In a recent Facebook post I asked the question, “How could Cain be guilty of murder when there was no law against murder?” A few people answered the challenge, but no one really had a specific answer of how Cain could be guilty of breaking a law against murder when no law existed. Such an objection goes to the heart of God’s justice. How can God hold someone accountable for something if that person does not know it is wrong?
So, to answer the question, how could Cain be guilty of murder? Simple. He broke the law. Contrary to popular understanding, there was a law against murder found in Genesis 1. The law that Cain broke is referred to as the Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1:26-31), and sometimes called the Edenic Covenant followed by the Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3:14-21). Allow me to show you where a law against murder is found in the Cultural Mandate.
When we think of law in the Bible our thoughts immediately turn to the Ten Commandments. We understand the Ten Commandments as law. But just because the commandments were explicitly revealed in Exodus 20 doesn’t mean that these principles did not exist prior to that time, even going all the way back to Adam and Eve. The commandments were not explicitly stated in Genesis 1, but we can make the case that they could be derived or were implied from the first covenant. In fact, we can derive all Ten Commandments from the Cultural Mandate and the events in Genesis 1-3. Here’s a list of the commandments with brief explanations about how they are derived from the Cultural Mandate:
No other Gods — God is the only Creator, therefore other gods do not exist (1:27).
No idols or images — the only valid image of God is humanity (and Jesus). God made man in his image (1:27).
Taking God’s name in vain — God’s power and name is on display in his creation. To misuse his name is to malign his character and power.
Sabbath day — the sabbath was established in Genesis 2:1-3.
Honor your father and mother — God is father and his rule, expressed in his giving of commands in Genesis 1 and 2 demonstrates that we should honor him.
Do not murder — God’s command to man was to “Be fruitful and multiply.” This is a command to create and spread life. Murder is the opposite of this and thus a violation of this command.
Do not commit adultery — God created one man and one woman in a condition where adultery was impossible.
Do not steal — God denied Adam and Eve the forbidden fruit. It did not belong to them. To eat it they had to steal it.
Do not lie — God truthfully told Adam and Eve what they were, and what to do, in the Cultural Mandate. It was Satan who accused God of lying.
Do not covet — implied when God forbade them the fruit. Later, when Eve saw (from her perspective) that it was desirable, she coveted what she was forbidden from having.
From this very brief examination of the Cultural Mandate and the events surrounding the fall, we can see that the Ten Commandments were not new information to Moses’ generation. They were pre-figured in the Cultural Mandate. This is why Cain did, in fact, break law when he murdered his brother Abel.
Some have thought, based on their reading of Romans that there was no biblical law prior to Moses. They base this on two statements found in Romans.
“For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15). “For sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law” (Romans 5:13).
But when we examine the context of Romans 4 and 5 we discover that Paul is not saying that there was no law prior to Moses. Rather, he is saying that law is not counted against us because we are in Christ—by faith. There was law before Moses. Even the simple command, “You shall not eat,” is a law.
Adam was counted a sinner because he violated the covenant, the Cultural Mandate. Sin is not counted against us in Christ because there is no law against us as long as we have faith in Christ.
As modern Christians we sometimes think that because we are under faith that we are not under any law. But that is not true. We fail to understand that the Cultural Mandate is a form of law. It preceded and prefigured the Ten Commandments and Jesus. In fact, all covenants are an application of the first covenant, including the Great Commission (Matthew 28). When understood in this light we realize that the Great Commission itself is a law no different than the Cultural Mandate or Ten Commandments. Therefore, if we are not involved in the Great Commission in some way then we are breaking the law and sinning against the commandment of Christ. And what is a law if not a commandment?
What shall we say to these things? Based upon what we’ve seen here we can determine that the Ten Commandments are therefore not for Jews only, but for everyone, for all of humanity. The Cultural Mandate is also for us. Sin is the violation of God’s covenants and commands. But when we seek to fulfill these commands, under the power of the Holy Spirit, we experience God’s blessing.
Tom Terry can be reached through his website: www.thomasterry.com.