Significance of The Mosaic Law


Today we shall examine the significance of the Mosaic Law. Many people want to know what is the Law and why was it given, and what does it mean today for Christians. First we will examine what makes up the Mosaic Law.


The first five books of the Old Testament are known as the Pentateuch. These books tell the history of God’s chosen people, from a theological perspective, from creation through deliverance from slavery to the moment before the Jews entered the land promised to them by God. Part of this history includes a set of laws handed down from God to the Jews through Moses. It is these laws (containing 365 negative laws and 248 positive laws for a total of 613 laws) which are known as the Mosaic Law. 1And because the Mosaic Law is found in the first five books of the Old Testament, these books are also sometimes simply called “The Law”. For our purposes, we will focus on the Mosaic Law.

The Mosaic Law can be broken into three broad segments: 

  1. The Moral Law or the Ten Commandments. This part of the Law governed the moral life giving guidance to Israel in principles of right and wrong in relation to God and man (Exodus 20:1-17).
  2. The Judgments, or the Social Law. This part of the Law governed Israel in her secular, social, political, and economic life (Exodus 21:1–23:13).
  3. The Ordinances or the Ceremonial Law. This was the religious portion of Law which guided and provided for Israel in her worship and spiritual relationship and fellowship with God. It included the priesthood, tabernacle and sacrifices (Exodus 25:-31: Leviticus). 2

For today’s believers, the Ceremonial Law do not apply (although individual passages may have an application in our lives today). The only thing we need to concern ourselves with are the Moral Law and the Social Law. It is this which tells us what God expects of us today, in terms of moral purity as well as how to best interact with others. Many times people say, “But that’s way to much to follow!” The answer is quite simple: In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus said, “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.”3 In essence, Jesus said it boils down to loving GOD with everything you are and loving everyone else like yourself.

The Law is often mistaken as a way to obtain salvation. But we know from Jesus’ own words four important things:

1.     Moses prophesied about the Christ (Genesis 49:10, John 5:46, Numbers 24:17, Deuteronomy 18:15);

2.     No one knows God except Jesus and those whom He allows (Matthew 11:27, Luke 10:22);

3.     no one comes to God except through Jesus (John 14:6);

4.     everything that was written about Jesus in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms had to be fulfilled (Luke 24:44).

All this tells us that salvation is not obtained through the Law, but through Jesus Christ. Paul emphasizes this in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”

We know from Paul what the Law was NOT intended for. According to Paul, the Law was not intended to save people, since no one can be justified by the works of the Law (Galatians 2:16, 3:11).  Indeed, Paul wrote in Romans 4:3 that Abraham’s BELIEF in God’s promise was credited to him as righteousness – which is what Moses wrote of Abraham in Genesis 15:6. Abraham was credited with righteousness before he was circumcised, indeed, the circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he already had (Romans 4:11). Besides this, we know that Abraham lived over 400 years before the Law was given to Moses and the tribes of Israel (Genesis 15:13).  We also know from Paul that the Law was not intended for the righteous person (1 Timothy 1:9), and righteousness does not come through the Law (Galatians 2:21). Nor does the Law oppose God’s promises (Galatians 3:21).

While Scripture tells us of what the Law was NOT intended for, it also tells us what the Law WAS intended for. We know that, used properly, the Law was good (1 Timothy 1:8).  We know the Law was intended for those who were sinners, the unholy, the ungodly, the lawless (1 Timothy 1:9). We know that through the Law, we are made conscious of sin (Romans 3:20). We know the Law was put in place, until the first coming of Christ, because of the transgressions of the people (Galatians 3:19).

Long before the Law was presented to Moses, Abraham was promised that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:5). Because of Abraham’s faith, God promised that all nations would be blessed through his seed (Genesis 22:18). One understanding of this verse is that the word ‘seed’ speaks specifically of the Christ. From Matthew 1:1-17, we know that Jesus was a direct descendant of Abraham and Moses.

Moses was sent to deliver God’s chosen people from Egypt. As part of that deliverance, God presented Moses with the Law to teach His people how to be holy and to help guard His chosen people (Galatians 3:23), to help keep them on the path towards righteousness. Since we know the Law was not intended to save people, we can only agree with Paul when he said, “[t]herefore, the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). The Law was not offered as an alternative method of salvation, but as a tutor, it is an integral part of the only method of Salvation.

The Law was intended to make us aware of what God wanted for us. Part of what He wanted was for all mankind to believe in Jesus and have eternal life (John 6:40). To prepare the way, God gave the law to the people. All the prophesies in it were fulfilled by Jesus to prove His credentials. As Paul and Silas said, the only thing people need to do to be saved is to believe in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:30-31).

In summary, we’ve seen that the Law is contained in the first five books of the Bible. This Law was intended to teach Israel how to act and not act, but more importantly, it was to show mankind of their need for a savior. Now that we are saved, we should follow Jesus’ summary of the Law: Love God with everything we are, and love everyone else as ourselves.


1 Keathley, J. Hampton III, Th.M. “The Mosaic Law: Its Function and Purpose in the New Testament”. Available Online [2 March 2006]:

2 Keathley, J. Hampton III, Th.M. “The Mosaic Law: Its Function and Purpose in the New Testament”. Available Online [2 March 2006]:

3New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Mt 22:37). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.


4 Responses

  1. […] A fuller look at the significance of the Law can be found here: . […]

  2. […] Significance of The Mosaic Law […]

  3. First, it is so important to teach the Law was for the Jews–for a specific people in a specific place and time. It was not meant for us at all.

    I think people try and gloss over the fact that Paul said the Law was a burden and even compared it with slavery.

    God has put in all our hearts what is right and what is wrong. If we say no one understood that until it was written down we are overlooking the point above.

    The Old Covenant was for the Jews as an example to all humanity that no one can make a deal with God, in regard to righteousness, and actually keep it. We cannot earn Gods favor.

    Something so utterly difficult was introduced to prove to all religions that their ideas of finding favor with God through offerings and rituals was not what God desired at all.

    Its almost like…Ok..humanity believes they can get right with me by these rituals and offering—I will give them exactly what they want 10 fold. Delivered in such a way that it will make them sick–analogy would be when the Hebrews wanted meat and God sent Birds in such abundance it made them all ill.

    Its a mistake to leave this aspect of the Code out and try and gloss it over as something more glorious than it really was. Christ is Glorious. Christ is the utter relief for such slavery and bankrupt principles that actually had their origins in MANs will. While all the beauty of Prophecy, symbolism, shadows, and moral ideas were built into the OC in an ingenious way–it was a RELIGION that was meant to teach that religion is not the way to God—Christ and God’s grace IS.

    • Ken,

      Do you think I was trying to make the Law out to be glorious?

      And as for whether the Law was intended to anyone other than Israel, I’d have to say that Paul said it was intended to act as a tutor to teach the need for Christ. If you are not being taught by it, then it cant be your tutor. But I think one CAN learn by looking at how no one was able to meet its requirements, even if one is not under it. So, yes, it was intended for the Jews, but I think it was also meant to show anyone who was willing to be tutored that they need Christ.

      It was intended to show one’s need for Christ – that one can not be perfect without God, that one needs a perfect sacrificial Lamb to pay the penalty once for all.

      You said, “Christ is the utter relief for such slavery and bankrupt principles that actually had their origins in MANs will.”

      What do you mean by that? Are you saying God presneted the Law because man wanted it? Are you saying that God altered His plan to accomodate mans’ will?

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