How did man know what was right and wrong?

Before the Law how did man know what was right and wrong?

Thanks for your question. I commend you for investigating truth about God and His Law. Mankind, even Adam and Eve before the fall into sin, were created with a sense of right and wrong. This is evidenced by God creating them with free will and commanding Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Even though Adam had not experienced the consequences of his impending disobedience, he was aware that eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was wrong and, in contrast, eating of the tree of life and the other trees in the Garden of Eden was right. This is called conscience in the Bible and is defined as “self-knowledge that leads us to feel an obligation to do right and avoid doing what is wrong; an awareness that an attitude or an action is right or wrong.” Adam gained His standard of right and wrong from God Himself as God declared His permission to eat of certain trees and His prohibition to not eat of a particular tree.

The conscience is seen working in conjunction with the mind (Titus 1:15) and has various descriptions, such as good (Acts 23:1, 1 Timothy 1:19, Hebrews 13:18, and 1 Peter 3:16,21)…as pure (1 Timothy 3:9 and 2 Timothy 1:3)…as weak (1 Corinthians 8:7,12)…as evil (Hebrews 10:22)…as defiled (Titus 1:15)…and, as seared (1 Timothy 4:2). Notice that these descriptions fall into the categories of either right or wrong.

Therefore, to answer your question more directly…mankind knew right and wrong before the Law by virtue of their God-given conscience. Sin, sinning, and condemnation because of no forgiveness of sin were realities before the Law of God was given through Moses on Mount Sinai. In Romans 2:12, God says, “For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law.” The verses that follow (Romans 2:13-15), show that the essence of the law rests in our conscience and the edicts of the law were revealed by the Law of Moses, thus they go together to show us our inability to be perfect, as God demands.

So, the Law of God simply becomes a more exacting standard of righteousness by which mankind’s attitudes and actions are judged…and, in theological reality, simply becomes the means to reveal the sinfulness of sin for the purpose of motivating the sinner to seek the Savior, Jesus Christ (Romans 3:20, 7:13, 8:1-3).

An interesting conclusion to the matter of the law and Christ is seen in John 1:17, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” In addition, the beauty of grace is seen in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” The Law was, and is, holy, but its purpose was not to save sinners, rather to reveal the need that sinners have for a Savior…namely, the Savior, Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16)!

So, may the Lord bless you as you grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:18)!