In spite of the fact that no law had yet been formally issued, death reigned during the long period from Adam to the time when Moses received the law from God.  This shows that sin was still a great reality, and the judgment threatened to Adam upon the breach of the law was still in force upon all the human race.  The fact that they did not have a formal declaration of law, as Adam had in paradise, or as Israel would receive at Mount Sinai, did not except the old world from the punishment decreed against sin, which is death.  They knew enough of God, and had a strong enough impression of His standard of right and wrong written upon their consciences, to be well aware of their own wrongdoing.  A cursory study of the book of Genesis makes very plain the reality of a consciousness of right and wrong that was extant even among the heathen, long before the law was given.  Was not Cain fully conscious of the wickedness of murdering his brother? Would God have destroyed the world by a flood for their violence and wickedness, had their sins merely been crimes of ignorance?  Assuredly not.  We find that Pharaoh and the two Abimelechs knew that it was sin to take another man’s wife, and these heathen rulers rebuked Abraham and Isaac for having exposed their wives to the lusts of other men.  We cannot believe that God would have rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah if their sins were committed merely because there was no law to teach them better.  They were “wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly” precisely because they intentionally gave themselves up to infamous practices which they knew to be offensive to God.  We cannot but think that Potiphar’s wife knew the evil of her attempts to seduce Joseph; that even in Egyptian culture rape and adultery were considered evil is seen by the fact that she branded Joseph with accusations of those very crimes.  And, of course, historical evidence shows that many societies even predating the Decalogue had their own codes of morals and conduct, such as the Code of Hammurabi.  In many instances, these heathen statutes correspond quite closely with the biblical commandments, which, rather than showing that Moses borrowed from the heathen, instead shows simply that there is a universal consciousness of right and wrong imprinted upon the consciences of men by the God in Whose image they are made.


But death reigned not just over men who sinned against the light of conscience, but also over those who never had sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.  By Adam’s transgression, the apostle of course refers to his sin of eating the forbidden fruit.  What was this transgression?  It was a willful act of disobedience, whereby our first father intentionally did a thing which God had expressly forbidden him.  It was a sin against law.  However, following the time of Adam, and even up to the time of the giving of the law and beyond, death reigned even over countless numbers who never sinned so flagrantly against light.