The Law And The Gentiles


What was the law of God to the Gentiles, during the Messianic Age, and how was it made known?

The Law Of God

Every Bible student knows that at Sinai, God made a covenant with the Hebrews whom Moses had led out of Egypt, and we think about a covenant we usually have in mind an agreement made between two or more parties because that is the generally accepted definition of the word ‘covenant’.

But we should remember that, at Sinai, the parties to the covenant were not equals, who reached what they would have described as a fair agreement after time spent in discussion. God and the Hebrews did not meet as equals in discussion.

What was made at Sinai was what is called a ‘Covenant of Sovereignty. This was an agreement made between a King and his subjects, and it was something, which, in ancient times, was not uncommon.

The Covenant of Sovereignty

The form this covenant took was well understood. The King addressed his subjects and reminded them of the benefits and blessings they had enjoyed under his reign and promised to continue to bestow future blessings on them. But he pointed out that his care and protection were conditional on their acceptance of, and obedience to, the laws he had placed before them.

If they promised to obey, they would be blessed. If they refused, his laws and his protection would be withdrawn, and they would be denied the benefits of his reign. In this way, the King laid down the terms of the covenant, and the people were required to make a choice. You will remember that, at Sinai, ‘the people answered together, ‘All that YHVH has spoken we will do’, Exodus 19:8.

On the two tablets of stone, they were given the first element of God’s Law, in the Ten Commandments, which theologians like to call ‘The Decalogue’ because there was more to follow.

More laws were laid down by God, which Moses was commanded to record in a book, which was later known as ‘the Book of the Law of the Lord’. First came the moral law, and this was followed by the religious law, which related to the worship and service of God.

Law Outside Of Israel

This was the covenant made between God and the Hebrews and, obviously, it did not concern the ‘Gentiles’. But we should not suppose that the other nations lived without law because long before the time of Moses, cultures existed that had their own laws, many of which closely resembled those laid down in the Ten Commandments.

For example, there was the Code of Hammurabi, the King whom some biblical archaeologists have identified as Amraphel, King of Shinar, mentioned in Genesis 14, who lived in the time of Abraham.

This man enacted a code containing 282 laws, which were engraved on 8 feet high columns of black diorite and ordered that they should be erected in the cities of his kingdom and that children should be taught the laws.

Today, one of these impressive monuments can be seen in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

We need not say a great deal about Hammurabi’s code, except to point out that it covered every aspect of domestic, social and religious life in his Kingdom; and, here again, many of his laws were similar to those that governed the lives of the Israelites.

For example, when Sarah, the wife of Abraham, gave her handmaid to Abraham in order to beget a child because Sarah was childless, Genesis 16, this was not a device of her own thinking.

She was acting in accordance with a law that operated very widely in Mesopotamia at that time. The law said that, if a wife was unable to present her husband with an heir, she should allow her handmaid to do so, in her name.

And there are other instances recorded in the earliest Old Testament records, which show other examples of compliance with this law. There were also other codes of law that operated at other times among other peoples, but we need not take

The Gentiles And Law

The New Testament tells us that the Gentiles were ‘without the law’, that is, they did not possess the Law of God that was presented to the early people, the Israelites, whom God chose to be His special people, and over whom He was the true King.

God did not reveal Himself to the Gentiles, as He did to the Hebrews, but He did not leave them without a knowledge of Himself, as Romans 1, reveals.

This is the chapter in which Paul declares the Gentiles to be under condemnation because of sin. They are described as ‘unrighteous’ and ‘ungodly’, and he even says that they are ‘without excuse’.

Now, the language of this kind implies a degree of knowledge, and, sure enough, Paul goes on to say, in Romans 1:19, that what may be known about God is plain to the Gentiles, because God has shown it to them. How?

He says that ever since the creation of the world, the invisible aspects of Him, His power, His divine nature, invisible as they are, have been revealed in the things that He has made so that they have no excuse.

Paul also says in another place, Romans 2:14, “When the Gentiles, who do not have the law – ‘the law which God gave to Israel’ – do instinctively what the law requires, they are a law to themselves.”

How was God’s will made known to the Gentiles? In Romans 2:15, Paul wrote, “They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness.”

It is obvious that, when he talks about ‘law’ in these chapters, he is not thinking about the ceremonial law enshrined in the Mosaic system, but about the moral law, which he says God has written in men’s hearts.

The word ‘conscience’ is important in this connection because the word, ‘suneidesis’, which is translated as ‘conscience’, means, ‘a knowing with’ and is used to describe ‘the faculty by means of which we apprehend the will of God as that which is designed to govern our lives’.

This reminds us that besides being different from the rest of creation because he is a rational being, Man was also created as a moral being, blessed with a conscience which enables him ‘instinctively’, to use Paul’s word, to know the difference between right and wrong behaviour.

This explains to a great extent why nations and people outside of Israel distinguished right from wrong, believed in social justice, and imposed on themselves rules of behaviour which made it possible for human beings to live in a social environment.

We can readily appreciate, as the Scriptures declare, that, even with the Gentiles, God ‘did not leave Himself without witness’, Acts 14:17.