"For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law."
Some contend that the phrase "until the law" means that the law did not exist between Adorn and Sinai. But the balance of the text, coupled with Romans 4:15, proves the opposite. Sin was imputed to Cain for slaying his brother; therefore the law had to be in effect. God upbraided His people for refusing to keep His commandments and laws (Exodus 16:28). He also honoured Abraham, who kept His commandments, statutes, and laws (Genesis 26:5).
The meaning then is clear: The law did not exist in written form prior to Sinai. People were punished for breaking any one of the Ten Commandments before Sinai, indicating that the law existed and sin was imputed. Note the
Ten Commandments before Sinai:
- First -- Genesis 35:2-4
- Second -- Genesis 31:19-34
- Third -- Genesis 12:3
- Fourth -- Exodus 16:4-26
- Fifth -- Genesis 9:20-25
- Sixth -- Genesis 4:8-15
- Seventh -- Genesis 39:7-9
- Eighth -- Genesis 44:8-16
- Ninth -- Genesis 27:12
- Tenth -- Genesis 25:29-34; 27:1-45
Israel had largely lost sight of the principles of God's law while in Egyptian bondage. So God wrote that law with His own finger to bring it forcibly back to mind.