrews was the Mosaic law. Clearly, Jesus was to terminate all the sacrifices listed in Leviticus. But when did He do this? To set the scene, let’s take a brief side trip.

In Leviticus 23:5 (and Numbers 9:2-3) we find the Passover sacrifice.

5 ‘In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the LORD’s Passover.

The clock had not been invented, so the Jews divided the day into twelve “hours”. Dawn was the first “hour”, and dusk was the twelfth. The story of “our Passover”, the crucifixion of Jesus, is told in Matthew 27:

45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ” Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani ?”that is, ” My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me ?”
And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.”
And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink.
But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.”
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,…

Jesus died at “about the ninth hour”, or about 3 P.M. When he died, an angel tore the veil between the Holy Place and Most Holy Place so that anyone could look into the Most Holy Place. This would have made it exceedingly clear to the priests preparing for the Passover sacrifice that the sacrifices were over, if they were in tune with God’s plan. Prior to Christ’s sacrifice, no one could ever look into the Most Holy Place. The veil was placed to protect everyone from the presence of God which lived over the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. (The “Shekina Glory” was only present in the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple.) Anyone who looked in would die. Leviticus 16:2.

2 And the LORD said to Moses, “Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.

By tearing the veil, God was telling the world that his plan of salvation had moved into a new phase. The old sacrifices were over, replaced by a better sacrifice. Hebrews 9:13-14.

13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh,
how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

(The discussion of the earthly and heavenly sanctuary services is far beyond what we can quote here. It is quite clear that the Mosaic law of sacrifices became “obsolete” (Heb 8:13). The reader is referred to Hebrews chapters 7-10 for the full story.)

Paul repeats this in Ephesians 2 by pointing out that Jesus abolished the Mosaic ordinances. This took away a cultural division between the Jews and the Gentiles which would have made conversion difficult for Gentiles.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,
by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,
and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.