Who was the first Patriarch? Three times out of four, when I ask this question, what name is given in answer do you suppose? Just now, were you thinking “Abraham?” Or were you thinking "Adam?” The reason Abraham comes to mind is easily seen because of his significant role not only as a patriarch, but also as the progenitor of the people who would be God’s special covenant people of the Old Testament, (the ONLY people who were bound by what is known as “The Mosaic Law”) the Hebrews; but in fact, the first name to appear on the biblical patriarchs list, must be Adam because Adam was the first, everything! Right?
So, what kind of law did Adam live under? Well, as we read Genesis 1:26–30, we see certain imperatives given to him by God. And, if we compare these imperatives with the added detail given in Genesis 2:15, 21-24, 19, and 20 respectively, we see a list like this: “be fruitful,” that is “do good work”; “multiply,” that is “marry, procreate, and fill the earth” (on this one see also 3:16); “have dominion,” that is “rule the earth” and finally, “eat the plants – except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” All of this and only this is what constituted God’s Law for Adam and Eve, a perfect law. Had they always obeyed it, there would have been no need for any other law. We don’t know how long Adam and Eve walked in faithful harmony with God and the law he had given them, but we do know that the day came in which they broke their covenant with God; they broke his law and thus was ended the “Edenic Dispensation.” A “Term limit” was imposed upon them physically. They were removed from the garden. Therefore, they also lost their access to the “Tree of Life” (Genesis 3:22-24). More serious, they died spiritually that day.
Things changed. The most significant change was God’s requirement now of blood in payment for their sin. So, to demonstrate what had happened to God’s creation because of man’s sin, and what the penalty for that was, God slaughtered animals (Genesis 3:21). Thus began the “Patriarchal Dispensation,” a law with a particular emphasis upon animal sacrifice, a worship requirement which served as a continual reminder of man’s guilt. But with this practice Adam returned to faithfulness. Adam believed the promise God gave in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would conquer Satan. Perhaps Adam did not fully understand what that meant, but Adam believed. Adam demonstrated his belief by the name he gave his wife (Genesis 3:20) and the Lord indicated his acceptance immediately by covering Adam and Eve with coats of skin (verse 21). At that point, that is all Adam knew, but he believed it. He also, as the first patriarch, taught this law to his sons, who grew up to be patriarch leaders and offering priests for their own families (Genesis 4).
When Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God and Cain’s was not, it was because Abel offered his “By faith,” which means he had to have “heard,” (that is, been instructed), and Cain sinned, by NOT offering his sacrifice by faith (c.f. Romans 10:17; 14:23; Hebrews 11:1-6). Cain’s persistence in his disobedience led to his murdering Abel and his banishment from his parent’s family. With the birth of Seth (Genesis 4:26), and the subsequent faithfulness of his progeny, there is a clear delineation between those who identify with and obey God and those who do not. The events of the flood were truly precipitated by these two distinct world views coming into an amalgam (Genesis 6:2). Then, after the flood, we find the patriarch Noah worshipping God in the same prescribed manner as first given to Adam, practiced down the line descending from Seth, and in the faithful example of Abel (Genesis 9:20-22; c.f. Hebrews 11:4).
All of the generations of this family from Adam to Moses, as well as every other family among men, if they remained faithful to God, would have kept this pattern of worship. Job was such a man, and we see him offering sacrifices on a daily basis acting as intermediary and priest for his family (Job 1:1-5). This was the way of Job. This was the way of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This was the way of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18). This was the way of“Jethro” (“Reul”), “The priest of Midian” (Exodus 2:16). And, this, albeit in diminished form, was the way of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2). This was righteousness under the “Patriarchal Dispensation.” This was the only way to satisfy the requirements of God at that time. There were certain additions made to this law by God after the flood (e.g. the eating of meat without blood and prohibition against murder; see Genesis 9:1-7), but this was the same law first given to Adam. Corruption of this law occurred in the understandings and practices of many, due to the auspices of man. Thus, properly understood and followed, or improperly understood or not even followed, this was the system of worship imposed upon and travelled over the entire world (“old” and “new”). It was no fault of God’s if the proper understandings were not, in many cases, handed down generationally (Romans 1:25). Therefore, and with all righteousness, God’s requirements, once delivered, remained the same for those living under that system (Romans 1:18-20). It was the knowledge of God through his creation which was intended by him to induce man to worship him as the creator; not that he, the creator be robbed of his glory by man's worshipping his creation instead of him!
The Law of the patriarchs contained these components which would be refined and defined more clearly for the Hebrews, when God delivered to them, and only to them, the “Mosaic Law.” But because of what had been given to all men at the start via Adam, all who were not Hebrews were “a law unto themselves” (Romans 2:12-16), and would be judged accordingly.
Through his servant Moses, God delivered a modification of the patriarchal system (Exodus 12:1ff). to govern only that nation through whom he elected to bring the one man who would be the Savior of the whole world. That man was Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus uttered words with his almost very last breath “It is finished” as he died on the cross, (John 19:30), it was all past systems finished, new system (“The Christian Dispensation”), go! Until the end of the world (Acts 2:28-Revelation 22:5). And we are now judged accordingly.