In God's instruction manual to mankind, the Bible, God has given us some
wonderful laws that tell us what makes like work and what doesn't. They are
truly amazing laws that are full of great wisdom and if practiced in our society
today would bring great peace, happiness and prosperity. Now these laws are
often described in the Bible by three divisions.
Let's have a look at a typical verse that describes these three divisions. In Deuteronomy
7:11 we read, "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 about 14 times in the Bible.
Now 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 Christ told the rich young man to keep the commandments and the
young man asked Him which ones, Christ quoted some of the Ten Commandments that
God gave in Exodus 20.
The Ten Commandments give the broad principles of how to obey God and show love
to Him and to our neighbours. The statutes are secondary laws that go further
and expand upon the commandments. Life is complex and so God in His love gave
Israel further detail 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 made by lawmakers. Judgments, on the other
hand, refer to judicial decisions made by a judge, like God for example, 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 Deuteronomy 22:8 where we read,
"When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet [or balustrade]
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. 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 at all time. Well, today few people have flat roofs and putting a
balustrade on some of our steep roofs might pose more of a problem than not
having one. The principle here is to preserve the health and safety of those who
might venture onto the roof. As the principle cannot be applied to all roofs
this is a judgment made by God based upon the principle of protecting the health
and safety of those who might venture onto a roof.
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
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 Mt Sinai, to help impress on a carnal,
rebellious people the need for a greater sacrifice to come.
We've looked at judgments. Let's look at a couple of statutes. A good example of
a statute are the holy days. While many think that Christ's sacrifice does 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.
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
World Tomorrow 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
(dropping to verse 9)…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.
This law is the basis of the church's binding and loosing power that Christ gave
to it in Matthew 18. 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 Mr Armstrong made a judgment that
smoking is a sin based upon 1 Corinthians 6:20 which says we are to glorify God
in our body. He understood that every cigarette does us harm and that the body
was not designed for taking in the dangerous chemicals that are inhaled by
Another is where he made the decision that third tithe was no longer compulsory
in many countries as members are already paying the equivalent of third tithe in
their taxes to the government, which now takes care of the needs that were to be
met by the third tithe in ancient Israel.
Now the church is not perfect and so we have seen the church hold different
positions on the very same issue 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 the church
interpreted and then made a decision upon.
For our final scripture let's look at Ezekiel 36:27. After God brings our
Israelite nations back out of captivity after the Great Tribulation He says this
to them, "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My
statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them."
We will be the ones who will teach them God's commandments, statutes and
judgments in the World Tomorrow. In conclusion, if we are to be the ones who
will teach them these laws in the World Tomorrow then it behooves all of us to
be good students and learn all we can about them now.