Q. I have some confusion about Romans 7:9 where Paul talks about the age of accountability. It would seem to imply that no one died spiritually before the law was given. That would give a free pass to everyone before Moses and maybe those in countries who have never heard what the scriptures say about the Law. Can that be right?
A. Like many people you mistakenly believe that the Law originated in the wilderness with Moses. But evidence in Genesis shows that God instituted sacrifices for sin as soon as they were made necessary by Adam and Eve’s sin.
From reading Genesis 4:4-7 we can see that both Cain and Abel knew to bring offerings to God and they knew what kind of offering was required. When God refused Cain’s offering, He told Cain if he did what was right he would be accepted like his brother was, but if not sin was crouching at his door.
And from Genesis 7:2 we see that Noah knew the difference between clean and unclean animals. In the wilderness, God had Moses render into writing the Law that had been understood by man from the beginning.
And in Romans 2:14-15 Paul said,
“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”
So whether they’ve heard the Law of Moses or not, mankind intuitively knows right from wrong and becomes accountable to God at the age of understanding.
That brings us back to Romans 7:9 where Paul said,
“Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.”
He was saying that, like all children, he was born with eternal life. As long as he was too young to understand the purpose and penalty of the Law he was not accountable for his violations of it. Once he became old enough to understand, he became accountable for the penalty of his violations, which is death.
Like all of us, his only remedy was to become born again, at which time his penalties were transferred to Jesus and he had eternal life again (John 3:16).