Lest any begin to take issue with his statement, by arguing that God gave no oral or written law after the first covenant had been broken, and therefore they should not inherit the sentence of death, Paul offers these explanatory comments.  He first says that sin was in the world from the time of the fall until the giving of the law.  This is quite evident simply from a reading of Genesis.  For what did God destroy the old world in the flood, except for their sin and wickedness?  The entire history of the patriarchs is a history of their contending with sin, both their own indwelling sin, and the sin that existed in their own families, and in the cultures which surrounded them.  It was sin which drove the Egyptians to persecute and enslave the Hebrews, and sin which caused the Israelites to murmur and disbelieve God, even before He uttered the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai.

But, Paul says, sin is not imputed where there is no law.  This is a difficult statement, for by the sound of it he could be saying that God did not charge the inhabitants of the world with sin before He issued the law.  I do not, however, think this is the argument.  First of all, he has already shown in chapter 2 that there is a law written even on the consciences of the Gentiles, by which they approve or excuse one another, and by which they shall be judged.  Secondly, as we continue on to verse 14, I think we shall see that he is not arguing for the innocence through ignorance of the pre-Sinai world, but is designing to prove the imputation of original sin by the fact that infants were subject to the penalty of death, even before the law was given.  The argument is, I admit, a difficult and challenging one, and I do not pretend to answer every question or objection in these brief thoughts.