Berean Digest

Tavares D. Mathews

What Law Were the Gentiles Under During the Old Testament?  

This is a question which many may have never given any thought to and for those who have; they have not thought it through – properly. Most Bible students acknowledge that there have only been three Laws given by God, namely, the Patriarchal Law, Mosaic Law and the Christian Law systems.

Patriarchal Law (The Law of fathers)

Lasted 2500 years. All of humanity was under this law before the Mosaic Law was given to Israel alone. This was an oral law which was passed down from generation to generation. Adam – Moses (Genesis 1 – Exodus 20). There was no particular day set apart (Sabbath and Sunday). The Gentiles continued under this system of law until Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius and his household (Acts 10).

Mosaic Law (The Law of Moses)

Lasted 1500 years. This was a written law.

Moses – Christ (Exodus 20 – Acts 2). God separated Israel out as His chosen people and He gave them a Law which would govern them until it was abrogated by Christ.  

Exodus 34:27   And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. (Note that this law was only for Israel – it excluded Gentiles cf. Deut. 7:6)

Christian Law (The Law of Christ)

Began on Pentecost and will last until Christ returns. Christ (cross) – Christ’s Return – Almost 2000 years. This is an international law to govern all people, in all places, at all times.

“And that he might reconcile both

[Jew and Gentile] unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off [Gentiles], and to them that were nigh [Jews]” (Ephesians 2:16-17).  

The Case of Cornelius

Cornelius was a worshipper of God. But, which law was he worshipping God under. 1) It was not Christianity because the gospel had not yet been offered to the Gentiles. 2) It was not Judaism because he was not an Israelite, nor a proselyte. We should remember that the purpose of the Cross was to place all men, both Jews and Gentiles into one body governed by one law. To deny this most elementary thought would be to imply the following: 1) the Gentiles did not have a law to which they were governed, 2) the Gentiles were under the Law of Moses or 3) God gave an altogether different law to the Gentiles. All three must be readily rejected, for all three contradict Holy Writ. Furthermore, if there have been more than Patriarchal, Mosaic and Christian laws then why is such not recorded in the Sacred Record.

1) The Gentiles had to have a law otherwise they could not have sinned against God, thus be judged. 2) The Gentiles were not under the Law of Moses since it was only for the Israelite Nation.  3) The Bible never mentions a different law which Gentiles were under.

When God gave the Mosaic Law to Israel in Exodus 20, the Gentiles continued under the law that had begun in Eden, namely, Patriarchal Law. Gentiles continued under this law until the New Testament was enacted by Christ’s death and admission into the kingdom was made available by the preaching of Peter (Act 2, 10, Rom. 1:16,17; Matt. 16:19).

Remember Paul indicated that the Gentiles which lived under the Old Testament economy were uncircumcised, thus not under Mosaic Law since that was a requirement (Ex. 12:43–49; Eph. 2:11); they were aliens from the common – wealth of Israel and of the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:12).  With that being the case, how could one argue that they were under Mosaic Law?

Are we to contend that the Canaanites, Philistines, Amorites, Moabites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, etc. were under the Law of Moses? Surely, the informed Bible student would not contend such. They were under a law, but which law. If there have only been three laws throughout all of human history – they would have to have continued under the Patriarchal Law. Again, to argue otherwise would be a contradictory conclusion to reach. It is not only reasonable, but necessary to infer that the Gentiles were under Patriarchal Law until the gospel was offered to them.

Will the Gentiles be judged by God for not keeping the Passover, Day of Atonement, ceremonial and dietary laws of Israel or for not keeping the Sabbath? To ask is to answer.

There were some things that were always wrong. Murdering, lying, stealing, committing adultery and worshipping idols have always been wrong. It has always been right to love your neighbor, mother and father. These are morally unacceptable and acceptable acts which have always been wrong or right for all people and at all times. These laws were just written down and given to Israel along with the other laws which were given by Moses. At the Judgment, the Gentiles will not be judged by if they kept the Law of Moses.

Is There a Contradiction

Some are of the opinion that you would have a contradiction if you say that there were two laws existing together. But, they like skeptics who contend the Bible contains many contradictions fail to understand what constitutes a contradiction. A contradiction occurs when you are referring to the same thing (person), at the same time (period) and in the same sense (figurative or literally).

With that being the case, let us use that rule to examine if there is a contradiction if Israel and Gentiles were under two different law systems. First, we are not talking about the same people. Meaning- there would be a contradiction if we were affirming that Israel was under two systems at the same time. But, we are not. We are referring to two groups of people. Secondly, we are referring to a time when God had not made one law for all people, i.e. Christianity.

How does this relate to the New Testament? What some are apparently confused by is the argument that is used to show that the New Testament and the Old Testament cannot both be enforceable today. Thus, the statement, two laws cannot exist at the same time. This is a right and valid argument. But, this is not the same thing as what occurred under the Old Testament economy. Like oil and water, the Old and New Testaments cannot be mixed. Only one Law can be enforced today and it is without a doubt the New Testament.

The Gentiles of the Old Testament lived under a unique period of time. In the next issue we will develop this thought as we take a look at Romans 2 and the Bible teaching on the conscience.