Is the Bible an Ethical Guide? (Y1.T1.D32)
Updated: Mar 29
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The Bible is a book about the history and faith of two religions: Christianity and Judaism. It contains stories, law, censuses, poems, songs, prophecies, and instructions. But is it an ethical guide?
According to Reverend Dr. David Lose―while serving as Senior Pastor of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN―the answer is “a definitive ‘no.’” In a 2011 HuffPost blog, he wrote how the Bible didn’t provide “direct answers to today's moral questions.” With a “bold but cautious ‘yes,’” he felt the Bible could “lead to useful reflection on the moral life and aid one in making ethical decisions . . . but . . . that guidance often comes to us ‘sideways.’” He believed:
The Bible is most interested in inviting us to understand the meaning of this mysterious life we share by inviting us into relationship with God, a relationship that in turn offers counsel regarding the variety of moral choices before us. So mystery and meaning, I would argue, come before morality on the pages of Scripture.
He came to this conclusion because he felt the Bible "written over more than a thousand years, also display tremendous variety in their portrayals of God."
Do I agree with him? No.
I just don’t see this “variety of portrayals of God” he talks about. I understand how people unfamiliar with the totality of God have labeled the Old Testament as barbaric because of laws like "Anyone who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 21:17).
But those of us who believe the Bible is inerrant believe it because we also believe God is more than immutable; he is the very essence of love.
Of course, humans throughout history have misused religion, law, ideas, philosophy—anything really—to behave badly. But what if they’ve all misinterpreted the moral intention?
Instead of a “sideways” glance at the Mosaic laws, let’s examine them through the eyes of the one who drafted them. Jesus, God incarnate, told us, "The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:40).
"'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind' [Deuteronomy 6:5]. This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ [Leviticus 19:18]” (Matthew 22:37–39).
So while I agree with Pastor Lose that we should read the Bible to develop a relationship with God, I disagree that "morality on the pages of Scripture" should be the filter. In fact, the Bible is the best ethical guide to love ever written.
Tell It to Me Straight
81 My soul faints for your salvation.
I hope in your word.
82 My eyes fail for your word.
I say, “When will you comfort me?”
83 For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke.
I don’t forget your statutes.
84 How many are the days of your servant?
When will you execute judgment on those who persecute me?
85 The proud have dug pits for me,
contrary to your law.
86 All of your commandments are faithful.
They persecute me wrongfully.
87 They had almost wiped me from the earth,
but I didn’t forsake your precepts.
88 Preserve my life according to your loving kindness,
so I will obey the statutes of your mouth. (Psalm 119:81–88)
38a “You have heard that it was said (Matthew 5:38a)
22 “If men fight and hurt a pregnant woman so that she gives birth prematurely, and yet no harm follows, he shall be surely fined as much as the woman’s husband demands and the judges allow. 23 But if any harm follows, then you must take life for life, (Exodus 21:22–23)
24b hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burning for burning, wound for wound, and bruise for bruise. (Exodus 21:24b–25)
12 “One who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death, 13 but not if it is unintentional, but God allows it to happen; then I will appoint you a place where he shall flee. 14 If a man schemes and comes presumptuously on his neighbor to kill him, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.
15 “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother shall be surely put to death.
16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
17 “Anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.
18 “If men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone, or with his fist, and he doesn’t die, but is confined to bed; 19 if he rises again and walks around with his staff, then he who struck him shall be cleared; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for his healing until he is thoroughly healed.
20 “If a man strikes his servant or his maid with a rod, and he dies under his hand, the man shall surely be punished. 21 Notwithstanding, if his servant gets up after a day or two, he shall not be punished, for the servant is his property. (Exodus 21:12–21)
26 “If a man strikes his servant’s eye, or his maid’s eye, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. 27 If he strikes out his male servant’s tooth, or his female servant’s tooth, he shall let the servant go free for his tooth’s sake.
28 “If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull shall surely be stoned, and its meat shall not be eaten; but the owner of the bull shall not be held responsible. 29 But if the bull had a habit of goring in the past, and this has been testified to its owner, and he has not kept it in, but it has killed a man or a woman, the bull shall be stoned, and its owner shall also be put to death. 30 If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed. (Exodus 21:26–30)
41 Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. (Matthew 5:41)
31 Whether it has gored a son or has gored a daughter, according to this judgment it shall be done to him. 32 If the bull gores a male servant or a female servant, thirty shekels of silver shall be given to their master, and the ox shall be stoned.
33 “If a man opens a pit, or if a man digs a pit and doesn’t cover it, and a bull or a donkey falls into it, 34 the owner of the pit shall make it good. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead animal shall be his.
35 “If one man’s bull injures another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live bull, and divide its price; and they shall also divide the dead animal. 36 Or if it is known that the bull was in the habit of goring in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall surely pay bull for bull, and the dead animal shall be his own. (Exodus 21:31–36)
31 “As you would like people to do to you, do exactly so to them. (Luke 6:31)
I need Your moral code of love. I accept that every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, and that as a person who belongs to God, I can be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Help me not lean on my own understanding, but in all my ways to acknowledge You. Please make my paths straight (Proverbs 3:5–6). Help me treat all the people I come in contact with as I'd like them to treat me (Luke 6:31).
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