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Thursday, December 28, 2023

Sinning Without Law

That man has always been under some kind of law from God I think there is little doubt.  We know Adam and Eve were under law but what about those who came after them but before the Law of Moses?  The flood came upon mankind because of "wickedness" and "every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen. 6:5 NKJV)  The earth was "corrupt before God" and "filled with violence." (Gen. 6:11 NKJV)  Peter spoke of the world before the flood as "the world of the ungodly." (2 Peter 2:5 NKJV)

Were these people innocent, not having a law of God before them for guidance and direction in life?  Did they not have a way of knowing right from wrong, good from evil?  There is no evidence we have of a written law but we do know Noah was "a preacher of righteousness." (2 Peter 2:5 NKJV)  How did Noah know what was righteous and what was not?  What is my point?  It is threefold:  (1) God had a law by which man was to live even if unwritten, (2) man had some means by which to know God's will and (3) man could sin "without law," that is, in this case, without written law.  God would and did hold man responsible for man's lawlessness by means of the flood.

Moving up to the account of the events surrounding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah the Bible says, "The men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD." (Gen. 13:13 NKJV)  Lamentations 4:6 speaks of “the sin of Sodom.” (NKJV, NAS)  But, there was no written law.  They sinned against God but they sinned without law but only in the sense of written law.  God had a standard, a law, against their conduct whether written or not. 

To elaborate Peter says, speaking of Lot and his time in Sodom, "That righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds." (2 Peter 2:8 NKJV)  Lot saw them; Peter called them "lawless deeds" so there was law there even without a formal code, as was later found in the law of Moses.

I have said all of this to lay some background material for Paul's discussion of the sins of the Gentiles in Romans 1.  (I remind the reader the Gentiles were never given the Law of Moses; it was given to the Jews at Mt. Sinai while the Gentiles remained without a formal law code or written law from God.)  I cannot quote it all here but the reader would be advised to stop and read Rom. 1:18-32 before proceeding.  Paul lists the sins of the Gentiles, especially in Rom. 1:29-32.  How did the Gentiles come to know these things were sins?  They had no written law and in that sense they were "without law," a phrase Paul uses later in Rom. 2:12.

I ask again, how did the Gentiles come to know these listed sins were sins when they were without law?  That they did know is evident for Paul says in Rom. 1:32, "Who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them." (NKJV)  They knew; Paul says so.

I do not propose in this piece to give you answers that would be mere speculation on my part as to how the Gentiles were to know sin from righteousness other than the fact that some things ought to be self-evident to all men.  The Gentiles went for thousands of years, up until Christ, without any kind of formal law from God but they "sinned without law." (Rom. 2:12 NKJV)  One might ask how can this be since "sin is the transgression of the law?" (1 John 3:4 KJV)  That is the question.

This is my opinion and mark it down as that, just opinion, which is that God has law (or put another way a set of standards for conduct) whether it is given to man or not and any violation of that law is sin.  For example, as far as we know God never told Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel not to murder or kill.  Does that mean Cain did not sin when he murdered his brother?  (Should one not know instinctively that this is sin?)

Sin is the transgression of God's law but one can sin without a formal law being in place.  How would one do that?  Well, one could not do it today since all men today are under the law of Christ but back in Old Testament times after Mt. Sinai and God's covenant that was made there with the Jews things were different.  The world was divided thereafter into two groups of humanity.  You were either a Jew or a Gentile (anyone not a Jew was a Gentile).  To the Jews, God gave a formal law—the Law of Moses.  The rest of humanity was without law, that is without a written formal code of law.

The Jews obviously sinned anytime they broke the Law of Moses.  The Gentiles sinned without law, without a formal law code such as the Law of Moses.  However, that does not mean they did not break God's law for God has a standard of right and wrong whether it has been delivered to man formally or not.

Sin is a transgression of God's law period.  Romans 1:18-32 is the Holy Spirit's listing of and condemnation of the sins of the Gentiles.  Paul says, "where there is no law there is no transgression" (Rom. 4:15 NKJV) thus the Gentiles were under condemnation for the very reason that they had transgressed God's law.  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23 NKJV), Paul said in Rom. 3:23, but that would not be true of the Gentiles in the period under discussion if they had no law of God to transgress.

Where did this law that was never formally given to the Gentiles, that the Gentiles lived under and a law they could and did violate, come from since it was not formally given?  Some of it came, evidently, naturally or instinctively as Rom. 2:14 says, "For when Gentiles who do not have the law do instinctively the things of the Law, these not having the Law, are a law to themselves." (NAS)   

The law the Gentiles lived under was not as strict as that the Jews lived under.  Of that, there can be little to no doubt.  When the scriptures talk about doing instinctively the things of the Law they are surely not speaking of offerings, sacrifices, clean and unclean foods, etc., the kinds of things that were regulated in detail and could only be known by a direct revelation from God (the very thing the Gentiles did not have).  The scriptures thus had to be speaking of things that relate to man's relationship with his fellowman and of his reverence toward God.  Paul summed up the fulfillment of the law when he said, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:14 NKJV)  A Gentile was capable of doing that without a formal written code.

Did anyone, Jew or Gentile, ever live perfectly without sinning against the law under which he lived?  Of course not!  That is the point Paul is driving home in Romans chapters 1 and 2.  He says, "We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one.'" (Rom. 3:9-10 NAS)

Paul says, "Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:20 NAS)  Does this mean that since the Gentiles did not have a formal written code or even an oral code from God they had no knowledge of sin?  No!  Why not?  Paul speaks of "the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending themselves." (Rom. 2:15 NAS)  Is there a man, living or dead, Jesus being the exception, who ever lived to manhood who could honestly say he never violated his own code of conduct, his sense of right versus wrong, never ever violated his own conscience?  Our own heart has condemned us all at one point in time or another.

Law has condemned all men, even those the Bible refers to as being "without law" for that phrase means only without a legal code of the likes of the Law of Moses. 

There is a passage in Rom. 5 that raises questions that ought to be dealt with.  It reads as follows:  "For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Rom. 5:13 NKJV)

If a person were to read this for the first time ever and have no knowledge of the Bible he would think that God did not punish sin or hold man accountable for sin before the Law of Moses but we have already discussed the account of the flood and why it came and talked about Sodom and Gomorrah and we have even discussed how God held the Gentiles to account for their sins as recorded in chapter one of this very same book—the book of Romans.  We have also discussed how men had law but just not a law of a formal code given by direct revelation and we have shown how the Gentiles violated the law or light they did have.

My take on this verse (Rom. 5:13) then is this—we take it at face value.  What do I mean?  It is a simple declaration, "sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Rom. 5:13 NKJV)  Thus, if sin exists at any place, anywhere, or anytime among anyone then there was a law that was violated even though that law may not have been in the form of a written or oral code and may not have been in the form of a specific commandment such as Adam was given.  Put another way one could say it is impossible to sin against a law that does not exist thus if there is sin there is law.

If Gentiles who lived in the period between Adam and Moses were eternally lost because of sin how could it be said that sin is not imputed when there is no law (they had no law given by revelation as did the Jews)?  We have already shown the wickedness of many in that time.  The answer is there was law, just not a written code of the nature of the Law of Moses.  I add in closing I do not presume to become the judge of the Gentiles before the Christian dispensation.  That is God's realm, not mine.  I am only saying God was not unjust in those he condemned because they were "without law." 

What God will do with the Gentiles of those ages past who lived without a written code is a question only he has the answer to.  I do know each of us will stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment individually, not as a group, to answer for our own deeds.   Luke 12:47-48 seems to teach we will be judged to an extent on our ability to know and do.  My purpose in writing this article was certainly not to make myself a judge of the Gentiles or to answer questions men have been contemplating for centuries but I do have an answer.  "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25 NKJV)   

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