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In Deuteronomy there is a repeated triad that appears in its full form first in 5:31:*

‏וַאֲדַבְּרָה אֵלֶיךָ אֵת כָּל־הַמִּצְוָה וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים
and I will tell you the whole commandment (miṣwâ) and the statutes (ḥuqqı̂m) and the rules (mišpāṭı̂m)

My question is about the relationship between these three. It seems to me that either:

  • three different groups of instructions (or aspects of torah?) are in view, or
  • there is some overlap, or
  • the whole phrase is a "hendiatreis" indicating a single idea.

Although 5:31 above gives no hint of a subset relationship, 6:1 may imply just that:

‏וְזֹ֣את הַמִּצְוָ֗ה הַֽחֻקִּים֙ וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים
and this is the commandment (miṣwâ) -- the statutes (ḥuqqı̂m) and the the rules (mišpāṭı̂m)-- ...

The punctuation of the ESV reflects the fact that there is no "and" between the first two terms. As written, the English appears to indicate that "statues and rules" together comprise (and are thus in apposition to) "the commandment" (singular). In another variation, "commandment" is plural, and apparently the order is flexible:

‏וְלִשְׁמֹר חֻקָּ֧יו וּמִצְוֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו
... and keep his statutes (ḥuqqı̂m) and his commandments (miṣwōt) and his rules (mišpāṭı̂m)...

I'm wondering if, perhaps based on how these words individually are used elsewhere (they are all extremely common), it's possible to figure out what the relationship between them is when used together in this way. If not, why are they used together like this?

For reference, BDB: miṣwâ, ḥoq, mišpāṭ.

*The triad also appears occasionally elsewhere: 1 Kgs 8:58; 2 Kgs 17:37; Neh 1:7; 9:13; 10:29; 2 Chr 19:10. This question is focused on Deuteronomy. Most of the others are presumably dependent on Deuteronomy anyway; this is particularly evident in the Nehemiah examples.

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  • Hey Susan, I don't know if this would be any help, but a very similar thing is said in Genesis 26:5, except he adds ותורתי׃ at the end. Might be worth checking out.
    – Cannabijoy
    Aug 18, 2016 at 1:11
  • In modern English, how many different versions are there of that translation? Aug 26, 2022 at 22:56

3 Answers 3

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According to various sources there are, arguably, 613 commandments contained in the Torah. However, there is abundant evidence in scripture to support the notion that this corpus of commandments is tripartite in nature. That is, it consists of three distinct divisions for which particular function can be attributed:

  1. Commandments: declarations of what constitutes RIGHT conduct (RIGHTEOUSNESS) -- behaviour that is pleasing to God because it would build a strong and prosperous nation and preserve quality of life for its citizens from one generation to the next.

    The Ten Commandments, etched in stone by the finger of God, form the heart of this corpus:

    enter image description here

  2. Judgments: declarations of implication (if A then B), and thus inference (A therefore B) in regard to RIGHTEOUSNESS. Chapters 21 and 22 of Exodus provide a specific list of such declarations. For example, "IF thou buy an Hebrew servant, [THEN] six years he shall serve, and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing."
    -- Exodus 21:2.

    The Judgments are about restitution, i.e. restoring the harmony of motion within the community that transgression disrupts.

  3. Statutes: declarations of practice, procedure and protocol that provide a framework for the operation, administration and oversight of RIGHTEOUSNESS. For example, the structure, content, personel and purpose of the Tabernacle, and the attendant notions of redemption, atonement, forgiveness and repentance, i.e. the means by which a transgressor might apprehend blamelessness in the eyes of the LORD.

    Declarations concerning these things form the bulk of the corpus, and are found in Exodus 25-40, and much of Leviticus.

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  • This is all very well but try classifying a given commandment as to whether it is either (1) and expansion/elaboration/explanation of the one of the 10 commandments or moral law (2) Judicial (3) ceremonial, etc. At times there is so much overlap that these cannot be distinguished.
    – Dottard
    Jul 23, 2022 at 22:10
  • @Dottard Can you give me an example of a commandment that wouldn't fit into the three categories given? Maybe I can show you where it fits in.
    – enegue
    Jul 24, 2022 at 2:51
  • In was thinking the opposite - some commandments fit into several categories. Some of the health laws do not fit in any of them. The point is that the demarcation between these categories is (1) unbiblical and (2) not stated and unclear.
    – Dottard
    Jul 24, 2022 at 8:44
  • @Dottard Please provide an example.
    – enegue
    Jul 24, 2022 at 9:57
  • Quarantine laws
    – Dottard
    Jul 24, 2022 at 11:24
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All of the commands and statutes. The entire book is the retelling of the Law to the second Generation that went into the Land by the leadership of Joshua.

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Ellicott offers a good explanation of the distinction between statutes and judgments, both of which are called the commandments of the Lord.

a. “Statutes [are the] religious ordinances, or institutions.”

b. “Judgments [are the] requirements. [These are the] actual rules of behavior” [associated with the institution]. “Statutes” and “judgments,” … may sometimes represent two aspects of the same thing. For example, the Passover [was] an ordinance, or “statute,” or, as we should say, an “institution.” The rules for its observance are “judgments,” or requirements [that governed how the statute was to be observed]. The thing itself [the Passover] is permanent; the rules for its observance [however] may vary. [For instance,] it was originally eaten standing, and in haste. But after Israel was at rest [in the land of promise], it was eaten by them [while] reclining, and in an attitude of repose.”

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