As every Seventh-day Adventist knows, as soon as we talk about the law, the Ten Commandments, and Sinai, we hear the refrain that the Ten Commandments were first given to the Jews at Sinai; hence, they are a Jewish or an Old Testament institution and not applicable to our day and time.1
Of course, numerous problems exist with that theology, the biggest being that if this were true, then how could there have been sin before Sinai, “for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4)? The truth is that the book of Genesis yields an amazing witness to the existence of God’s law long before Sinai.
Genesis 1 and 2 describe God’s perfect Creation. Genesis 3 records the fall of Adam and Eve. In the next chapter, Genesis 4, we have the first murder. How did Cain know he was guilty for murdering his brother if there were no law to define murder as sin?
Long before Sinai, God specifically denounced murder in the covenant he established with Noah after the Flood (Gen. 9:6).
In the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job, we find God commending Job’s righteousness two times. What does He declare of Job’s character? (Job 1:8, 2:3). Obviously there is a standard of right and wrong operating. Job lived long before the Exodus, and he wasn’t even of the covenant line.
Read Job 24:14, 15. How do these verses help us understand what the standard of right and wrong included?
When Abraham lied about Sarah to Abimelech, God rebuked Abraham for his falsehood. And even though Abimelech was king of Gerar and not of Israelite stock, God held him to the same standard of marital purity found in the Decalogue and demanded that Sarah be returned to Abraham (see Gen. 20:9).
What is the pointed testimony about Abraham that God gives to Isaac about his father? Gen. 26:4, 5.
What’s fascinating about Genesis 26:5 is that the Hebrew uses four different words, mshmrt, mzvot, huqot, and torot (from Torah, “the law”) to describe what Abraham obeyed. Certainly among all these were the Ten Commandments.
When Jacob, at God’s bidding, was returning to Bethel to build an altar to the Lord, he felt the need for revival in his household. What did he request his household to do? (SeeGen. 35:2, 3.)
Clearly, the idea that there was no law until Sinai makes no sense in light of so much of what the Bible teaches about life before Sinai.