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I've heard many times that many of the probitions in Leviticus that Jewish people continue to abide by don't apply to Christians. I've further heard a claim that the laws were broken up into 3 types, legal, ceremonial, and moral, and that only the moral laws apply. However, while plenty of articles online wax on about this idea they usually provide little scripture to back up where these distinctions came from, and what scripture I did find was frankly not very persuasive to me.

Thus I'd like to get a better understanding of where this concept derived from and what scripture actually supports it. In fact I have a number of closely related questions about this concept.

  • When did the concept that Leviticus could be broken into 3 types of laws first start to become common?
  • What scripture supports the idea of Leviticus being three types of laws, and how does one know what passages apply to which type of 'law'?
  • When did the idea that only moral laws apply from Leviticus first become common in Christian theology?
  • What scripture backs up the idea that only moral laws apply to Christians? I'd prefer as comprehensive an inclusion here as possible, as I said I've found snippets claiming to support the idea but by themselves they hardly felt sufficient to justify such a radical change of interpretation of the bible, so I'm trying to see if there is something I'm missing.
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This is a two-fold question which I will answer in the reverse order:

1. Scripture to support termination of Levitical/ceremonial laws

Probably the earliest is the conclusion of the first council of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15 as a result of this very debate - should gentiles who become Christians keep the ceremonial law as typified by the rite of circumcision - ANSWER - NO but they still needed to keep the moral and Noahide laws, Acts 15:28, 29 -

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond these essential requirements:

  • You must abstain from food sacrificed to idols (Moral requirement in the 10 commandments)
  • from blood (Noahide law from Gen 9:4)
  • from the meat of strangled animals (Noahide law from Gen 9:4)
  • and from sexual immorality (moral law from 10 commandments)

You will do well to avoid these things.

Thus, the Levitical/ceremonial laws were officially terminated; however, the Levitical covenant (Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11, Neh 13:29, Mal 2:4-8) which was an eternal covenant (Num 25:12, 13, Ps 106:30) is fulfilled in Christ as our Great High Priest (Heb 4:14-16, 5:10, 7:23-28, 8:1, 2, 9:1-28, 10:1-18) and our Passover Lamb (, John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19), etc.

This is confirmed when Jesus died on the cross, the ceremonial system was finished and the temple curtain dividing the Holy from the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom (Matt 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45, see also 2 Cor 3:13-16) to symbolise this. Jesus became the High Priest of the New Covenant (Heb 4:14-16) and fulfilled the Levitical Covenant.

2. When did The Christian Church abandon the Ceremonial/Levitial laws?

Despite the clear decision of the First Jerusalem council as documented above, that did not silence agitation and descent. The final blow came with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and its associated priesthood in 70 AD. After that, keeping of the Levitial and ceremonial law became impossible, even for those who wanted to keep it.

APPENDIX - Different laws

I agree with the OP that there is little in the Torah that distinguishes civil vs ceremonial vs moral laws from each other. To try to do so is to ask the wrong question. Law in the OT context had no meaning outside an accompanying covenant - the law was to regulate the relationship between the two parties making a covenant. There are several such covenants in the OT, each with an associated law:

  1. Noahide Covenant: Gen 8:20 – 9:17
  2. Abrahamic Covenant: Gen 15, 17, 18:9-15, 22:15-18
  3. Israelite Covenant: Exodus 19-24, and expanded in parts of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – often called, “The Old Covenant”, or, “Moral Covenant”, or, sometimes incorrectly called, “The Mosaic Covenant”.
  4. Levitical Covenant: – Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11, Neh 13:29, Mal 2:4-8.
  5. Davidic (or Regal, or Royal) Covenant: 2 Sam 7, 23:5, 1 Kings 6:11, 12, 8:25, 1 Chron 17:11-14, 2 Chron 6:14-16, 7:17, 18, 13:5, Ps 89:4, 29, 34, 39, 132:11, 12, Jer 33:21, Eze 37:15-28.

Thus, we can now see what happened to each of these in the NT -

  1. The Noahide covenant was eternal, never revoked, and made with all mankind
  2. The Abrahamic covenant consisted of the promise of Abraham's son (and ultimately the Messiah) and the land of Canaan
  3. The Israelite or moral covenant was to create the people of God.
  4. The Levitial covenant was with the priesthood and this anticipated the great High Priesthood of Jesus - it continues today but only in Jesus.
  5. The Royal/Davidic Covenant was eternal and never revoked and so continues today in Jesus. Jesus is the promised King of the new Christian Community, ie, the Kingdom of Heaven, or, Kingdom of God, Luke 1:33, John 1:49, Acts 13:23, Rev 11:15. Compare Jer 33:14-17, Eze 37:22. Thus, Jesus inherits the Davidic Covenant. He is also the “Son of David” (Matt 1:1-16) and “Son of God” as predicted in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7); and His kingdom will never be defeated and is eternal, Luke 1:33, Heb 1:8, Rev 11:15, compare Ps 61:7, Isa 9:7, Ps 146:10.
  6. The New or Christian Covenant is a direct continuation of the Old or Moral Covenant.
  • The purpose of the Old Covenant is exactly the same as the New Covenant: Specifically, God said of the Christian community, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9, 10 (Compare Ex 19:5, 6, Hos 1:9, 4:6).
  • All the promises God made under the Old Covenant to Israelites find their fulfilment in Jesus as mediator of the New Covenant to Christians, Matt 5:17, Gal 3:14, 16, 22, 29, Eph 1:18, Col 3:23, 24, 2 Cor 1:20, Rom 9:8, Heb 9:15, 11:18, 1 Peter 1:4. Thus, the New Covenant promises to save all people. For example, The Old Covenant was to save people from slavery, Ex 20:1, 2, 23:23, Deut 5:6; the New Covenant is also designed to save people from slavery (of sin), Luke 4:18, 19, John 8:32, 34-36, Gal 3:22, 5:1, 13, 14, Acts 8:23, 13:38, 39, Rom 6:14, 18, 22, 8:1-4, 20, 21, James 1:25, 1 Peter 2:16, 2 Peter 2:19, etc.
  • The Jerusalem council resolution in Acts 15:28, 29 is a specific set of requirements that were repeated from the Old Covenant for the New Covenant.
  • Hebrews discusses the same idea that the Moral Law of God is to be written on our hearts, Heb 8:7-13, 10:16, 17, exactly as it should have been under the Old Covenant (compare Deut 6:5, Jer 24:7, 31:33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28). Significantly, when Heb 8:10, 10:16, “I will write my law on their hearts” quotes Jer 31:33, the word used for “law” is “Torah”. This further reinforces the idea that it was the Torah and its Israelite (ie moral) Covenant that is to be kept.
  • Christians were to be “called by my Name” as confirmed in Acts 11:26, just as under the Old Covenant (2 Chron 7:14, Isa 43:7, 65:1). Matt 10:22, 24:9, Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17, Acts 15:17.
  • Indeed, being “called by my name” (= Christians) and imitating Christ is the seal of God and of the New Covenant as administered by the Holy Spirit, 2 Cor 1:22, Eph 1:13, 14, 4:30.
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  • Agreed and it is a little more complex than it appears. Exact dates are hard to pin point – Nihil Sine Deo May 3 at 22:11
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Act 15 describes the Jerusalem Council. The decision was reached and a formal letter was dispatched.

23b The apostles and elders, your brothers,

To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

Greetings.

24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul — 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:
29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Farewell.

This was a milestone in separating the nascent church from traditional Judaism in terms of law-keeping.

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  • So does abstaining from 'meet of strangled animals' actually mean it's only strangled animals that are a problem, or that kosher means of killing livestock are still required? – dsollen May 3 at 15:48
  • I took it to mean that on this aspect they did as the Jews did at that time, so it wasn't a total separation of laws. – Tony Chan May 3 at 15:54
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“then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭10:9-14‬ ‭

It was exactly at the moment that the foreshadowing Levitical practices were nullified by that which they foreshadowed coming to fruition. Namely the ultimate sacrifice

“In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭8:13‬ ‭

The Levitical practices could never forgive anyone’s sins away. So when the actual sins forgiving sacrifice was consummated the old covenant was made obsolete and nullified.

That is not to say that the Ten Commandments were nullified, obviously. But for example Tithing was nullified, for there were no more sacrifices needed and therefore no more priests to sacrifice the offerings. Hence anyone pushing Malachi in the New Covenant is an extortionist of money because God is no longer bound to honor the old covenant promises pertaining to the old priesthood.

When was it implemented? When they finally realized that bloodlines don’t matter, and you have the answer in the other postings referring to Acts.

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    On the topic of tithing (I'm sure there ore others too, but this one stands out), there is no longer a legal requirement like there was under the Mosaic Law, but the principle still stands. Not as any specific amount or equation, but as generosity in general. If you start with the Tithe, just to do something (forget gross or net, and just do something, consistently, especially when it looks like you're giving away your literal last rent payment before eviction), and then move on to open-handed generosity with no particular criteria at all, it's amazing how things tend work out! – AaronD May 3 at 23:44
  • I've heard countless stories to that effect. One of the more extreme ones is that a guy in my parents' church felt God telling him that he needed to, in pretty much the situation that I described above. He dropped his check in on Sunday, and by the end of the following week, all of his creditors had called to say that they didn't know why they were holding onto his account and they were clearing him! – AaronD May 3 at 23:44
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    Of course, if you expect God to be contractually obligated to bless you now, that probably won't work. It's the attitude that matters, which then produces action; the act itself does almost nothing. – AaronD May 3 at 23:45
  • So we agree @AaronD – Nihil Sine Deo May 3 at 23:46
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    I interpreted the "extortionist" part to mean that you were encouraging people to simply attend church and not support it at all. At least pay your share of the bills for the building! That's just being nice, like buying something from a coffee shop in exchange for them letting you sit there all day with your laptop. If people would only do that, I think the vast majority of church budget problems would go away. (Hint: they're not supported by the government.) – AaronD May 4 at 0:10
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The event that resulted in the change was Peter's vision before going to Cornelius (Acts 10:9-48

 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:13–15, ESV)

You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” (Acts 10:28–29, ESV)

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. (Acts 10:34–35, ESV)

So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Acts 11:2–3, ESV)

7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ (Acts 11:7–9, ESV)

15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:15–18, ESV)

The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 just confirmed the above and stated it clearly; only holding Gentiles to the Noahite covenant.

 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. (Acts 15:19–20, ESV)

Most people date Paul's Letter to the Galatians as before the Jerusalem Council. Here not only does Paul not hold Gentiles to the Law of Moses, but also Jewish Christians.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal. 2:11–14, ESV)

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Two verses come to mind immediately: Mark 7:19 and Acts 15

Mark 7:19 - For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

Acts 15:28ff - It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond these essential requirements: You must abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

There is also the entire history of Paul's controversy with the Judaizers over circumcision requirements for gentile converts.

For answers to the historical theology questions, I would probably start with looking at historical church statements such as the Westminster Confession.

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    Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. – agarza May 3 at 14:58
  • The "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean" is not actually part of the original Greek text. It crept in as an extra-biblical marginal reading, and it makes little sense based on the context. Is that which comes out as excrement from the body declared to be "clean"? Also, the Jerusalem Council only dealt with one specific ritual: circumcision; its decision did not address all of God's law in broad strokes. – Polyhat May 4 at 0:23
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    "Not part of the original Greek text" brings up the issue of textual criticism, but it is itself an interpretation of Jesus' words. In Mark 7, Jesus makes a sharp distinction between ceremonial acts and moral acts, correctly pointing out that there is nothing inherently moral in washing your hands and putting food in your mouth. So here you have a distinction between moral law and some other kind of law, which provides a basis for the concept to develop. – Kyle French May 4 at 2:57

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