The Two Laws

Here we address the point of the two laws, as a foundation for discussing the issue of the festivals and other ceremonies.

What did God give to Moses on Mt. Sinai?

“And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.” Exodus 31:18.

This is the law of ten commandments.

What was given after the ten commandments?

“Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.” Exodus 21:1.

What else did he receive in addition to judgments?

“And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” Exodus 25:8.

What did Moses do with the instruction of the Lord?

3 And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do. 4 And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.” Exodus 24:3, 4.

“And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and unto all the elders of Israel.” Deuteronomy 31:9.

In addition to the tables of testimony which were given to Moses in the mount, he there received the ritual or ceremonial law, and full instructions in regard to the building of the tabernacle. When this tabernacle was finally completed, the unsurpassed glory of the Lord so rested down upon it that Moses was unable at first to enter. But an audible voice from the divine glory above the mercy-seat spake to him, and bade him come nigh. And there the Lord gave him still further directions in regard to the forms of worship to be carried on in the sanctuary.
It is this law of ceremonies, which was to find its fulfillment in the death of Christ, when type should meet antitype, that is so frequently in our day confounded with the moral law of ten commandments, which was engraven by the finger of God upon stone, and which is as enduring as the throne of Jehovah.” Signs of the Times, July 15, 1880, pars. 1 & 2.

“The sacrificial system, committed to Adam, was also perverted by his descendants. Superstition, idolatry, cruelty, and licentiousness corrupted the simple and significant service that God had appointed. Through long intercourse with idolaters the people of Israel had mingled many heathen customs with their worship; therefore the Lord gave them at Sinai definite instruction concerning the sacrificial service. After the completion of the tabernacle He communicated with Moses from the cloud of glory above the mercy seat, and gave him full directions concerning the system of offerings and the forms of worship to be 365 maintained in the sanctuary. The ceremonial law was thus given to Moses, and by him written in a book. But the law of Ten Commandments spoken from Sinai had been written by God Himself on the tables of stone, and was sacredly preserved in the ark.
There are many who try to blend these two systems, using the texts that speak of the ceremonial law to prove that the moral law has been abolished; but this is a perversion of the Scriptures. The distinction between the two systems is broad and clear. The ceremonial system was made up of symbols pointing to Christ, to His sacrifice and His priesthood. This ritual law, with its sacrifices and ordinances, was to be performed by the Hebrews until type met antitype in the death of Christ, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Then all the sacrificial offerings were to cease. It is this law that Christ ‘took… out of the way, nailing it to His cross.’ Colossians 2:14. But concerning the law of Ten Commandments the psalmist declares, ‘Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven.’ Psalm 119:89. And Christ Himself says, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law…. Verily I say unto you’—making the assertion as emphatic as possible—‘Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.’ Matthew 5:17, 18. Here He teaches, not merely what the claims of God’s law had been, and were then, but that these claims should hold as long as the heavens and the earth remain. The law of God is as immutable as His throne. It will maintain its claims upon mankind in all ages.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 364:3-365:1.

Why was the system of ceremonies and sacrifices introduced?

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Colossians 2:16-17.

“God gave a clear and definite knowledge of his will to Israel by especial precepts, showing the duty of man to God and to his fellowmen. The worship due to God was clearly defined. A special system of rites and ceremonies was established, which would secure the remembrance of God among his people, and thereby serve as a hedge to guard and protect the ten commandments from violation.
“God’s people, whom he calls his peculiar treasure, were privileged with a two-fold system of law; the moral and the ceremonial. The one, pointing back to creation to keep in remembrance the living God who made the world, whose claims are binding upon all men in every dispensation, and which will exist through all time and eternity. The other, given because of man’s transgression of the moral law, the obedience to which consisted in sacrifices and offerings pointing to the future redemption. Each is clear and distinct from the other. From the creation the moral law was an essential part of God’s divine plan, and was as unchangeable as himself. The ceremonial law was to answer a particular purpose in Christ’s plan for the salvation of the race. The typical system of sacrifices and offerings was established that through these services the sinner might discern the great offering, Christ. But the Jews were so blinded by pride and sin that but few of them could see farther than the death of beasts as an atonement for sin; and when Christ, whom these offerings prefigured, came, they could not discern him. The ceremonial law was glorious; it was the provision made by Jesus Christ in counsel with his Father, to aid in the salvation of the race. The whole arrangement of the typical system was founded on Christ. Adam saw Christ prefigured in the innocent best suffering the penalty of his transgression of Jehovah’s law.” Review and Herald, May 6, 1875, pars. 3 & 4.

Why is this ceremonial law called a “shadow?”

“Moses saw that only through Jesus Christ could man keep the law of God. Paul says, ‘The commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death’ (Rom. 7:10), death to the sinner. The types and ceremonies, with the prophecies, gave ancient believers a veiled or indistinct discovery of the mercy and grace to be brought to light through the revelation of Jesus Christ to our world. The law itself would have no glory were it not that Christ is embodied in it. The revelation of Jesus Christ cast its glory back into the Jewish age. The law had no power to save. It was lustreless, only as Christ was represented in the law as the One full of righteousness and truth.” Bible Echo, August 4, 1902, par. 5.

This law had a purpose only after sin. “If Adam had not transgressed the law of God, the ceremonial law would never have been instituted. The gospel of good news was first given to Adam in the declaration made to him that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head; and it was handed down through successive generations to Noah, Abraham, and Moses. The knowledge of God’s law, and the plan of salvation were imparted to Adam and Eve by Christ Himself. They carefully treasured the important lesson, and transmitted it by word of mouth, to their children, and children’s children. Thus the knowledge of God’s law was preserved.” Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 230:3.

The same principle held true up until today.

I referred them to ancient Israel. God gave them His law, but they would not obey it. He then gave them ceremonies and ordinances, that, in the performance of these, God might be kept in remembrance. They were so prone to forget Him and His claims upon them that it was necessary to keep their minds stirred up to realize their obligations to obey and honor their Creator. Had they been obedient, and loved to keep God’s commandments, the multitude of ceremonies and ordinances would not have been required.
If the people who now profess to be God’s peculiar treasure would obey His requirements, as specified in His word, special testimonies would not be given to awaken them to their duty and impress upon them their sinfulness and their fearful danger in neglecting to obey the word of God. Consciences have been blunted because light has been set aside, neglected, and despised. And God will remove these testimonies from the people, and will deprive them of strength, and humble them.” Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 607:1, 2.

Ten commandments are eternal—they were never a type or a shadow.

“The moral law was never a type or a shadow. It existed before man’s creation, and will endure as long as God’s throne remains. God could not change nor alter one precept of His law in order to save man; for the law is the foundation of His government. It is unchangeable, unalterable, infinite, and eternal. In order for man to be saved, and for the honor of the law to be maintained, it was necessary for the Son of God to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He died for us on Calvary. His death shows the wonderful love of God for man, and the immutability of His law.” Selected Messages, bk. 1, pp. 239-240.

The moral law was restated after sin, and sacrifices were instituted.

“The law of God existed before the creation of man or else Adam could not have sinned. After the transgression of Adam the principles of the law were not changed, but were definitely arranged and expressed to meet man in his fallen condition. Christ, in counsel with His Father, instituted the system of sacrificial offerings, that death instead of being immediately visited upon the transgressor, should be transferred to a victim which should prefigure the great and perfect offering of the Son of God.” Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 230:1.

We have the types and the shadows in the ceremonial laws, and these were to last until they should meet the reality. The sacrificial offerings were continually revealing the fact that Christ was coming to our world, and when type met antitype in the death of Christ, then the sacrificial offerings, typifying Christ, were no more of any value, but the royal law of God could not be changed…. There is no shadow in the precepts of the decalogue. The ten commandments are not a type. God gave his law, and in the fourth precept of the decalogue is his Sabbath, the very day on which we have turned aside from worldly business in order to observe it as a memorial of the creation of the heaven and the earth; and just as long as heaven and earth shall remain, just so long will this law be binding upon those who are living upon the earth.” Review and Herald, July 15, 1890, par. 5.


If Adam had not transgressed the law of God, the ceremonial law would never have been instituted.” Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 230:3.

How long was the ceremonial law to be in effect?

8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: 9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; 10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” Hebrews 9:8-10.

The ceremonial law, given by God through Moses, with its sacrifices and ordinances, was to be binding upon the Hebrews until type met antitype in the death of Christ as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. Then all the sacrificial offerings and services were to be abolished. Paul and the other apostles labored to show this, and resolutely withstood those Judaizing teachers who declared that Christians should observe the ceremonial law.” Review and Herald, September 27, 1881, par. 3.

How should we look at the ceremonial law today?

“[The Jews] attach as much importance to shadowy ceremonies of types which have met their antitype, as they do to the law of the ten commandments, which was not a shadow, but a reality as enduring as the throne of Jehovah. The death of Christ elevates the Jewish system of types and ordinances, showing that they were of divine appointment, and for the purpose of keeping faith alive in the hearts of his people.” Review and Herald, May 6, 1875, par. 17.


The ceremonial law, instituted because of sin, served to keep hope alive in God’s people until the Messiah should come. It continues to teach us about the ministry of Christ, of which it was a shadow. However, it is not the same as the moral law, which has always existed, and which was in place before sin.

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