I contend that Benjamin Franklin has it exactly backwards: moral law is higher than positive law. Indeed, I question whether God even makes positive law any more.
(Rom 13:8) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
This and the several parallel passages from the Sermon on the Mount, Galatians, and James all point to the conclusion that if it’s not subsumed in “love one another,” it’s not law.
Moral law is whatever law is subsumed within “love your neighbor,” and by and large, positive law is any other command.
But don’t jump to conclusions yet. You see, most of the scriptures deal with things other than law. Don’t try to fit everything in scripture into law, much less either positive law or moral law. Thinking that way is to start with a legalistic assumption — which, of course, leads to legalism.
Also, you have to realize that the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant are different covenants. The Law of Moses is chock full of positive commands. They are truly the words of God. But we are no longer under Mosaic positive commands. That’s why, for example, we no longer honor the Sabbath.
Now, those brought up in the Churches of Christ don’t study Galatians much, because it doesn’t fit our theology. We therefore ignore it. But Galatians is the epistle that most directly speaks to our situation. (I offer a detailed explanation in Do We Teach Another Gospel?) Here’s just one critically important lesson from that little book.
The issue at hand was whether Gentiles must be circumcised to be saved. It would have been simplicity for Paul to recite the Five Step Plan of Salvation and point out that it’s not one of the five steps. But Paul chose an entirely different argument.
(Gal 5:2-6) Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Paul begins with faith in Jesus. He plainly draws a contrast between seeking salvation by law or by faith. Seeking justification by law damns because it’s either all law or no law. You can’t demand obedience to any one part of the law unless you demand obedience to it all.
Equivalently, it’s either faith in Jesus or it’s salvation by law. Take your pick.
Paul then adds love. In v. 6 he declares the reason that circumcision (or not) has no value because it’s neither faith nor love — and only faith expressing itself in love “counts.” “Counts” is better translated “avails” (as in the KJV), because “avails” means to accomplish the intended purpose — and salvation is the topic at hand. Faith and love avail. Nothing else avails. Therefore, circumcision does not avail.
Now, try that syllogism with such positive commands as instrumental music or congregational autonomy. If Paul’s logic holds, those positive laws cannot be salvation issues. Cannot.
Paul then expands on love.
(Gal 5:14) The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Summed up” is better translated “fulfilled.” The same thought and word shows up in —
(Rom 13:8-10) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Paul’s point in Galatians is that, because love fulfills the law, there is no need to circumcised. For a believer, God has accomplished all that the Law was meant to accomplish through love. This is, of course, a change from the Mosaic covenant — but not because the Law had been repealed but because it had been fulfilled.
(Mat 5:17) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount covers more than love, but it’s centered on love.
(Mat 7:12) So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
“Sums up” is “is” in the Greek. The Golden Rule — love in action — is the Law. Jesus said so.
Paul knew Jesus’ teachings. Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law, that love is the Law and the Prophets, and Paul tells us that love fulfills the Law. Makes sense.
We want to presume that Jesus replaced the Law with a new law, except that Jesus hid the new law in silences, whereas Moses wrote a lengthy, detailed Law. The New Law, therefore, is only for those with the knowledge of how to read the silences — a knowledge that we, the keepers of the Regulative Principle — can’t agree on.
That’s not how it works. Law is replaced by what fulfilled law: love.