God has given us some wonderful laws that tell us what makes life work and what doesn’t. They are full of great wisdom and if practiced in our society today there would be much more peace, happiness and prosperity. Now these laws are often described in the Bible by three divisions.
Deuteronomy 7:11 describes these three divisions. “Therefore you shall keep the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.” This three-fold division of the laws of God is mentioned at least 10 times in the Bible.
So what’s the difference between the commandments, the statutes and the judgments? First of all, what are the commandments? Well, that’s an easy one for most of us. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to keep the commandments the young man asked Him which ones? Jesus quoted some of the Ten Commandments that God gave us in Exodus 20.
The Ten Commandments give the broad principles of how to obey God and show love to Him and to our neighbors. The statutes are secondary laws that go further and expand upon the commandments. Life is complex and so God, in His love and infinite wisdom, gave Israel further details and specifics as to how to show love for Him and others through the statutes.
Having said that, what’s the difference between statutes and judgments? Now, statutes are secondary laws that are made by lawmakers. Judgments, on the other hand, refer to judicial decisions made by a judge based upon the principles behind those laws to come up with a decision as to how best to apply those laws.
So how do we go about determining whether a law in the Old Testament is a statute or a judgment? Well, first of all, we need to understand why the particular law was made.
For our first example let’s look at a judgment from Deuteronomy 22:8 where we read, “When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring guilt of bloodshed on your household if anyone falls from it.” Why was this law given? Well, in ancient times people had flat roofs and people used to spend a fair bit of time on the top of their roofs for various reasons and so there was the danger of people falling off a roof. So a parapet was used as guard rails and to prevent people from falling off the roof. This was a basic safety law like so many of the safety laws that governments pass today.
The next question we have to ask is whether that law can be applied for all cultures for all time. Well, today very few people have flat roofs and putting a parapet on some of our steep roofs might pose more of a problem than not having one. And since the principle here is to preserve the health and safety of those who might venture onto the roof the principle cannot be applied to all roofs.
Let’s look at the laws that cover the sacrifices and offerings. In Jeremiah 7:22 God says “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.” We see that God didn’t originally give Israel these laws when they came out of Egypt. They’re not found in the book of Exodus but in the latter books written AFTER the time when they sinned by worshipping the golden calf.
The sacrifices and offerings were but types of the greater sacrifice of Christ to come. They taught Israel of the need for Christ’s sacrifice to come later on and, are no longer required because of Christ’s sacrifice. They were judgments made by God, because of their sins at Mount Sinai, to help impress on a carnal, rebellious people the need for a greater sacrifice to come.
We’ve looked at judgments. Now let’s look at a couple of statutes. A good example of a statute is the Holy Days. While many think that Christ’s sacrifice did away with the need to keep these “Jewish Holy Days” they are ignorant of the fact that the Holy Days teach us a lot about the great plan of God to harvest all souls and save all mankind. And by keeping the Holy Days we learn so much about God’s plan.
This principle behind these Holy Day laws can be applied for all people, for all time and are thus statutes. We read of Egypt having to keep the Feast of Tabernacles in the New Kingdom on earth in Zechariah 14. Leviticus 23:31 makes it clear that the Holy Days are statutes. About the Day of Atonement it says, “You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.”
The dietary laws can also be applied for all people, for all time. Most of the animals that are unclean in Leviticus 11 were designed by God to be scavengers and are not fit for human consumption. Christ’s sacrifice does nothing to change that basic fact of God’s creation. Thus, the dietary laws are statutes, as opposed to judgments.
The judges of Israel also made judgments on issues not specifically mentioned by God in the law. This is spoken of in Deuteronomy 17. In Deuteronomy 17:8-10 we read, “If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge…you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the LORD chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you.”
They didn’t have to go to the judges if they felt that they could work out their problem. But if they felt the problem was too hard to work out they had the option to bring it to the judges and they would make a judgment based upon determining why the laws were made and applying those principles to the matter brought before them. As long as the judgments don’t directly violate the laws and the word of God, the Church has the power of judgment in ecclesiastical matters. In 1 Corinthians chapter 6 Paul chastised the Corinthians for going to unconverted judges of the world instead of the Church to decide upon matters between brethren.
Members don’t have to go to the ministry to sort out their problems with their brethren but if it is too hard to sort out Paul admonishes us to take it to the Church and abide by the decision rather than go to court against our brother. The obvious exceptions to this are over criminal matters and for civil matters that the church has no authority over, for example, finalizing a divorce.
One good example of a church judgment was when some churches made a judgment that drinking alcohol is a sin based upon 1 Corinthians 6:20 which says we are to glorify God in our body. They interpreted that every drink of alcohol (no matter how small) does us harm and that the body was not designed for taking in the dangerous chemicals that are in alcohol.
What does the Bible say about alcohol or wine? Is it a sin to drink? Jesus made some very interesting comments about the criticism leveled at him and John the Baptist related to their behavior and drinking habits. “For John came neither eating nor drinking (alcohol), and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ “(Matthew 11:16 – 19)
John’s Nazarite vow prevented him from having not only wine or alcohol but also grape juice. In fact, he couldn’t even eat any grapes! The primary location in the Scriptures that discusses the Nazarite vow and drinking is in the Book of Numbers, Chapter 6.
Jesus drank wine, but he did not sin; therefore, it is not wrong or bad if we do a little bit of drinking ourselves. In fact, Jesus’ own mother, Mary, asked her son to make more of it at the marriage feast in Cana. (see John chapter 2) He obeyed His mother even though his time to perform miracles had not yet arrived. He made more wine (And much better wine) than they could drink! Imbibing the ‘fruit of the vine’ is not a sin in the eyes of God. In fact, drinking wine is used as a representation that Christ died for our sins. ( See I Corinthians 11:23-26)
Some teach that “oinos” (Strong’s Concordance G3631) means non-alcoholic grape juice in the Bible; and that’s what Jesus and his disciples were drinking on Passover. This simply could not be the case, because what they were drinking represented his blood. The Greek word, ‘oinos’ is derived from the Hebrew word, ‘yayin’. (H3196) They are both described as fermented grape juice that could lead to intoxication. Wine is fermented grape juice which is active or “living” just as our blood. (See Lev. 17:11) The Apostle Paul did not think drinking alcoholic beverages was wrong. He tells Timothy, who was having stomach trouble, that he should drink some of it for his stomach’s sake. (See 1Timothy 5:23) The latest scientific findings show that taking a moderate amount of wine may be helpful for our heart and lowers cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Of course, the Bible does condemn drunkenness. Paul’s letter to Titus states that a minister of God should not be given to drinking too much wine or be an alcoholic (Titus 1:7). Drunkenness is clearly not acceptable in God’s word. (1Timothy 3:8) Paul warns us a second time that we should not be taking in intoxicating drinks until we are drunk. (Ephesians 5:18) As long as we drink wine or alcohol in moderation the Bible states that it is good for us. But drunkenness is definitely a sin and should not to be a part of a Christian’s life.
The same questions about drinking wine could be asked about drinking beer or smoking cigarettes. The fact remains that moderation in all things is a Godly attribute. Smoking is obviously not healthy and the believer should try to quit, but what is there in this world that isn’t good for you? I love to go to fast food restaurants but don’t go very often because I know the menu carries high fat volumes in their foods. The fact is, there are no perfect Christians. The Apostle Paul said, “I have the right to do anything, you say—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything—but not everything is constructive.” (1Cor. 10:23)
Jesus is more concerned with what comes out of our mouths than what goes into it saying in Matthew 15:11, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” It is what comes out of our mouth (our words) that defiles believers, because it is by our words that our heart is revealed.
Now the Church is not perfect and so we have seen Christians hold different positions on the very same issues at different times. A couple of examples of this are church judgments on makeup and interracial marriage. Prohibitions that were made on these two issues were not based upon a specific statute in the Bible that forbid them but were judgments based upon principles which a certain church interpreted and then made a decision upon.
Orthodox Jews have another judgment that teaches not to eat dairy products and meat at the same time. This rabbinic rule came about through a misinterpretation of Exodus 23:19. “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God. Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.” (The same verse being repeated in Ex. 34:26 and Deut. 14:21) The proper understanding of this verse deals with the ancient Egyptian and Canaanite idolatrous fertility rite. The liquid milk was sprinkled over the fields by the pagans, after the fall harvest to ensure a bountiful harvest from their god or goddess, for next year.
Exodus 23:19 has nothing to do with eating meat and dairy products together. The Lord was declaring to His people that after the harvest season was over and when the pagan people around them would practice idolatry and witchcraft to insure a good harvest for themselves for the next year that they were not to imitate the pagans. Israel was instead to trust God for next year’s bountiful harvest.
We cannot find one Scripture where God commands that we abstain from eating dairy and meat together. Not one. The Rabbis have perverted the Scriptures when they declare that it is a sin to eat meat and dairy together. Biblically there is no problem with eating meat and dairy together. We see that Abraham and the angels did it: “And he (Abraham) took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them (The angels) and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.” (Genesis 18:8)
The Bible gives us the proper definition of sin. It does not come from human beings or human opinions. Because human opinions can deviate from the Word of God; therefore a biblical definition of sin is accurate since it is a definition from God Himself.
In First John 3:4, the apostle gives us the proper definition of sin, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” This means that every human being has sinned and continues to sin. So we are all in big trouble since we all will continue to sin in this life. Jesus is the only human who never sinned. This is why Jesus made the perfect sacrifice because he was without blemish and the only perfect human that ever lived. His death reconciled humans to God. But only those who believe on him are the ones reconciled to God. (Acts16:30-31; Rom 5:10; 2Co 5:18)
For our final scripture let’s look at Ezekiel 36:16-27. He tells Ezekiel that after the end of this age He will restore all Israelites that He dispersed among the nations and says, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.”
If we are to be the ones who will walk in these laws in God’s kingdom, then it behooves all of us to be good students and learn all we can about them now.