Bible Review 12:3, June 1996

Torah Before Sinai

The do’s and don’ts before the Ten Commandments

By Gary A. Anderson

The Law was given at Sinai. But what was the situation before Sinai? Was there no law then? Were the patriarchs free to do what they pleased, free from the constraints of law?

More than 2,000 years ago, perhaps just as the ink used to write the Torah was drying, the first interpreters of biblical texts began to ask these questions. They came up with some intriguing answers.

As the biblical text now stands, Israel received the complete legislative pattern for her existence at Sinai: the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and a complete legal code governing nearly every aspect of religious and political life—a blueprint for ideal human existence.

Rashi, perhaps the greatest Jewish biblical commentator of the medieval period, wondered why the Bible didn’t begin with the Ten Commandments.a If the Sinaitic revelation is so significant, why do we have to wade through nearly 70 chapters of introductory narrative before reaching this momentous episode?

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