Do Morals Come From the Bible, or From God?

I just finished teaching through the book of Deuteronomy last month. Did I finish the whole book? No, sadly I didn’t, but I managed to hit some of the high spots in the book. But, this post isn’t about bragging about my teaching exploits, it’s about something that I noticed while doing the research for it. 
If you spend any time doing apologetic work for the Christian faith, and more than likely you have or will have an atheist or a skeptic throw up an objection about the presentation of a law or a regulation that is laid out in the covenant documents of the Israelite theocracy, also known as the Pentateuch or the Torah, with the assertion that such and this is “evil” or “immoral“. Now, given that most apologetic work done today is evidence-based, using arguments and evidence, this often becomes a problem, especially when the object under attack is the moral argument. 
The moral argument is simply,

1. If God exists, then objective moral values and duties exist. 
2. Objective moral values and duties exist. 
3. Therefore, God exists. 

The mistaken assertion made by those who misunderstand the origin of the values and duties is that they are derived from Scripture. That’s not even the argument of Scripture, as the apostle Paul writes, 

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:14-16, ESV, emphasis added)

The biblical argument is that, because of the Imago Dei, all men know what is right and wrong, good and evil, for ourselves as creatures. The problem is that in our rebellion against God, we willfully ignore the Creator as the source of that revelation and falsely presume that we are the source of it. 
As I pointed out to my class when I was discussing the laws in Deuteronomy, and this is the argument from Scripture as well, that all of the laws delineated in the Torah, reflect principles of how man is to relate to God and to one another while the laws describe how those principles were to work out in that particular historical context. But, as the apostle also pointed out,

[Those] who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5, ESV)

And,

[The] mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:7, ESV, emphasis added)

So, while being image bearers, they will maintain its affect, knowing what is “good” and “evil“, “right” and “wrong“, “moral” and “immoral“. However they will often appeal to their personal autonomy to attempt to justify such declarations, which are merely statements of personal opinion that have no authority beyond the person making the assertion. And those who will attempt to anchor such declarations objectively, in nature, risk running into a vicious, circular argument. To truly conclude that something falls into moral categories, one must necessarily, axiomatically, believe that there is a standard outside of themselves to make such claims, but that standard must be powerful and personal and have the ability to adjudicate them, not on an outward basis, but on an internal basis, as part of its nature, and only God fits that description. 

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One comment

  1. Morality and Ethics

    Morality is the intent to achieve good, and to achieve it for others as well as for ourselves. Ethics is the pursuit of the best rules, those that will most likely achieve the best possible results for everyone.

    To see the distinction, consider the Jewish family of Anne Frank hiding in the attic during Nazi occupation. The soldiers knock on the door and ask if there are any Jews. It would be unethical to lie, but it would be immoral not to.

    We call something “good” if it meets a real need we have as an individual, a society, or a species. A “moral good” is actually good for us and benefits us in some way. A “moral harm” unnecessarily damages us or diminishes our rights in some way.

    Moral judgment considers the evidence of probable benefits and harms to decide a course of action. This judgment is objective to the degree that the harms and benefits are easily observed and compared. But the ultimate consequences of a decision are not always known. Two good and honest individuals may differ as to what course of action will produce the best result. A democratic decision can be made to determine a working course of action, which can be further evaluated based on subsequent experience.

    Ethics are about rule systems. Rules include customs, manners, principles, ethics, rights and law. When one speaks of “morals” or “moral codes” one is usually speaking of ethics. But morality is not the rule, but rather the reason for the rule, which is to achieve good.

    Throughout history, rules have changed as our moral judgment evolved. Slavery was once permitted, but later outlawed. The equal rights of women to vote was established. The right to equal treatment without regard to races, gender, or religion was established.

    Different cultures may have different rules. But all rules move slowly toward the same goal, to achieve the best possible good for everyone. And, to the degree that moral judgment is based in objective evidence, all variations are moving toward a common, ideal set of rules and rights.

    In Matthew 22:35-40, Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest principle?”, and Jesus said the first principle is to love God and the second principle is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

    A Humanist translation would be to love good, and to love good for others as you love it for yourself.

    But Jesus said one more thing, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In other words, this is the source, the rationale, the reason, the “Why?” behind every rule and every right. It is the criteria by which all other principles, ethics, and rules are to be judged.

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