What does this mean? Does it mean that before Sinai there was no law? Let’s consider the context. Sin is not imputed if there is no law. We read however that:
Romans 5:12-14 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have 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 them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
By one man sin entered the world. I John 3:4 says: “Sin is the transgression of the law.” This implies that there was a law in Adam’s day. Not only a law, but as the verse reads “THE LAW”. Or else sin would not have been imputed unto Adam. But yet “sin is not imputed when there is no law. Paul himself said:
Rom 7:7 …I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
So quite simply, in order for death to reign from Adam to Moses, and for sin to be imputed unto them, then it must be that though the law had not yet been given to Moses, it was still there. Why? Because it is eternal.
Let’s look and see if we can find the commandments before Mount Sinai:
Commandment 1: “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur” (Gen 15:7); “I am Almighty God, walk before me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1); “I am the God of your father–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex 3:6). “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves” (Gen 35:2). “and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD” (Ex 12:12). “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them” (Ex 18:11). “This also would be an iniquity deserving of judgement, for I would have denied God who is above” (Job 31:28). “Then Job answered the LORD and said, ‘I know that you can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from you'” (Job 42:1-2).
Commandment 2: “‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves‘…So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears and Jacob hid them” (Gen 35:2,4). “And you shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire of Molech…for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled“ (Lev 18:21,27). “If I have observed the sun when it shines, or the moon moving in its brightness, so that my heart has been secretly enticed, and my mouth has kissed my hand; This also would be an iniquity deserving of judgement, For I would have denied God who is above” (Job 31:27-28) (note this is believed to be part of idol worship).
Commandment 3: “nor shall you profane the name of your God…for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled“ (Lev 18:21,27). “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5). “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Interestingly, those called of God are not to be cursed either, “And I will curse him who curses you” (Gen 12:3).
Commandment 4: “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” (Gen 2:2-3). “Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD…So the people rested on the seventh day” (Ex 16:23,30). “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mar 2:27).
Commandment 5: “Adam, the son of God” (Luk 3:38), “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat it of it”: Cursed is the ground for your sake” (Gen 3:17). Notice that later a blessing of land is promised for those who obey this commandment (Ex 20:12; Deut 5:16).
Commandment 6: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning” (Joh 8:44) (since the devil was a murderer from the beginning it seems clear that murder was not allowed before Mount Sinai). “Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him…And He said, ‘The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth” (Gen 4:8,10). “Then the king of Egypt spoke…’When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him’…But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them” (Ex 1:15-17). “The murderer rises with the light; He kills the poor and needy” (Job 24:14).
Commandment 7: “his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused…’How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?'” (Gen 39:7-9). “Moreover, you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife to defile yourself with her…for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled“ (Lev 18:20,27).
“The eye of the adulterer waits for the twilight, saying, ‘No one will see me’; and he disguises his face” (Job 24:15). Job, a married man, said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman?” (Job 31:1).
Commandment 8: “So my righteousness will answer for me…everyone that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the lambs, will be considered stolen, if it is with me” (Gen 30:33). “‘With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live. In the presence of our brethren identify what I have of yours and take it with you.’ For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them” (Gen 31:32). “How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house. With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die” (Gen 44:8-9). “He kills the poor and needy; And in the night he is like a thief” (Job 24:14).
Commandment 9: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it ” (Joh 8:44). “Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die”…The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’. So the LORD God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, You are cursed‘”(Gen 3:4,13-14). “But you forgers of lies, You are all worthless physicians” (Job 13:4). “Now if it is not so, who will prove me a liar, And make my speech worth nothing?” (Job 24:25). “My lips will not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit” (Job 27:4). “Should I lie concerning my right?” (Job 34:6). “For truly my words are not false” (Job 36:4).
Commandment 10: “So when the woman saw…a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Gen 3:6). “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” (Gen 6:5); because this law in effect God decided to destroy humankind with the flood (Gen 6:7). “The enemy has said, “My desire (AV “lust”) shall be satisfied on them” (Ex 15:9). “Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness” (Ex 18:21). “I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman?” (Job 31:1). “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbors door, then let my wife grind for another, and let others bow down over her. For that would be wickedness; yes it would be deserving of judgement” (Job 31:9-11)
Obviously the commandments were there before Sinai. Are they there also after the cross? If sin is imputed after the cross, then there is no doubt that they are there.
Paul said “I had not known sin, but by the law” (Rom 7:7)
Therefore the law is as much there even today as it was from Sinai to the cross, as it was even before the it was given to Moses. It is eternal. The same yesterday, today, and forever. Righteousness does not come by it, it cannot give life, however, when we violate it, sin is imputed, and sin brings death, just as it always has.