Biblical Absolutes and Moral Conflicts -- By: Norman L. Geisler

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 131:523 (Jul 1974)
Article: Biblical Absolutes and Moral Conflicts
Author: Norman L. Geisler

Biblical Absolutes and Moral Conflicts

Norman L. Geisler

[Norman L. Geisler, Professor of Philosophy of Religion, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.]

The Christian Ethic is an ethic of love. Jesus made it clear that all of the Old Testament commandments embodied principles of love (Matt 22:38–40). The New Testament repeats these moral commandments in the context of grace and enjoins them on Christian believers (cf. Gal 5:20–21, Rom 13:8–10).1 These eternal ethical principles of love are as unchanging as the nature of God on whom they are based, for God is love (1 John 4:16).

Now in God there is no conflict among the principles based on His nature, for God is one in nature (Deut 6:4). And all attributes find their ultimate harmony and unity in the oneness of His nature. However, in the world there are conflicts in the commandments of love.2 There are clashes of moral responsibility and overlapping of duties, as both Scripture and human experience verify. It is these conflicting ethical situations which occupy our attention here. The question before us is this: what is the Christian’s moral responsibility when two or more commands of Scripture appear to be in irresolvable conflict.

The people of God have often faced ethical dilemmas. For example, if it is wrong to kill one’s son and it is wrong to disobey God, then what should Abraham have done when God told him to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22)? God commands obedience to the king, but the king commands the murder of innocent male children. What

should the Hebrew midwives do (Exod 1)? The Scriptures enjoin obedience to parents but one’s parents insist that he not serve God. What is the responsibility of love (Matt 10:37)? The Bible forbids lying but the lives of God’s servants can be saved by intentionally falsifying. What should Rahab have done (Josh 6)? The queen commands that all God’s prophets be killed. A man defies her and hides one hundred of them. Was Obadiah right (1 Kings 18:13)? The Bible demands obedience to human government (Rom 13:1–2), but the king rule...

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