Is the Bible a good moral code? It is a great guide for morality if you don’t take it too literally or out of its historical context as atheists and other Biblical critics usually do.
The Bible is not the ultimate source of morality. Right and wrong are not determined by the Bible. Right and wrong existed before the Bible was written. God himself did not determine right and wrong. God did not declare one day that it is right to be selfish and wrong to be unselfish. Nor did he one day say it is right to be honest and truthful and wrong to cheat and steal. It has always been right to be loving and wrong to be unloving or selfish. God has always reflected what is good and right. Even before the creation of heaven and earth, the Holy Trinity was interacting in a good, moral and loving manner with each other.
The definitive standard of morality is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, who lived as a man and was tempted in all ways like we are, yet he was without sin. Reason, conscience, tradition, experience and common sense are also guides. One must study the Bible in it historical and cultural context. The Bible does not give us specific instructions about everything we may or may not do. It gives us principles by which we are to live. The primary principle is to do what glorifies our Creator (1 Cor 10:31). The Bible can be a dangerous guide if we take obscure and isolated verses, which were given to ancient Israel and apply them to contemporary society.
The ultimate one to guide us through Biblical morality is the Holy Spirit; the one whom Jesus called the Spirit of Truth. Without his guidance the Bible can be used to unjustly enslave men and suppress women. We also need the apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors, whom the Lord has placed within the church to help us understand Biblical morality.
There are three types of laws in the O.T., Moral, Civil and Ceremonial. The Moral Law is from everlasting to everlasting; it is the law written on every man’s conscience and affirmed by reason. Moral Law is sometimes called the Natural Law. Our Founders referred to it in the Declaration of Independence as “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God, The Supreme Judge of the Universe.” In the Bible it is called the Royal Law. The Apostle James said, “If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well.”—James 2:8. The Moral Law is universally applicable to all men and for all time. The love of God is our standard of behavior.
The Civil Law was given to Israel which was a theocratic state. We do not apply all of its precepts and penalties to modern society under the gospel dispensation, which is the time since the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus ushered in a new, better and more enlightened era than the Mosaic period. Nevertheless, the principles of the civil law are applicable. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth expresses in a figure of speech one of the oldest principles of Jurisprudence, which is that the punishment should fit the crime. This does not mean, nor did it ever necessarily mean, that officials should be plucking out the eyes or pulling the teeth of criminal offenders.
The Ceremonial Law includes the rites and rituals of ancient Judaism such as circumcision, the dietary laws, animal sacrifices and the like. It is crucial that one understands these three basic distinctions or the Bible could result in bringing people under bondage instead of setting them free. The Moral Law rightly understood and applied always promotes liberty. The Bible says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.”—2 Cor 3:17. Neither the Law nor the Spirit promotes liberty to sin; both assume and promote the freedom and ability to do what is right.
One might s argue, “You are picking and choosing from the Bible what you want to accept or reject?” The basic rule of determination of what specific OT laws are applicable for our day is whether or not a commandment is carried over into the NT. For instance, all of the Ten Commandments are carried over into the New except the fourth commandment concerning the 7th Day Sabbath. The Christian’s special day of rest and worship is Sunday. The Sabbath keeping of the OT is primarily ceremonial and ritualistic. Nevertheless, it is important to remember Jesus’ admonition, which expresses the Spirit of the Law, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” Men are so constituted that they need a day of rest from their normal six days of labor and God deserves a special day of attention. The religious leaders of the Jews had put the people under the bondage of the letter. Jesus came to teach the spirit of the law, which sets men free. The letter of the law is what it actually says; the spirit of the law is its purpose, which is the promotion of love to God and neighbor. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus contrasts the letter of the law with the Spirit.
The Civil Laws and Ceremonial Laws have allegorical significance. For instance the severity of the temporal judgments of God found in the OT is a warning as to how sin will bring the wrath of God upon evildoers forever in Hell. God cannot leave the impression that he is indifferent to evil. The circumcision of the flesh is allegorical for God’s desire for a circumcised heart or will; that is a will in submission to the reasonable and just requirements of God. Circumcision was the sign that God was in covenant with the Jews. God never intended everyone to be circumcised or it would cease being a sign that God was in special relationship to the Jews. A circumcised or humble heart is the sign that a man has ratified his covenant with God. The OT animal sacrifices all point to the sacrifice of Christ, who is the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins, of not just Israel, but who takes away the sins of the world.
It is important to note when studying the Bible that some passages are descriptive and others are prescriptive. The story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac is descriptive in the literal sense in that it relates what actually happened. It is not descriptive in the sense that God is setting a precedent for human sacrifice. Actually, he is establishing a model for just the opposite. The sacrifice of the first born to idols was commonplace in the ancient world among the heathen. Therefore, it would not have been unique, significant or worth noting if Abraham had actually sacrificed Isaac. In providing a ram as a substitute for Isaac, God was showing that he did not want human sacrifice. He wanted faithful obedience, which is better than sacrifice.
Alas, the Jews did not learn their lesson. When they entered the Promised Land, they were commanded by our long-suffering God to utterly destroy the Canaanites. They failed to do as ordered; instead they adopted the practices of idolaters and sacrificed their first-born to Moloch, the fire god. The Canaanites had become such a cancer to the human race with their idolatrous practices that they had forfeited their right to life.
The Abraham/Isaac episode is prescriptive in the allegorical sense in that we are to put God before family ties; we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Roman 12). Allegorically Abraham represents our heavenly Father, who sacrifices his own Son typified by Isaac. The ram in the thicket foreshadows the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross. This incident of proposed human sacrifice was a one-time historical event in the history of the Jews to prepare men for the coming of the Messiah, who would give his life as a ransom for all men.
Passages which regulate slavery are descriptive in that the Jews could hold slaves. But that does not mean that God was establishing an all-time precedent for slavery. Slavery existed long before the law was given to Moses. Biblical slavery is to be understood in the allegorical sense as prescriptions as to how all men are called to be servants, even as Christ himself came as a suffering servant.
In Matt 20:27, Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
1 Timothy 6: 1 , “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. 2And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.”
In the process of time as men are enlighten through the world-wide spread of the gospel, they learn what loving their neighbor requires. Through love God hoped to set slaves free, not through force. When masters came to an understanding of the requirement to treat others as they would want to be treated, they would hopefully release slaves, who were held unjustly.
Meanwhile, Paul is teaching Christian slaves to take their situation as an opportunity to serve and to learn discipline. If Paul would have forbidden slavery in the Roman world, Christianity would likely have been suppressed in the Empire. God usually moves gradually often taking centuries or millenniums to accomplish his ultimate purposes. He has to work with fallen humanity’s selfish nature, which is no easy task for God. His purpose is to instill in man a benevolent nature through example, persuasion, and a new-birth in Christ. Love cannot be infused in man by fiat.
Remember, the central theme of the Book of Exodus is God leading his people, Israel, out of Egyptian slavery. To take verses from Exodus out of context to teach that God gives a blanket approval of slavery is disingenuous. Allegorically Egypt represents the world, Pharaoh personifies the Devil and slavery reveals the bondage of sin. Canaan’s land represents freedom from sin in the Kingdom of God, which is the ultimate place of milk and honey; that is peace and joy.
Slavery is often God’s judgment coming on an idolatrous people, especially as the Jews could make slaves from the spoils of war with the heathen or they could buy slaves from other nations. Fellow Jews could not unwilling be enslaved for a life time. In the case of Exodus 21 a Hebrew slave must be released after serving six years. This was often the only hope for men getting out of debt or poverty. Thus it was beneficial to all for its time. For instance, a poor man could sell his daughter to be a maidservant to a wealthy family. This was not sex slavery as it has often been misrepresented by Biblical critics. This servitude was an opportunity for her to marry into the prosperous family and climb the social latter. This type of slavery is comparable to the indentured servitude practice by which many Europeans had the opportunity to come to the New World and eventually establish a freer and more prosperous life.
Jesus said, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But from the beginning it was not that way.”—Matt 19:8. In the beginning God wanted just one wife for one man without divorce. Later he permitted the Patriarchs to have multiple wives; however, that is not what God ever really wanted. And so it is from the creation of man, God wanted Adam and his descendants to be freemen, who would always do that which is right. He had to give laws that he would prefer not to have given in order to maintain some semblance of order among a race of wicked rebels.
“Is the Bible a good moral guide?” To answer the question we must first consider what is the essential moral code of the Bible?
Jesus defined the moral standard that all men must achieve to be considered righteous in Matthew 22: 35 ”A lawyer, asked Jesus a question, tempting him, and saying, 36) Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37)Jesus said unto him [quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5], Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38This is the first and great commandment. Then he quoted from Leviticus 19:18 saying, 39)And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself . 40) On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
In the Sermon of the Mount Jesus taught what has become known as the Golden Rule, (Matthew 7:12), “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Paul reduced the requirement of good morals to one word, “LOVE,” He wrote in Romans 13:8-10, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not murder, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
I submit that the Moral Code of the Bible is good because rightly understood and applied it promotes the highest good of all and works to prevent the highest misery of all. Conscience, reason, common sense and history affirm that the Bible code is for the universal benefit of both God and men. If we can agree that freedom is better than slavery, that peace is better than war, that heath and wealth are better than sickness and poverty, then the Bible is an excellent moral guide. God’s morality promotes freedom, peace, health, and prosperity.
The Bible provides men with more than a code of ethics, like Hammurabi’s law. We know little about the ruler, Hammurabi. We know a lot about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, who is our perfect example of the moral life. To have good morals we must look to a person, who is the ultimate example of good morals, which would be Almighty God as he is reflected in his Son, Jesus Christ.
We know that God governs the material universe with physical laws of cause and effect. God’s governs man according to moral laws. These moral laws are reflected in God’s character. Without knowing God, one has an incomplete understanding of his moral obligation, even though he may be well-read in the Bible.
I John 3:4, teaches immorality is transgression of God’s law. God’s law requires that we love him supremely and our neighbor equally. Therefore, immorality, or what the Bible calls sin, would be to love self supremely. Sin is selfishness. Men universally know that it is wrong to be selfish. There is not a person in this room who has not condemned selfishness in others. One of the first concepts little children learn is, “that is selfish; you will not let me play with your toys.”
If conscience and reason affirm that it is wrong for others to be selfish, then it is wrong for you and me to be selfish. You do not want anyone to be selfish towards you, so you should not be selfish towards others. Treat other as you would be treated, this is the law and prophets, this is the Bible, these laws are written on man’s hearts and minds by God Almighty.
Jesus taught in John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Occasionally, we hear of men giving their life for friends. Yet, Jesus’ standard of love is much higher. According to Roman 5:6-8, “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Jesus taught moral perfection in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43-48, Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the unbelievers the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the pagans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Men would need to study war no more, if they would follow Jesus admonition to love their enemies. It is relatively easy to love those who love us; men without God sometimes do that. I would even acknowledge that occasionally godless men give their lives for a friend or even stranger. But I have never heard of an atheist giving his life for a Christian. However, I have heard of many Christians who have been martyred for the sake of atheists, unbelievers, pagans, and idolaters. The only ones who have given their lives for their enemies would be Jesus Christ and his followers. It requires the example of Christ and his Spirit in one’s life for a man to truly love his enemies to the point where he would die in his enemies’ place.
If we are going to reject the Biblical standard which has well served man for ages, then we must come up with one that is at least equal or better and one which has demonstrated itself to be equal or better over generations. What would my opponent suggest as an alternative to God’s Moral Law of Love, that everyone live selfishly and do his own thing? What basic list would my opponent come up with to replace the 10 Commandments, that parents are irrelevant, murder is permissible, forget about marriage fidelity, if it feels good, do? Who would my atheist opponent suggest as a better man to emulate that Jesus Christ, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Dawkins or perhaps he would prefer a woman, Madelyn Murray O’Hair?
The Law of Moses was advanced for its time, far surpassing anything else at this stage of man’s moral and civil development. Moses affirms this when he said unto the people, “Keep therefore and do my statues and my judgments, for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”—Deut 4:6.
Up until the mid-20th Century when the Biblical Code of Morality was still the standard of our institutions, America was considered world-wide as a great and mighty nation with a wise and understanding people. Since turning our back on God, we are no longer respected as we once were. More often, we are vilified.
Some have claimed that Moses stole his law code from Hammurabi. However, Hammurabi's law code (1772 B.C.) is exclusively civil and criminal. Moses' law code (received around 1500 B.C.), on the other hand, begins with spiritual principles — love toward God and mankind — from which the civil and criminal laws are derived. From its emphasis on the motive of love, the law of Moses demanded more humane treatment for slaves, gave higher regard for womanhood, and placed greater value upon human life in general. Hammurabi’s law is much more severe demanding the death penalty for stealing and providing no rights at all for slaves. The priority given to spiritual values made the Mosaic law unique among all the ancient law codes.
Paul wrote to Timothy, 1 Tm 1:5-7 “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.”
Atheists, who attempt to teach on the Law of Moses or even the teach the NT, are without understanding of the Spirit the Law, nor do they appreciate justice or mercy of God.
Paul continued, 1 Tm 1:8-9 “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man.”
The civil law of Moses and the ceremonial law are not for a Christian; he is a righteous man with a pure heart. He does not need these laws any more than a healthy man needs a physician. Physicians are for sick people. God gave the law to Moses as his people were worshipping a golden calf and having an orgy. It was given to a disobedient people to convict their conscience and bring them unto Christ as Savior.
The righteous man may reflect on the law from time to time as a healthy man might on occasions get check-ups from his doctor. However, he spends most of his time contemplating his Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who is the great Physician, who keeps him morally healthy. Good moral health is the foundation of good mental and physical health.
The morally upright man looks unto Jesus for guidance as the author and finisher of his faith. He follows Christ’s example and teachings; the Christian is led of the Holy Spirit, who takes the believer through the straight gate and along the narrow way, which results in eternal life.
Paul concludes that the civil and ceremonial laws are 1 Tm 1:9-10 “for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind (homosexuals), for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.”
All sinners need to repent and come under the grace of God, which frees men from the curse of the law and delivers from God’s severe judgments that they may enjoy the glorious freedom of the children of God.
God’s holy character has not changed from the OT to the New. If men find the judgment of God too severe in the OT, they have not seen anything as yet compared to the wrath that is to come. The writer of the NT Book of Hebrews declares in Chapter 10: “He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite (outraged) unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”—vs. 28-31
Bro. Jed did not deliver this verbatim at the actual debate. You may view the complete debate on YouTube at BrotherjedCMUSA or click the link below for Part 1