Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part I: The Law Anterior to Moses.
Chapter II.—The Law Anterior to Moses.
Stand we, therefore, foot to foot, and determine we the sum and substance of the actual question within definite lists.
For why should God, the founder of the universe, the Governor of the whole world, 1139 the Fashioner of humanity, the Sower 1140 of universal nations be believed to have given a law through Moses to one people, and not be said to have assigned it to all nations? For unless He had given it to all by no means would He have habitually permitted even proselytes out of the nations to have access to it. But—as is congruous with the goodness of God, and with His equity, as the Fashioner of mankind—He gave to all nations the selfsame law, which at definite and stated times He enjoined should be observed, when He willed, and through whom He willed, and as He willed. For in the beginning of the world He gave to Adam himself and Eve a law, that they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree planted in the midst of paradise; but that, if they did contrariwise, by death they were to die. 1141 Which law had continued enough for them, had it been kept. For in this law given to Adam we recognise in embryo 1142 all the precepts which afterwards sprouted forth when given through Moses; that is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God from thy whole heart and out of thy whole soul; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; 1143 Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not commit adultery; Thou shalt not steal; False witness thou shalt not utter; Honour thy father and mother; and, That which is anothers, shalt thou not covet. For the primordial law was given to Adam and Eve in paradise, as the womb of all the precepts of God. In short, if they had loved the Lord their God, they would not have contravened His precept; if they had habitually loved their neighbour—that is, themselves 1144 —they would not have believed the persuasion of the serpent, and thus would not have committed murder upon themselves, 1145 by falling 1146 from immortality, by contravening Gods precept; from theft also they would have abstained, if they had not stealthily tasted of the fruit of the tree, nor had been anxious to skulk beneath a tree to escape the view of the Lord their God; nor would they have been made partners with the falsehood-asseverating devil, by believing him that they would be “like God;” and thus they would not have offended God either, as their Father, who had fashioned them from clay of the earth, as out of the womb of a mother; if they had not coveted anothers, they would not have tasted of the unlawful fruit.
Therefore, in this general and primordial law of God, the observance of which, in the case of the trees fruit, He had sanctioned, we recognise enclosed all the precepts specially of the posterior Law, which germinated when disclosed at their proper times. For the subsequent superinduction of a law is the work of the same Being who had before premised a precept; since it is His province withal subsequently to train, who had before resolved to form, righteous creatures. For what wonder if He extends a discipline who institutes it? if He advances who begins? In short, before the Law of Moses, 1147 written in stone-tables, I contend that there was a law unwritten, which was habitually understood naturally, and by the fathers was habitually kept. For whence was Noah “found righteous,” 1148 if in his case the righteousness of a natural law had not preceded? Whence was Abraham accounted “a friend of God,” 1149 if not on the ground of equity and righteousness, (in the observance) of a natural law? Whence was Melchizedek named “priest of the most high God,” 1150 if, p. 153 before the priesthood of the Levitical law, there were not levites who were wont to offer sacrifices to God? For thus, after the above-mentioned patriarchs, was the Law given to Moses, at that (well-known) time after their exode from Egypt, after the interval and spaces of four hundred years. In fact, it was after Abrahams “four hundred and thirty years” 1151 that the Law was given. Whence we understand that Gods law was anterior even to Moses, and was not first (given) in Horeb, nor in Sinai and in the desert, but was more ancient; (existing) first in paradise, subsequently reformed for the patriarchs, and so again for the Jews, at definite periods: so that we are not to give heed to Moses Law as to the primitive law, but as to a subsequent, which at a definite period God has set forth to the Gentiles too and, after repeatedly promising so to do through the prophets, has reformed for the better; and has premonished that it should come to pass that, just as “the law was given through Moses” 1152 at a definite time, so it should be believed to have been temporarily observed and kept. And let us not annul this power which God has, which reforms the laws precepts answerably to the circumstances of the times, with a view to mans salvation. In fine, let him who contends that the Sabbath is still to be observed as a balm of salvation, and circumcision on the eighth day because of the threat of death, teach us that, for the time past, righteous men kept the Sabbath, or practised circumcision, and were thus rendered “friends of God.” For if circumcision purges a man since God made Adam uncircumcised, why did He not circumcise him, even after his sinning, if circumcision purges? At all events, in settling him in paradise, He appointed one uncircumcised as colonist of paradise. Therefore, since God originated Adam uncircumcised, and inobservant of the Sabbath, consequently his offspring also, Abel, offering Him sacrifices, uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, was by Him commended; while He accepted 1153 what he was offering in simplicity of heart, and reprobated the sacrifice of his brother Cain, who was not rightly dividing what he was offering. 1154 Noah also, uncircumcised—yes, and inobservant of the Sabbath—God freed from the deluge. 1155 For Enoch, too, most righteous man, uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, He translated from this world; 1156 who did not first taste 1157 death, in order that, being a candidate for eternal life, 1158 he might by this time show us that we also may, without the burden of the law of Moses, please God. Melchizedek also, “the priest of the most high God,” uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, was chosen to the priesthood of God. 1159 Lot, withal, the brother 1160 of Abraham, proves that it was for the merits of righteousness, without observance of the law, that he was freed from the conflagration of the Sodomites. 1161
Comp. Jer. xxxi. 27 (in LXX. it is xxxviii. 27); Hos. 2:23, Zech. 10:9, Matt. 13:31.152:1141
See Gen. 2:16, 17, Gen. 3:2, 3.152:1142
Deut. 6:4, 5, Lev. 19:18; comp. Matt. 22:34, Mark 12:28, Luke 10:25; and for the rest, Exod. 20:12, Deut. 5:16, Rom. 13:9.152:1144
Semetipsos. ? Each other.152:1145
Semetipsos. ? Each other.152:1146
Excidendo; or, perhaps, “by self-excision,” or “mutual excision.”152:1147
Or, “the Law written for Moses in stone-tables.”152:1148
Gen. 6:9, Gen. 7:1; comp. Heb. xi. 7.152:1149
See Isa. 41:8, Jas. 2:23.152:1150
Gen. 14:18, Ps. 110:4, Heb. 5:10, Heb. 7:1, 10, 15, 17.153:1151
Comp. Gen. xv. 13 with Ex. xii. 40-42 and Acts vii. 6.153:1152
John i. 17.153:1153
Or, “credited him with.”153:1154
Gen. iv. 1-7, especially in the LXX.; comp. Heb. xi. 4.153:1155
Gen. 6:18, Gen. 7:23, 2 Pet. 2:5.153:1156
See Gen. 5:22, 24, Heb. 11:5.153:1157
Or, perhaps, “has not yet tasted.”153:1158
Æternitatis candidatus. Comp. ad Ux. l. i. c. vii., and note 3 there.153:1159
i.e., nephew. See Gen. 11:31, Gen. 12:5.153:1161
See Gen. xix. 1-29; and comp. 2 Pet. ii. 6-9.
Next: Of Circumcision and the Supercession of the Old Law.
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