Editorial – The Law of Moses, Part II

The writings of Paul explain the ceremonial law as contrasted with the moral law, which is the law that defines right from wrong. Paul says, “I would not have known sin [what sin is] except through the law.” (Romans 7:7.) Later in the verse he quotes from the tenth commandment, indicating that except for the law that says you shall not covet, he would not have known that coveting was wrong.

In Galatians 3:19, he asks, “Why was the law given then?” which could be translated, “What purpose then is there for the law [the ceremonial law]?” He immediately answers this question: “It [the ceremonial law] was added because of transgression.” Paul says in Romans 4:15 that where there is no law, there is no transgression. In order for transgression to have occurred, a law had to exist first. What law was transgressed? It was the Ten Commandment law, the moral law which is eternal and unchangeable. What was determined right and wrong in the Garden of Eden is still the same today in harmony with the Ten Commandments, the principles of which have existed from eternity in the past, and will exist through all future eternity. Ellen White corroborates this in the first three sentences of the book, Patriarchs and Prophets, 21, “ ‘God is love.’ I John 4:16. His nature, His law, is love. It ever has been; it ever will be.”

When the moral law was transgressed, another law was added because of the transgression. This law can properly be called the ceremonial law, and included all laws that were added because of transgression. Sin is the transgression of law that is in force. Once the ceremonial law was added, it became sinful to transgress this law. For example, under the ceremonial law it was a sin for Moses not to have his male children circumcised, and he could not take the children of Israel out of Egypt before this was accomplished. (See Exodus 4:24–26.)

In Galatians 3:19 Paul shows the reason for the ceremonial law and when it came into being after transgression. He also shows the time limit of this law, clearly demonstrating its temporary nature, which only lasted until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. (Genesis 3:15.) He had already explained that the seed was Christ (Galatians 3:16).

From Galatians 3:19 we understand (1) the purpose of the ceremonial law, (2) when it came into existence, (3) the intelligences that ordained it which are different than the moral law, and (4) the fact that it was a law that would only exist for a temporary time—until Christ should come.