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DominicX's avatar

Does the Bible actually support absolute morality?

Asked by DominicX (28581 points ) June 20th, 2012

Too many light-hearted fun questions on the site. Time for a good old-fashioned religion question. And because I’m feeling pensive, so…here goes.

A lot of people like to claim that the Bible supports absolute morality or just absolute truths in general. Yet these same people will turn around and say that the parts in the Bible that call for, say, our favorites like the death of homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13) or the genocide of multiple nations (Deuteronomy 7:1–2) were “written for the time they were written in” and that these guidelines were temporary.

So in other words, what was right for the ancient Israelites isn’t right for us. Therefore, morality has changed and it is NOT absolute.

So then why is this concept so difficult to apply to the modern day? Could it be that the part in the Bible that calls for women’s silence in churches actually be outdated? I find it interesting that some parts of the Bible can be outdated, and others can’t.

I realize I’m all over the place. Not trying to convince anyone of anything, just want to hear thoughts.

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18 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

The Bible seems to support what ever you wish it to support. The problem is that a lot of people will say your interpretation is incorrect.

There are a lot of communities that say that it does support a singular viewpoint that hasn’t changed. Those communities are not in agreement with each other.

King_Pariah's avatar

As you’ve already pointed out. The Bible certainly does not support absolute morality. And there are some peculiarities shown in it as well with an example being there’s “Thou shall not kill” then with it’s a woman that does not scream out when raped (or something like that and then some) punish her by stoning her to death which means somebody has got to kill her but the ten commandments say “Thou shall not kill” so what the hell?

DominicX's avatar

@zenvelo I believe Jews think that it hasn’t changed. But even then I don’t see Jews killing homosexuals or worrying too much about mixed-fiber clothes, so they must believe that it has changed at least in some way.

@King_Pariah The only argument I’ve heard against that is that it means “don’t murder”, so any lawful killing is fine. But I’d have to know more about the translation to know about that. Obviously the Bible doesn’t prohibit against killing in times of war.

King_Pariah's avatar

True, but why would God then be so vague to allow his laws be loosely interpreted? Doesn’t make sense to me.

SavoirFaire's avatar

The Bible supports a very specific absolute morality: whatever God commands is right, whatever God forbids is wrong. According to those who hold such a view, this is true for you, for me, and for everyone else in the world. Therefore, it is not a relative morality in the sense that the word “relative” is used in moral philosophy. Oddly enough, however, this morality is not objective in the standard philosophical sense of the word (where “objective morality” is a synonym for “moral realism”). It’s just one of the ways in which we see that the questions of moral realism/moral anti-realism and absolute morality/relative morality come apart.

King_Pariah's avatar

If God can change what is “right” then they are obviously not absolute.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@King_Pariah You are missing the point: on this sort of theory, it is following God’s commands that is always right. Their content, and even the possibility that the content of one command might be inconsistent with the content of another command, is irrelevant. What is right absolutely is following God’s commands, not the things commanded themselves. So if God says “kill all Canaanites” on Tuesday and “never kill any Canaanites” on Wednesday, then you just have to consider Tuesday’s command to have been nullified by Wednesday’s command. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t right to kill all Canaanites on Tuesday.

This sort of divine command theory is historically popular, but many find it to be intellectually unsatisfying. Many people reject it. Moreover, it is often rejected not just as an erroneous theory of morality, but as an erroneous interpretation of the morality that emerges from the Bible. The fact remains, however, that this is the only kind of absolute morality that would be consistent with the Biblical narrative. Other moral theories based on the Biblical God will have to give up absoluteness in favor of other theoretical virtues.

King_Pariah's avatar

@SavoirFaire Ooooohhhh… that makes sense… and strengthens my belief in one of my favorite little quotes…

SavoirFaire's avatar

@King_Pariah Which one would that be?

King_Pariah's avatar

“Your God guarantees my insanity, but may I ask? Who guarantees your God’s sanity?”

mazingerz88's avatar

The Bible is one confusing piece of work. Some people believe everything written there is the word of God. If one suggests that it was just humans who wrote it, they would say yes, but it was God in them who wrote the words. I don’t think it can absolutely support morality as modern humans understand absolute morality these days.

I don’t understand why the Old Testament and the New Testament were put together in the first place. Clearly, Jesus failed to convince the whole of “Jewishdom” that he was their Messiah, therefore I don’t think He is what his early supporters ( writers and believers ) said He is.

tom_g's avatar

@SavoirFaire is right on with divine command theory. This whole concept seems to violate our modern understanding of right and wrong in a way that makes any discussion of “morality” within a biblical context sound nonsensical. Most of us left behind the “right = what my parents say” understanding of ethics when once we left this developmental stage. The bible seems to only discuss morality as though we have yet to develop empathy, logic, and a means of evaluating human happiness and suffering.

So, does it offer “abolute morality”? Absolute – maybe. Morality – nope.

ragingloli's avatar

Oh yes. It is called divine command theory. Whatever god says, you agree and obey, or he will fuck you up. Of course, abrahamic followers do not actually adhere to biblical morality, despite them claiming that the bible and god is the source of theirs.
They do not think slavery is ok, they do not think killing people for adultery, working on saturdays or for being disobedient children is ok. They do not think they should marry their daughters to the first guy who rapes them. I bet most of them also find genocide repulsive. Being opposed to all of that is in contradiction to biblical morality, which endorses and commands all these things.
If your morality contradicts the morality of the god you claim your morality originates from, then your morality does not come from this god.

mattbrowne's avatar

No, because the knowledge Jews and Christians have today is different from that of the people who lived 3000 or 2000 years ago. Today we know that there are female brains trapped in a male body and vice versa. We know about chromosomes and prenatal hormones. New knowledge must be considered when addressing morality. Slaves were actually thought to be a different kind of creature. Today we know that all humans are basically indentical genetically. The notion of a “sub-human” is absurd and perverse. Slavery is considered wrong and immoral.

Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance (Proverbs 1:5).

Good sense is a fountain of life to him or her who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly (Proverbs 16:22).

Today many fundamentalist Christians act as fools, because their “instructions” are based frozen knowledge from the distant past.

Paradox25's avatar

I’ll give a fringe opinion here, as a former Christian turned sceptic turned secular theist. From doing research on the secular case for dualism, etc I think that the majority of these versus in the Bible were the results of unguided mediumship or uncontrollable clairvoyance. Mediums who use unguided communications risk having run ins with lower entities on the lower astral planes, which unlike the higher planes, seem to interpenetrate with our own realm, at least from what I’ve read about the topic of mental, trance and physical mediumship. I think these likely explain the mixed bag messages of the Bible. I still believe that there is some divine truth in the Bible, but no more than any other books that I can read relating to spiritual matters. This is my own opinion of course, so take it as that.

sinscriven's avatar

I don’t feel that the bible defines morals in absolute, even in the context of that time period. You get instructions from the commandments that killing is wrong, but later on you get instructions on how to deal with cheating wives by forcing them to abort any potential children that might be born, but making them drink “bitter water” that was prepared and hexed by a priest to cause her to miscarry.

Numbers 5:11 for anyone curious.

flutherother's avatar

There isn’t such a thing as absolute morality. The Bible gave us the Ten Commandments which are straightforward enough until you try to put them into practice then you find there are exceptions. Most morality boils down to this ‘Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you’ though I prefer ‘do not do to others whatever you would not like them to do to you.’

Nullo's avatar

Effectively. God, unchanging and eternal, judges righteousness (and thence, post-mortem destination) by His standards. Another feather in your cap, @SavoirFaire.
As best I can tell, the Mosaic Law has civil, moral, and ceremonial aspects. Civil aspects can’t really apply in other countries than ancient Israel, and ceremonial aspects are unneeded under grace. But the moral aspect holds because it is not bound in the same way.

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