The Doctrine of Conscience -- By: Roger Douglass Congdon

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 102:406 (Apr 1945)
Article: The Doctrine of Conscience
Author: Roger Douglass Congdon

The Doctrine of Conscience

Roger Douglass Congdon

The Problem


The study of conscience is not new or original, but it is a neglected study. There has been a dearth of available material for several years. It seems that it has had an ebb and flow in popularity. The last period of popularity was at its peak about 1850, and before that, in the days of Luther and Calvin. Today, there is little attention given to the subject of conscience in religious periodicals, pamphlets, or books. Hallesby’s recent work is the one outstanding exception (O. Hallesby, Conscience. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1933. 157 pp).

So the great problem of this study will be to discover the Biblical conception of the doctrine of conscience. In the process, we will discuss the merits of the many definitions which men through the ages have given to it. Then we shall study carefully the occurrences of the word as used in the original text of Scripture, as well as the various words which express the same idea without using the word conscience. From this material we will be able to discuss the various theories and definitions of conscience, and build up the doctrine as it is taught in the Bible. The conclusion will set forth in summary the statement of the Biblical doctrine of conscience.

Extra-Biblical Theories.

The English word conscience is derived from the Latin conscientia: “A knowing of a thing together with another person, joint knowledge, consciousness.” The Lewis and Short Latin dictionary also adds as a secondary meaning,

“A consciousness of right or wrong, the moral sense, conscience.”1 It is the idea which is commonly expressed in English by the word conscience.

Ancient Theories.

1. Babylonian and Assyrian.

In the ancient code of Hammurabi, column 41, there is mention of prayer before Marduk and Zarpanit “with a full heart”2 or, as Pinches translates it, “with perfection of heart.”3 This is very evidently a reference to that which we would call conscience, and is the same term—heart—for the idea which we find in Hebrew literature. The thought in Hammurabi’s Code is that the one who disobeys these laws cannot pray with a “full heart,” and therefore could not expect the care of “the protecting deities, the gods who enter Esagila.”4 Thus it seems that conscience to he early Babylonians consisted in a knowledge of obedience or disobedience to t...

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