Was it appropriate for the Old Law
to have been given at the time of Moses?
It seems that it was not appropriate
for the Old Law to have been given at the time of Moses:
Objection 1: As was
explained above (a. 2‑3), the Old Law disposed
man for the salvation that was to come through the Christ.
But man needed the remedy of this sort of salvation
immediately after his sin. Therefore, the Old
Law should have been given immediately after his sin.
The Old Law was given for the salvation of those from whom
the Christ was going to be born. But as Genesis 12:7
says, the promise concerning “the seed, i.e., Christ” (cf.
Galatians 3:16), was first made to Abraham. Therefore,
the Law should have been given right away at the time of
Just as Christ was not born of any descendants of Noah
other than Abraham, to whom the promise was made, so too
He was not born of any sons of Abraham other than David,
to whom the promise was renewed—this according to 2 Kings
23:1 (“The man to whom it was appointed concerning the
Christ of the God of Jacob said .....”). Therefore, the
Old Law should have been given after David, just as it was
in fact given after Abraham.
But contrary to this:
In Galatians 3:19 the Apostle says, “The Law was set
because of transgressions, until the seed should come to
whom He made the promise, being ordained by angels in the
hand of a Mediator”—i.e., “being given in an orderly way,”
as the Gloss puts it. Therefore, it was fitting for the
Old Law to have been handed down in that particular order
It was utterly appropriate for the Old Law to have been
given at the time of Moses. We can cite two reasons
for this, given that there are two kinds of men on whom
any law, whatever it might be, is imposed. For
some of those on whom a law is imposed are stubborn
and proud, and these men are restrained and subdued
by the law; and a law is also imposed on those who are
good, and these men, instructed by the law, are aided
in fulfilling what they intend.
Therefore, it was fitting for the Old Law to be given
at such a time as to exhibit men’s pride clearly.
Man is proud with respect to two things, viz., knowledge
and power. He is proud with respect to knowledge
in the sense of thinking that natural reason can suffice
for his salvation. So in order that man’s pride
on this score might be exhibited, he was left to the
guidance of his own reason without the support of a
written law, and man was able to learn that he suffered
from deficiencies of reason—and he learned this from
experience, in virtue of the fact that by the time of
Abraham men had fallen into idolatry and into the most
shameful vices. And so it was necessary for the
written Law to be given after that time as a remedy
for human ignorance; for as Romans 3:20 says, “The knowledge
of sin comes through the Law.”
But after man had been instructed through the Law, his
pride was exhibited in his lack of power (infirmitas),
during the time in which he was unable to fulfill the
Law which he now knew. And so, as the Apostle
concludes in Romans 8:3-4, “What the Law, weakened by
the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done by
sending his own Son ..... so that the righteous decree
of the law might be fulfilled in us.”
the other hand, as far as the good men are concerned,
the Law was given to assist them. This was especially
necessary for the people at a time when the Law had
begun to be obscured because of the excesses of their
sins. However, assistance of this sort had to
be given in a certain order, so that they might be led
by the hand through what was imperfect to perfection.
And so the Old Law had to be given in the time between
the law of nature and the law of grace.
Reply to objection 1:
It was not fitting for the Old Law to be given immediately
after the sin of the first man, both because (a) man,
confident in his own power of reason, did not yet
recognize his need for the Law, and also because (b) the
dictates of the law of nature had not yet been obscured by
Reply to objection 2:
The Law should be given only to a people, since, as
was explained above (q. 96, a. 1),
a law is a communal precept (praeceptum commune).
And so certain of God’s familial and, as it were, domestic
precepts were given to men at the time of Abraham.
But afterwards, when Abraham’s posterity had multiplied
to such an extent as to constitute a people and had
been liberated from slavery, the Law could appropriately
be given. For as the Philosopher says in Politics
3, slaves are not part of a people or political community
to which it is appropriate to give a law.
Reply to objection 3:
Since it was necessary for the Law to be given to a
certain people, the Law was received not only by those
individuals from whom Christ was born but by the whole
people marked with the seal of circumcision, which was the
sign of the promise made to Abraham and believed in by
him, as the Apostle puts it in Romans 4:11. And so the
Law had to be given to this people, now already gathered
together, even before David.