Some, in their effort to justify not observing the ten commandments, have argued that the ten commandments were not enjoined in the Bible prior to Mount Sinai (Ex 20:2-17). This, however, is not biblically correct. As this article will show (through biblical quotes) all ten of the commandments are mentioned as being applicable in the Bible before they were codified on Mount Sinai. (Note the quotes from God in the Old Testament are in purple and the quotes from Jesus in the New Testament are in red.)
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)
Did Any Non-Israelites Keep the Sabbath and Other Commandments Prior to Mount Sinai?
Over time, the children of Israel forgot the Sabbath, so at Mount Sinai, God had to again show it to them:
13 "You came down also on Mount Sinai,
And spoke with them from heaven,
And gave them just ordinances and true laws,
Good statutes and commandments.
14 You made known to them Your holy Sabbath,
And commanded them precepts, statutes and laws,
By the hand of Moses Your servant. (Nehemiah 9:13-14)
The above demonstrates that the Sabbath already had existed..
One argument against the ten commandments in general, and the Sabbath in particular, is that none allegedly kept them prior to Mount Sinai. Of course, as shown above, this is simply not the case.
There are two additional items that may be of interest here.
First notice what God said to Abraham:
Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws (Genesis 26:5).
And there is no way that Abraham kept God's laws and commandments unless he knew what they were.
It has been reported that Ethiopia has more people who keep some version of the seventh-day Sabbath than any other country on earth. Notice how long they claim to have been observing it:
W. W. Oliphant, an African church leader in the early years of the twentieth century says that the "Sabbath in Ethiopia [has] been kept from the days of Nimrod, about 2140 B.C. (read Gen. 10:8, 10), that is 700 years before the birth of Moses. . . . Africans or Ethiopians had been Sabbath observers from the days of Nimrod" (Quoted in Bradford C.E. Sabbath Roots, The African Connection. L. Brown and Sons, Barre (VT), 1999, p. 26).
Hence, since the Ethiopians claim they were keeping the Sabbath in 2140 B.C., they obviously knew about it and probably the other commandments (more on Africa can be found in the article Africa: Its Biblical Past and Prophesied Future). Thus it appears that Africans were familiar with the idea of a seventh-day Sabbath prior to the giving of the ten commandments on Mount Sinai.
This makes total sense as God set-apart the Sabbath the day after creating humans.
Other Parts of the Bible Prior to Mount Sinai Also Teach the Importance of Keeping the Ten Commandments
Notice the following:
"How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws?" (Ex 16:28).
There are other biblical examples, but the above scriptures prove the point. Isn't it interesting that God made sure that each of the ten commandments was shown to be important before Mount Sinai? Even the ancients knew,
"God is mighty...He also opens their ear to instruction, and commands that they turn from iniquity...But if they do not obey, they shall perish" (Job 36:5,10,11).
Notice what the Bible teaches:
"Sin is lawlessness" (I John 3:4)
or as it says in the AV "trangression of the law".
Breaking the third and seventh commandments are specifically listed as sin prior to Mount Sinai.
How could there be sin if there was no law, since "sin is not imputed when there is no law?" (Rom 5:13). If the law was not in place, there would have been none who were "hating covetousness" (Ex 18:21).
Paul apparently agreed with these positions when he wrote,
"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'" (Rom 7:7).
For more information about Paul, please see the article titled, What Did Paul Teach About the Ten Commandments?.
Even Martin Luther admitted that the ten commandments were before Moses. Notice
For even if a Moses had never appeared and Abraham had never been born, the Ten Commandments would have had to rule in all men from the very beginning, as they indeed did and still do (Luther, M. Against the Sabbatarians:Letter to a Good Friend, Part II, 1538).
The fruits of this sin are afterwards the evil deeds which are forbidden in the Ten Commandments...we hold that the Law was given by God, first, to restrain sin by threats and the dread of punishment, and by the promise and offer of grace and benefit (Luther Martin. The Smallclad Papers. 1537. Translated by F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau Published in: _Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church_. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), pp. 453-529).
Some have argued, that even if the ten commandments are mentioned throughout the Bible that since they are not listed in one place until Exodus 20, no one would have known what they were. This is particularly strange to argue since
1) All are mentioned at least twice before Exodus 20,
2) Abraham obeyed them and must have known what they were ("Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws", Gen 26:5)
3) Job seemed to know them since he mentions most of them (see above quotes and the more detailed article Job and the Ten Commandments),
4) God said, about peoples who existed prior to Mount Sinai and broke several of the commandments (and were not at Mount Sinai), "For the land is defiled , therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitant" (Lev 18:25), thus it is clear that God considered violating the commandments to be wrong prior to Mount Sinai and that God required that non-Israelites were to have kept them! Interestingly Noah knew what clean and unclean animals were, yet clean and unclean animals are not listed in the Bible as such until Leviticus 11; remember God told Noah "You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female, two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female" (Gen 7:2).)
In conclusion, it is clear that all the ten commandments were shown to be in effect prior to Mount Sinai. It would appear to be dangerous to ignore this biblical truth, "For if we sin willfully after we have received knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" (Heb 10:26).
Those of the Church that Jesus Christ founded, the genuine Church of God, still keep them.
P.S. Some have said the ten commandments were done away at the crucifixion. The article Were the Ten Commandments Nailed to the Cross? addresses scriptures on this important subject.
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