THE PURITY OF BIBLE ETHICS
by Wayne S. Walker
The word "ethics" refers to the study of right and wrong in principle, character, and conduct. It has been universally accepted that certain things are right and certain things are wrong, although not everyone has agreed on exactly what falls into each category. Furthermore, many who claim to be ethical often fail to follow the right standard. "’And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,’ says the LORD" (Jeremiah 3:10). Certainly, the Bible claims to offer mankind a superior ethical standard. Does it live up to its claim or is it just a pretense? We can determine this by examining the purity of Bible ethics.
Bible ethics begins with the fact that in the Bible righteousness is everywhere commanded and commended, while sin is always condemned. After the creation was finished, "Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good…" (Genesis 1:31). This implies that there is a distinction between good and evil and that God made everything to be used for good. In the garden of Eden, God established just such a standard with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17). That which is evil or sinful is thus defined as that which is a violation of God’s will, whereas that which is good or righteous is defined as that which is in harmony with God’s will (1 John 3:4, 5:17). Adam and Eve transgressed God’s will and so were guilty of sin, thus coming into a knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-24).
Consider two other examples of this general standard. The flood was sent by God to punish the wickedness of the ancient world, whereas Noah and his family were spared because of their righteousness (Genesis 6:5-13). Also, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their evil, while Lot was saved because, although obviously not perfect, he was apparently at least committed to God’s standard in contrast to the complete abandonment of that standard by the Sodomites (Genesis 19:1-29, 2 Peter 2:6-8).
Not only do we have Bible examples of ethical standards, but there are also specific teachings which illustrate this idea. One is the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). These provided Israel with a very definite contrast between right and wrong. When Ahab and Jezebel broke these commandments by coveting Naboth’s vineyard, bearing false witness about Naboth, murdering him, and then stealing his vineyard, they were rebuked and eventually punished (1 Kings 21:6-24). God did not allow such violations of His standard to go unchecked.
In addition, the great sermon on the mount indicates that God does not want mere outward morality but inward purity. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). It is not only killing and adultery that are wrong, but it is also the hatred and lust which motivate them that are condemned as well (Matthew 5:21-32). Homer Hailey wrote, "Not a moral principle has been added to the Sermon on the Mount since the day that it was preached by Jesus. Jesus puts the emphasis on the heart, the source of the act" (Internal Evidences of Christianity, p. 20). In the next article, we shall consider some objections to the Bible’s claim of a superior ethical standard. (—taken from With All Boldness; February, 1998; Vol. 8, No. 2; p. 21)