Before the ten commandments, was there law?


By BibleAsk Team

God’s Law before the ten commandments

God’s law (the Ten Commandments) has existed at least as long as sin has existed. “Where no law is, there is no transgression [or sin]” (Romans 4:15). According to the Bible, the definition of sin is: “For sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). All sin is lawlessness, and all lawlessness is sin.

The moral law may be summarized in the following words, “be like God.” The change of men’s characters after the divine likeness is the great goal of the plan of salvation. The law shows the character of God; the plan of salvation provides the empowering grace for the acquiring of every virtue.

Therefore, man could not exist without the moral Law. God formulated laws to guide men, to enable them to enjoy life fully, to save them from evil, and to preserve them for good (Exodus 20:1). If the moral law was done way with, there would be no safe place on earth for anyone.

The Ten Commandments law is God’s character in written form–written so we can comprehend it. The first four commandments define our responsibility to our Creator (Exodus 20:3-11). The last six are the foundation of all human civil law (Exodus 20:12-17).  The Lord declares, “All his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever” (Psalms 111:7, 8).

Originally, the moral law was given to Adam orally straight in the Garden of Eden and became part of the oral tradition. In addition, Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, so they knew their Father’s character, as revealed in the Ten Commandments (Romans 7:12; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:172). In turn, Adam and Eve passed this knowledge to their offspring.

The Bible tells us that God wrote the law in the hearts of all humans (Romans 2:15). Even though the heathens do not know the written law, whenever they show love for God and for men, they reveal that what the law asks for is written in their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 10:16).

God’s Law in the Patriarchs’ Era

Abraham who lived before Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments, knew and kept God’s moral Law. The Scriptures say, “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:5).

The phrase “My commandments” refers to precepts given by God (1 Samuel 13:13; 1 Kings 13:21). Such a precept, to walk perfectly before God, had been given to Abraham at the age of 99 (Genesis 17:1). The phrase “My statutes” refers to divine laws, ceremonial (Exodus 13:10; Numbers 9:14; etc.) as well as moral (Deuteronomy 4:5, 8, 14; 6:24; etc.). And the phrase “My laws” refers to ethical instructions as well as ceremonial and spiritual precepts (Job 22:22; Isaiah 8:16, 20.)

Abraham left the land of his ancestors, he offered his son, he fulfilled the order of circumcision, he paid tithe and kept of all of God’s laws. Thus, he diligently kept God’s commands, whether they came directly from God or whether they had been handed down from past generations. He set in his heart to obey God fully; where he failed, he approached God with the sacrifice of repentance (Hebrews 7:25; 8:1–4).

By the time of Moses and Sinai, after the people had been in slavery in Egypt, and thereby under the influence of the Egyptian pagan religion, their memory had been corrupted somewhat. So, God ultimately wrote the Ten Commandments Law on two tables of stone so there will not be any confusion about what is right and and what is wrong (Exodus 31:18; 32:16).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

Categories Law

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