Were the Ten Commandments known at creation?

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By BibleAsk Team


The idea that the Ten Commandments were present from the time of creation and that God’s laws were known to humanity from the beginning is a clear fact in the Bible. This perspective hinges on the understanding that God’s moral laws are eternal and inherent to His nature, and thus, they were implicitly known even before they were given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

The Ten Commandments at Creation

The Ten Commandments, as recorded in Exodus 20:2-17, are a summary of God’s moral law. These commandments encapsulate fundamental principles of righteousness and justice that reflect God’s character. While these commandments were reinstated at Mount Sinai, there is substantial biblical evidence to suggest that the moral principles they embody were known and relevant from the very beginning of human history.

God created humans to enjoy happiness, peace, long life, fulfillment, and every good blessings for which we desire. God’s law is the way that points His children to the right direction that they may have this true and ultimate happiness. And God’s law is the wall that protects His children (Galatians 3:24).

The Moral Law Before Sinai

The Bible defines sin as “the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV). Man could not have known sin without the law. Paul explains, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7, NKJV).

  1. Creation and the Moral Order:
    • Genesis 2:2,3 (NKJV): “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.'”
    From the outset, God established the sacredness of the fourth commandment – the seventh day Sabbath. This demonstrates that even before the formal giving of the Ten Commandments, there was an expectation of obedience to God’s moral will.
  2. Cain and Abel:
    • Genesis 4:6-7 (NKJV): “So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.'”
    The story of Cain and Abel illustrates the concept of the sin of Murder and moral accountability. God’s interaction with Cain implies that Cain understood what was right and wrong. In addition, the rejection of Cain’s offering and the acceptance of Abel’s suggest an underlying awareness of God’s standards, even though these standards were not explicitly outlined as they were later at Sinai.
  3. Noah’s Time:
    • Genesis 6:5 (NKJV): “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
    The description of humanity’s wickedness before the flood indicates a violation of moral laws. God’s decision to judge the earth with a flood implies that there were moral expectations that people were failing to meet.
  4. Abraham’s Obedience to God’s Laws:
    • Genesis 26:5 (NKJV): “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

Sin and the Law

For sin to be recognized, there must be an established law. The presence of sin from the earliest human history suggests that God’s moral law was already in effect.

The Universality of God’s Law

  1. Romans 2:14-15 (NKJV):
    • “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.”
    Paul’s argument in Romans suggests that even those who did not receive the Mosaic Law (Gentiles) have an inherent understanding of God’s moral law. This implies that God’s moral principles are universal and known innately by all people.
  2. Romans 5:12-14 (NKJV):
    • “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—(For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.)”
    Paul states that sin was present in the world from Adam to Moses, even before the formal giving of the Law. This indicates that a form of God’s law was in effect, enabling sin to be recognized and accounted for.

Sacrificial System and Awareness of Sin

The practice of offering sacrifices for atonement further supports the idea that humanity had an awareness of sin and the need for reconciliation with God. How could man ask for forgiveness by shedding the blood of animals if he didn’t know what is sin? Therefore, the Lord made sure from the very beginning that His children knew His Laws (Exodus 20:2-17) that they may avoid it.

Sacrifices Before the Sinai

  1. Abel’s Sacrifice:
    • Genesis 4:4 (NKJV): “Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering.”
    Abel’s offering of an animal sacrifice indicates an understanding of the need to offer something valuable to God, possibly for atonement purposes.
  2. Noah’s Sacrifice:
    • Genesis 8:20-21 (NKJV): “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.'”
    After the flood, Noah’s offering of clean animals as burnt offerings signifies an understanding of sacrificial practices and their importance in maintaining a relationship with God.
  3. Job’s Sacrifices:
    • Job 1:5 (NKJV): “So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did regularly.”
    Job, who lived before the Mosaic Law was given, practiced regular sacrifices for atonement, suggesting an awareness of sin and the need for forgiveness.
  4. Abraham’s sacrifice:
    • Genesis 22:9-10 (NKJV): “Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.”

The Ten Commandments and Their Eternal Nature

The Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20:2-17 reflect moral laws that are rooted in God’s unchanging character. These laws are not arbitrary but are based on eternal principles of righteousness.

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 NKJV)

  1. First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
  2. Second Commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
  3. Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
  4. Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
  5. Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
  6. Sixth Commandment: “You shall not murder.”
  7. Seventh Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.”
  8. Eighth Commandment: “You shall not steal.”
  9. Ninth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  10. Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

The Continuity of God’s Moral Law

The continuity of God’s moral law from creation through the giving of the Ten Commandments and beyond is evident in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.

  1. Jesus and the Law:
    • Matthew 5:17-18 (NKJV): “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
    Jesus affirmed the permanence of God’s law, emphasizing that He came to fulfill it, not to abolish it.
  2. Paul and the Law:
    • Romans 3:31 (NKJV): “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
    Paul taught that faith in Christ does not nullify the law but rather upholds it. The moral principles of the law continue to be relevant for believers.
  3. James and the Law:
    • James 2:10-11 (NKJV): “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”
    James underscores the enduring relevance of God’s moral commandments. The law reveals the character of God; the plan of salvation provides empowering grace to achieve every virtue (Philippians 4:13).

Conclusion

The evidence from Scripture suggests that the moral principles encapsulated in the Ten Commandments were indeed known and relevant from the very beginning of human history. These principles, rooted in God’s eternal character, have always been in effect, guiding human conduct and defining sin. The practice of sacrifices for atonement before the formal giving of the Law indicates an awareness of sin and the need for forgiveness.

The Ten Commandments given at Sinai were a formal codification of these eternal moral laws, serving to make explicit what was already implicit in the relationship between God and humanity. From Adam and Eve’s initial disobedience to the sacrifices of Abel, Noah, Job and Abraham, there is a consistent theme of moral accountability and the need for atonement.

Thus, the Lord ensured from the very beginning that His children knew His laws, allowing them to understand sin and seek forgiveness. The continuity of these moral laws is affirmed by Jesus and the apostles, highlighting their enduring relevance for all people, throughout all generations.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

Categories Law

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