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What is the Law of Moses?

In general, the Law of Moses is the first five books of the Bible, which are called the Torah (which means "law" in Hebrew) or the Pentateuch (which means "five books" in Greek). In a stricter sense, the Law of Moses only includes the more than 600 rules and laws in the second through fifth books of the Torah. The commandments are often called "the Law of Moses," but they are really the Law of God. The law was given to Israel by God through Moses.

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2–17), which God told Moses on Mt. Sinai, are the core of the Law of Moses (Exodus 31:18). Jesus said that Deuteronomy 6:5, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength," is the "greatest commandment" from the Law of Moses. Jesus said the second greatest commandment was like the first; it is found in Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments," says the Bible (Matthew 22:37–40; see also Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8).

The phrase "Law of Moses" is first used in the Bible after Moses has died. Joshua, who had been with Moses the whole time Israel was in the desert, had just led the Israelites into the Promised Land. In order to follow one of Moses's last orders, Joshua had the Law of Moses written on plastered stones (Deuteronomy 27:4–8) and read to everyone, Israelite and foreigner alike (Deuteronomy 31:9–13). Bible experts have different ideas about how much of the law Joshua wrote down and read, but most agree that it wasn't every word of the Torah's five books. Still, it was easy to write a lot on plastered stone, as is shown by the way ancient Egyptian temples and tombs used the same method.

Moral laws, civil (or judicial) laws, and ceremonial laws are the three main parts of the Law of Moses.

Moral laws reflected God’s holy, unchanging character. The moral laws included the Ten Commandments.

Civil laws were rules that the Hebrew people had to follow in their everyday lives. These rules covered things like marriage and divorce, sexual behaviour, and property rights. They also set the punishments for crimes like theft, kidnapping, and slander.

Laws about ceremonies told the Israelites how they were to worship God. The ceremonial laws told people how to make sacrifices, do rituals, and have festivals in the right way. In this group were the rules about what was "clean" and what was "unclean."

The Law of Moses was a copy on earth of a holy standard that was eternal, in heaven, and didn't change. "LORD, your word is forever; it stands firm in the heavens" (Psalm 119:89). Jesus taught that the Law of Moses could not be changed in any way. He said, "It would be easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for a single stroke of a pen to be taken out of the Law" (Luke 16:17). God's law doesn't change because God doesn't (Psalm 55:19; James 1:17). Jesus obeyed the law, and he often told people to do the same.


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