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How was sin not counted before the law, like Paul says in Romans 5? What does that practically mean? I'm not looking for hermeneutics only, but a scriptural/historical/real world example of someone's sin not counting, whatever that means.

Romans 5:12-14 ESV Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

People before the law were still certainly guilty of wrongdoing and God held them to that, like when God told Abimelech he would be wrong for sleeping with a man's wife, or when God cursed Cain to be a wanderer for killing Abel.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

In answer to your related question "How did people know right from wrong before the law?", I included the following:

There was always a 'law' before it was written on tablets of stone and given to Moses: God sets the standard of righteousness by what remains in accord to His nature and unrighteousness by what constitutes rebellion against His nature. (emphasis added)

That was supported by citing the commandment (i.e. a law) of God to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Elsewhere (Rom 8:2) Paul refers to the 'law of sin and death' which has been in effect as a priniciple since at least the fall but arguably derives from the first commandment given.

When Paul refers to 'before the law was given' he is of course referring to the Mosaic law, but the phrase 'sin is not counted where there is no law' is somewhat hypothetical (there has always been 'law') and must be viewed in the sense of specifics rather than generalisations - '(specific) sin is not counted where there is no (specific) law' not 'sin (in general) is not counted where there is no law (at all)'.

Althought there has always been 'law' to some degree, there were certain levels of depravity that people were initially innocent about - the depths of wickedness were discovered progressively (although the progression from wilful disobedience to fratricide only took one generation). Some things (e.g. drunkenness) only became problematic after other conditions were fulfilled (discovering the fermentation process and later fortification/distillation).

A specific example is the law of incest:

9 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether brought up in the family or in another home. - Leviticus 18:9 ESV

Which Abraham at least (but almost certainly many, if not most, of the early patriarchs) was 'guilty' of according to the later law, but actually innocent because the conditions that necessitated that law had not yet arisen.

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Other examples are the food laws. Before God instructed the Israelites not to eat some foods it wasn't sinful to do so. Sometimes actions are sinful not because of anything in and of themselves, but because of how a relationship is defined. – curiousdannii Jul 2 '14 at 22:10
Thanks for this answer. Can you expand your statement "There has always been a 'law'"? I understand there was a standard of good (God's nature) before the Mosaic Law but I wonder why you call it a 'law' and why Paul would call it a law. – LCIII Jul 3 '14 at 14:27
@LCIII updated - does that sufficiently address your query? – bruised reed Jul 3 '14 at 14:39

Genisis 3:5 & 22 - By eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge mankind gained knowledge of good and evil and blessing and calamity. As God knew humanity now had that knowledge, God held mankind accountable. That is the short answer.

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Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. Can you give us the long answer too? The community here prefers the long answer. You can edit this post by clicking edit below it. – fredsbend Jul 2 '14 at 18:14

Before Adam sinned by eating from the tree God commanded him not to eat he could have had fights with his wife, he could have hit her, lied to her about some things and not be guilty of any sin because he did not then have the knowledge of good and evil. If any of this happened then sin would be in the world but not be imputed to him.

Children also have an age of innocence before sin is imputed to them. Deuteronomy 1:39 speaks of the children of the Israelites who today have no knowledge of good and evil. In Romans 7:9 Paul says he was once alive without the law but when the commandment came, sin revived and I (Paul) died (spiritually). Now there is no way of knowing the exact age when a child becomes accountable for their own sins. It is probably different for every child but God the righteous judge would certainly know.

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