Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Apologetic/An Answer to the Jews/The Law Anterior to Moses
Chapter II.—The Law Anterior to Moses.
Stand we, therefore, foot to foot, and determine we the sum and substance of the actual question within definite lists.
For why should God, the founder of the universe, the Governor of the whole world, the Fashioner of humanity, the Sower of universal nations be believed to have given a law through Moses to one people, and not be said to have assigned it to all nations? For unless He had given it to all by no means would He have habitually permitted even proselytes out of the nations to have access to it. But—as is congruous with the goodness of God, and with His equity, as the Fashioner of mankind—He gave to all nations the selfsame law, which at definite and stated times He enjoined should be observed, when He willed, and through whom He willed, and as He willed. For in the beginning of the world He gave to Adam himself and Eve a law, that they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree planted in the midst of paradise; but that, if they did contrariwise, by death they were to die. Which law had continued enough for them, had it been kept. For in this law given to Adam we recognise in embryo all the precepts which afterwards sprouted forth when given through Moses; that is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God from thy whole heart and out of thy whole soul; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not commit adultery; Thou shalt not steal; False witness thou shalt not utter; Honour thy father and mother; and, That which is another’s, shalt thou not covet. For the primordial law was given to Adam and Eve in paradise, as the womb of all the precepts of God. In short, if they had loved the Lord their God, they would not have contravened His precept; if they had habitually loved their neighbour—that is, themselves—they would not have believed the persuasion of the serpent, and thus would not have committed murder upon themselves, by falling from immortality, by contravening God’s precept; from theft also they would have abstained, if they had not stealthily tasted of the fruit of the tree, nor had been anxious to skulk beneath a tree to escape the view of the Lord their God; nor would they have been made partners with the falsehood-asseverating devil, by believing him that they would be “like God;” and thus they would not have offended God either, as their Father, who had fashioned them from clay of the earth, as out of the womb of a mother; if they had not coveted another’s, they would not have tasted of the unlawful fruit.
Therefore, in this general and primordial law of God, the observance of which, in the case of the tree’s fruit, He had sanctioned, we recognise enclosed all the precepts specially of the posterior Law, which germinated when disclosed at their proper times. For the subsequent superinduction of a law is the work of the same Being who had before premised a precept; since it is His province withal subsequently to train, who had before resolved to form, righteous creatures. For what wonder if He extends a discipline who institutes it? if He advances who begins? In short, before the Law of Moses, written in stone-tables, I contend that there was a law unwritten, which was habitually understood naturally, and by the fathers was habitually kept. For whence was Noah “found righteous,” if in his case the righteousness of a natural law had not preceded? Whence was Abraham accounted “a friend of God,” if not on the ground of equity and righteousness, (in the observance) of a natural law? Whence was Melchizedek named “priest of the most high God,” if, before the priesthood of the Levitical law, there were not levites who were wont to offer sacrifices to God? For thus, after the above-mentioned patriarchs, was the Law given to Moses, at that (well-known) time after their exode from Egypt, after the interval and spaces of four hundred years. In fact, it was after Abraham’s “four hundred and thirty years” that the Law was given. Whence we understand that God’s law was anterior even to Moses, and was not first (given) in Horeb, nor in Sinai and in the desert, but was more ancient; (existing) first in paradise, subsequently reformed for the patriarchs, and so again for the Jews, at definite periods: so that we are not to give heed to Moses’ Law as to the primitive law, but as to a subsequent, which at a definite period God has set forth to the Gentiles too and, after repeatedly promising so to do through the prophets, has reformed for the better; and has premonished that it should come to pass that, just as “the law was given through Moses” at a definite time, so it should be believed to have been temporarily observed and kept. And let us not annul this power which God has, which reforms the law’s precepts answerably to the circumstances of the times, with a view to man’s salvation. In fine, let him who contends that the Sabbath is still to be observed as a balm of salvation, and circumcision on the eighth day because of the threat of death, teach us that, for the time past, righteous men kept the Sabbath, or practised circumcision, and were thus rendered “friends of God.” For if circumcision purges a man since God made Adam uncircumcised, why did He not circumcise him, even after his sinning, if circumcision purges? At all events, in settling him in paradise, He appointed one uncircumcised as colonist of paradise. Therefore, since God originated Adam uncircumcised, and inobservant of the Sabbath, consequently his offspring also, Abel, offering Him sacrifices, uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, was by Him commended; while He accepted what he was offering in simplicity of heart, and reprobated the sacrifice of his brother Cain, who was not rightly dividing what he was offering. Noah also, uncircumcised—yes, and inobservant of the Sabbath—God freed from the deluge. For Enoch, too, most righteous man, uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, He translated from this world; who did not first taste death, in order that, being a candidate for eternal life, he might by this time show us that we also may, without the burden of the law of Moses, please God. Melchizedek also, “the priest of the most high God,” uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, was chosen to the priesthood of God. Lot, withal, the brother of Abraham, proves that it was for the merits of righteousness, without observance of the law, that he was freed from the conflagration of the Sodomites.
- Comp. Jer. xxxi. 27 (in LXX. it is xxxviii. 27); Hos. ii. 23; Zech. x. 9; Matt. xiii. 31–43.
- See Gen. ii. 16, 17; iii. 2, 3.
- Deut. vi. 4, 5; Lev. xix. 18; comp. Matt. xxii. 34–40; Mark xii. 28–34; Luke x. 25–28; and for the rest, Ex. xx. 12–17; Deut. v. 16–21; Rom. xiii. 9.
- Semetipsos. ? Each other.
- Semetipsos. ? Each other.
- Excidendo; or, perhaps, “by self-excision,” or “mutual excision.”
- Or, “the Law written for Moses in stone-tables.”
- Gen. vi. 9; vii. 1; comp. Heb. xi. 7.
- See Isa. xli. 8; Jas. ii. 23.
- Gen. xiv. 18, Ps. cx. (cix. in. LXX.) 4; Heb. v. 10, vii. 1–3, 10, 15, 17.
- Comp. Gen. xv. 13 with Ex. xii. 40–42 and Acts vii. 6.
- John i. 17.
- Or, “credited him with.”
- Gen. iv. 1–7, especially in the LXX.; comp. Heb. xi. 4.
- Gen. vi. 18; vii. 23; 2 Pet. ii. 5.
- See Gen. v. 22, 24; Heb. xi. 5.
- Or, perhaps, “has not yet tasted.”
- Æternitatis candidatus. Comp. ad Ux. l. i. c. vii., and note 3 there.
- See above.
- i.e., nephew. See Gen. xi. 31; xii. 5.
- See Gen. xix. 1–29; and comp. 2 Pet. ii. 6–9.