What was the Mosaic law’s purpose?

Even though we Christians are saved by grace, there is a constant battle that we fight when people in the church try to bring us into subjection to the Old Testament (OT) laws of Moses.  Many times it’s done unknowingly or subtilly because of traditions passed down for generations.  I think we do it because there is a lot of misunderstanding about the purpose of Mosaic law.

Paul addressed such problems in many of his writings.  In Romans 6 he explained how we are no longer under the law, but under grace.  Then in Romans 7 he addresses one of the purposes of Mosaic law–

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. …Was then that which is good [the law] made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. [Romans 7:7, 13]

The law has been done away with in the Christian’s life but it is still good in that it makes us aware of what sin actually is and it shows the unbeliever just how severe their sins are and how far off the mark they are from what pleases God.  Paul reiterates this concept in 1 Timothy 1–

8But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully

9Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,

 10For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;

Mosaic law is not for those who are in right standing with God.  It’s only for unbelievers–those who embrace things that fly in the face of godly doctrine.  And if there’s any question of who they are, Paul provides a short list which includes the lawless (those who, like anarchists or private militias, will not submit to valid authority), murderers, whoremongers (i.e. pimps and johns, male & female prostitutes and all fornicators), those who defile themselves with mankind (i.e. men who sleep with other men), menstealers (i.e. kidnappers and human traffickers), and those who live to deceive people like liars and perjurers.  Just as a side note here, Christianity has often been accused by its critics of promoting slavery, but we see here that Paul spoke out against menstealing and slavery falls in that category.

Once the law brings unbelievers to the realization they are sinful, it serves the additional purposes of showing the unbeliever that sin has a high cost and that the sinner is in need of someone higher than themselves to rid them of sin.  Along with these two purposes was the underlying purpose that the law was acting as an earthly figure or a symbol of heavenly truths, such as the animals sacrificed being symbolic of Jesus Christ who would die for the sins of mankind for their salvation from sin.  All of these ideas are expressed in the following scriptures:

Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made… Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. [Galatians 3:19, 24]


3For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. …

5Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. [Hebrews 8 (high priests, their rituals, and the tabernacle were symbolic of someone higher who was to come and were symbolic of heavenly truths)]


7But into the second [sanctuary] went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:

8The Holy Ghost this signifying [symbolically showing], that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:

9Which was a figure [symbol] 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… [Hebrews 9 (this shows that sinners needed someone higher to free them and that rituals were symbolic of Christ)]


22And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

 23It was therefore necessary that the patterns [symbols] of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. [Hebrews 9  (this shows the high cost of sin and that rituals were symbolic of heavenly truths)]


1For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

2For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. [Hebrews 10 (once again, the law was symbolic of heavenly truths and pointed to something better that was to come)]

In spite of the law’s purposes being made clear, we have people in Christendom telling us our righteousness is tied to observing sabbath days, special holidays, blowing shofars, tithing, or eating certain “kosher” foods.  But I’m taking Paul’s advice– “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: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ,” [Colossians 2:16-17].

–posted by Harry A. Gaylord–

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