After reading Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy a question arises. For instance, in Genesis 32:33 (NASB)

Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the tendon of the hip which is on the socket of the hip, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the tendon of the hip.

To which extent were Torah laws known before Sinai?

2 Answers 2


For the purposes of this discussion, let us distinguish between the broadly "moral" and "ethical" laws from the ceremonial laws (priests and Tabernacle laws) and the jurisprudence laws. The moral/ethical laws summarized in the 10 commandments and also by the two great "love laws" of Deut 6:4 & Lev 19:18 were well known before Sinai.

The following (far from exhaustive) list shows that people knew of the law and ten commandments well before the formal giving at Mt Sinai. Indeed, we have the very general comment –

  • Gen 26:5, because Abraham listened to My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.

Commandment #1 – Worship only YHWH:

  • Gen 22:5, 24:26, 48, 52 all describe worship of the true God of heaven, YHWH.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #2 – Idolatry prohibited

  • Gen 31:32-35 – Jacob clearly understood that idolatry was forbidden.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #3 –Cursing and taking the name of the LORD in vain prohibited

  • Job 1:5 – When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.

Commandment #4 – Sabbath worship

  • Gen 2:1-3 – Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. And by the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on that day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on that day He rested from all the work of creation that He had accomplished.
  • Gen 16 also records the incident with manna and that collecting manna on the seventh-day Sabbath was forbidden

Commandment #5 – Respect for parents, elders and authority

  • Gen 28:6, 7 tells of the story of Jacob following his mother’s advice. Respect for parents is built into the very fabric of the patriarchal stories in Genesis.

Commandment #6 – Sanctity of Human life

  • Gen 4:8-12, 15 records Cain’s punishment for the sin of murder
  • Gen 9:5, 6 records that murder was prohibited under the ancient Noahide covenant

Commandment #7 – Adultery prohibited

  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for almost tricking a pagan king into committing adultery
  • Gen 19 records the appalling events involving attempted pack-rape of the two angels
  • Gen 39:7-9 – Joseph calls Potiphar’s wife proposal “a great evil and sin against God”.
  • Gen 49:4 – Reuben is scalded for his sin of incest
  • Gen 34 – the story of Dinah records a heinous incident involving her defilement (plus murder and lying)

Commandment #8 – Stealing prohibited and respect for property

  • Gen 30:33 – Laban and Jacob discuss the problem of stealing of wages and property
  • Gen 31:32-35 – Laban is angry about the sin of stealing the household gods

Commandment #9 – Lying prohibited; insistence of honesty and integrity

  • Gen 4 – the story of Cain being punished, among other things for not being honest with Abel and God in his statements
  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for lying to a pagan king about their marital status
  • In the story of Jacob, he is pejoratively called Jacob = “deceiver”, Gen 27:36. Commandment #10 – Coveting prohibited
  • Gen 3:6 – the woman is tricked by the serpent using the sin of covetousness Other Laws

Even the probation against eating blood is listed among the requirements in the Noahide covenant, Gen 9:4, 5.

The early story of Moses in the Court of Pharaoh during the contest of the gods - the "magic arts" of the court magicians is clearly spoken about in a pejorative sense and thus the prohibition against such practices as "divination" in its numerous forms.

Gen 32:33 also shows that the Torah took over some earlier practices as well.

  • I appreciate this huge list of references but feels to me there answer isn't yet finished? What you're saying might have implications depending on the position and that's not addressed like @Dave does in his answer Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 19:06
  • 1
    @TiagoMartinsPeres李大仁 - Dave appears to answering a different question concerning the COVENANT - I answered the question as posed about the extent to which the LAWS of the covenant were known. I agree that the Israelite covenant was unknown before Sinai because it was the Israelite covenant that created the Israelite nation.
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 20:02
  • Thank you for the clarification! Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 20:07

The ‘10’, or the ‘613’? The purpose of Torah was to separate. To separate this nation from ‘the others’. To make them Holy. And, that is the definition of ‘holy’ - that is, separated (for a purpose).

In this respect, the Torah did not, or was not ‘known’ or practiced prior to Sinai.

If you are specifically referencing the ‘10’, the purpose of these was to provide a means of being righteous, it specified the requirements for righteousness. And these were not ‘known’ either before Sinai.

Yes you can/could argue that the moral principles were known, and, they were. Those living in the time of Cain knew murder was wrong, and Cain feared retribution. But, your question specifically asked about Torah. And, Torah was about how to achieve holiness and righteousness. And prior to Sinai, neither of these were known.

Your reference regarding Jacob shows how a nations history becomes part of its heritage And, history makes a nation unique. Torah was more about making this nation separate, rather than just ‘unique’.

Prior to Sinai, righteousness came about via faith, as with their father Abraham. And, prior to Sinai, the nation was ‘being born’, so that it could be separated for the purpose God intended. And, step one was ‘delivering’ them from out of the clutches of the gods of Egypt. Sinai was in some respects, step two.

  • I agree that "a" purpose of the Torah was to separate, but do you really think it was "the" purpose? If everyone else circumcises on the 7th day, you can circumcise on the 8th, 9th, 10th. All of these are equally valid for separating. But then there is no special reason to do it on the 8th day and this argument becomes a veil over the torah. OTOH, if there is a reason to do it on the 8th day, then we get a much better reason than "it's not the seventh", and "to separate" falls to the bottom of priorities as reasons for the torah.
    – Robert
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 4:11
  • @Robert I’d already stated Torah had other purposes - to gain righteousness. And there are others, example the dietary laws. And, acknowledge that the practices outlined in Torah, (including dietary laws) had (a deeper) divine wisdom behind them, as in the exact day for circumcision. But, even that practice, circumcision, (pre Sinai), was an act of instigating separation. Separation (unto holiness) would/did involve practices of maintaining physical ‘purification’, etc.
    – Dave
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 17:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.