Did the Divine Law exist before Moses?

Did the Divine Law exist before Moses?  This a great question from a reader named John David.

Just to clarify, Saint Thomas Aquinas describes five species of law:

  1. Eternal law
  2. Natural law
  3. Human law (for example, stop your car at a red light)
  4. Divine law (subdivided as Old Law and New Law or Old Testament and New Testament)
  5. Law of sin (concupiscence, the tendency in us toward sin)

Divine Law before Moses

Usually, we speak of the Old Law coming through Moses. Thus, John David’s question is a good one.

Was there Divine Law before Moses?

Yes, Divine Law existed before Moses. Namely, the Adamic covenant, the Noahic covenant, and the Abrahamic covenant.

[You may want to read this article: Do you know the covenants of the Bible? (and How Christ fulfills the Covenants to freshen up on this topic.]

Divine law is any time God breaks into history and gives commands or instructions. He did this with Adam and Eve, Noah, and Abraham. So divine law was around before Moses.

For example, the divine decree to circumcise males on the eighth day was part of divine law (Abrahamic).

St Thomas Aquinas, however, notes that the divine law prior to Christ (Old Law) was more like “heightened natural law” clarified for sinners.

Only the New Law is inward and transformative because the New Law includes the Holy Spirit in our souls.

St Paul also teaches that the Divine Law of the Old Law was shadowy and mediated by angels – thus inferior. In Christ is the fulness.

Question: A blog post for another time is why would God reveal inferior law at all. Why not give the gold from the beginning? Why not have Christ come right away? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • I was thinking of “Increase and multiply” as one of the earliest instances of Divine Law well before Moses. It also seems like God showed man how to cover his sin with a sacrifice well before Moses and the Mosaic Covenant. In the garden of Eden, God sacrificed an animal to dress them in skins to cover their shame/sin. Throughout salvation history, God gives measured portions of Truth no faster than we can accept it as a people. It makes me think of the quote… “Do not cast the pearls before the swine.”

  • Daniel Bui

    Answer to the question: I suspect it was because they wouldn’t be able to receive it. When Moses gathered the people to Mt. Sinai, they couldn’t take hearing the voice of God. Instead they had to have someone mediate a Law for them.

    Here’s a question. What about the passages in the Old Testament that talks about an inward transformation and the Holy Spirit? Psalm 51, Miserere mei, comes into mind.

  • Adam

    Though modern covenant theology may indeed be helpful, the theological schema of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, among many examples such as Austria’s magnificent medieval Verdun Altar in Vienna, is built on a Catholic tradition dating back to St Paul via Augustine (De diversis questionibus Q 66), which is a commentary on Romans 6:14: “Estis non enim sub lege, sub gratia sed. “ (“You do not live under the Law, but under grace.” ) Hence, according to Catholic tradition, salvation history is divided into three states. Augustine adds a fourth. Note that only the Law of Moses is called law. All else is simply “before the Law”:
    ante legem (before the Law) = from Adam to Moses
    sub lege (under the Law) = from Moses to Jesus
    sub gratia (under grace) = from Jesus to the end (cf. “state of grace”)
    in pace (in peace) = the glory of the blessed in heaven

    Long before Pope Julius II entrusted Michelangelo the decoration of the vault, Pope Sixtus IV had already begun the iconographic program of the papal chapel, based mainly on “sub lege” and “sub gratia,” the Old and New Testaments, the first foreshadowing the second. After the Temple veil was torn in two at the moment of the Crucifixion, the links gradually became clearer, beginning with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and later, St Paul.

    Pascal, in his LETTRES PROVINCIALES, (the passage which led me to Catholicism in Jerusalem in 1974) wonderfully comments on the last three states:
    “The state of the Christian… according to the Church Fathers, holds a middle place between the state of the blessed and the state of the Jews. The souls in heaven possess Jesus Christ really, without veil or figure. The Jews possessed Jesus Christ only in figures and veils, such as the manna and the paschal lamb. And Christians possess Jesus Christ in the Eucharist really and truly, although
    still concealed under veils. God…has made three tabernacles: the synagogue,
    which had the shadows only, without the Truth; the Church, which has the Truth
    and shadows together; and heaven, where there is no shadow, but Truth alone.
    It would be a departure from our present state, which is the state of faith, opposed by St. Paul alike to the Law and to open vision, if we possessed the figures only, without Jesus Christ. For it is the property of the Law to have the mere figure, and not the substance of things. And it would be equally a departure from our present state, if we possessed him visibly. Because faith, according to the same Apostle, deals with things not seen. And thus the Eucharist, which is Jesus Christ truly, though under a veil, is in perfect harmony with our state of faith. It follows that this state would be destroyed if, as heretics maintain, Jesus Christ were not really under the species of bread and wine. And it would be equally destroyed if we received him openly, as they do in heaven: since, on these suppositions, our state would be confused, either with the state of Judaism or with that of glory.”

  • Steve

    Seems like the Old Testament covenants are a spiritual and moral training, or gradual upbringing. We had to learn about our Creator slowly to really know Him. Starting with who to worship, to a defined morality, then Who and how our sins can be forgiven. Maybe that’s why there’s not more in the Gospels about Mary, because they just weren’t ready to receive that much divine revelation so she had to be revealed slowly through the Church.

  • Victor

    (((Divine law is any time God breaks into history and gives commands or instructions. He did this with Adam and Eve, Noah, and Abraham. So divine law was around before Moses.)))
    What!!!!!!!!! Some of U>S (usual sinners) are still having problems knowing that GOD (Good Old Dad) has always been around? 🙂

  • El_Tigre_Loco

    The law was softened because people’s hearts were hard.
    Read Matthew 19

  • alyssa farrar donkel

    How many people know tht the word ( and) was telling the reader tht a major part of x happened before the next ( and)? The 13 th tribe was found some x in 2007-2008. They are an black jewish long lost, LEMBA TRIBE . They hve ark of the drum. ( zimbawe)musuem. I am perplexed about the truth of our existence. Im finding interesting correlation w the pyrimeds n sphinx on planet Mars just like here in geza area. 71 new pyrimeds found n 121 or so new burials found in upper Egypt by satilite. I know some may find it hard to comprehend but who were the 6 th day creation male n female created he them. And after, the 7th day of rest, it says he found no one to tend the garden or animals so he purposely took clay from the earth n created the first God seeking man n woman, the second Adam n eve. Thats why cain found a mate in Nod years later by the first adam n eve races who feared no God but false gods. Foodforthought

  • Moses one of the few people God talks directly too, Moses is known as the friend of God .
    All religions on earth belong to God and all divine books too , its amazing they all have the same message the same law of honesty, sacrifice , helping the orphans, needy and poor and praying to God.

  • Taylor, thanks so much for this. What’s the difference between ‘Eternal Law’, and ‘Divine Law’, in St. Thomas’ schema of five species of law? Could you give us an example of Eternal Law? Thanks!