Moral Intuitionism And The Law Inscribed On Our Hearts -- By: Mark D. Mathewson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 42:4 (Dec 1999)
Article: Moral Intuitionism And The Law Inscribed On Our Hearts
Author: Mark D. Mathewson

Moral Intuitionism And The Law
Inscribed On Our Hearts

Mark D. Mathewson*

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Or so I am told. But what about God’s law? What about those who lived prior to God’s written law or who presently live in locations where they have no access to God’s written law? Is ignorance of this law no excuse?

Actually, this last question, according to the apostle Paul, is illegitimate. No one can claim ignorance of God’s law because, as Paul writes,

For when the Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Rom 2:14–16 NASB).

Part of Paul’s argument for the guilt of all humanity is that each one knows enough about God’s nature and moral demands to be held accountable whether or not they have God’s written law (Rom 1:20, 32; 2:14–15).

But how is this knowledge gained? Without explication, Paul claims that the work of the law is written in human hearts. Paul’s intent here is not to treat the epistemological question (he simply assumes individuals possess such knowledge), but to argue that those without God’s special revelation of moral demands are without excuse. However, inquisitive readers may wish to ask the relevant questions as to how humans acquire this knowledge. What does it mean for the work of the law to be inscribed in us? And how do we then come to apprehend and then know it?

One account of moral epistemology, moral intuitionism, provides a plausible explication. On my view, Rom 2:14–15 can be construed in terms of a moderate moral intuitionism. My goal then is to do what Paul does not—provide an epistemology of the internal law. In what follows, I will examine the internal law of which Paul speaks in Romans 2, put forth what I take to be a successful account of moral intuitionism, then explicate the internal law in light of this moral intuitionist account. The result will be, I hope, a plausible formulation of just how each human can and does know God’s moral demands apart from special revelation.

I. The Internal Law Of Romans 2:14-15

Paul asserts that unregenerate people who do not have access to Go...

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