Wittgenstein’s Classes Of Utterances And Pauline Ethical Texts -- By: Stanley E. Porter

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 32:1 (Mar 1989)
Article: Wittgenstein’s Classes Of Utterances And Pauline Ethical Texts
Author: Stanley E. Porter


Wittgenstein’s Classes Of Utterances And
Pauline Ethical Texts

Stanley E. Porter*

It has long been recognized that there are numerous pressing problems in formulating an adequate Christian ethic. Several of these are the problems that pertain to any ethical theory: (1) whether an ethical theory should be teleological (concerned with the goals of actions) or deontologi-cal (concerned with what one ought to do regardless of its ends); (2) the relation between metaethical and normative ethical statements; (3) the number and nature and kind of absolutes, if the ethical theory holds that there are absolutes; (4) the method by which absolutes are formulated, whether through reason, nature, or intuition, if a subjectivist position is not advocated; and (5) for those ethical theories that maintain a minimum of two or more ethical absolutes, how one makes ethical decisions when these absolutes conflict (although some ethical positions advocate that at no time do ethical absolutes ever come into conflict).

Biblical ethics, however, has a pressing problem not present in other ethical formulations: determining the role of the Bible not only in formulating the set of ethical absolutes and regulating ethical decisions when these norms run into conflict but also in using the Biblical statements as an interpretive control on ethical decision-making.

Christians seem to recognize that the Bible stands as a functional control or authority over Christian ethical behavior and consequently that it ought to be included in some way in formulating a Christian ethic, that it provides a normative standard unlike any other standard accessible to the Christian, and that Biblical claims establish the degree of “Christianness” of any ethical formulation.1

Exploration of the issues, however, reveals several difficulties. For example, Edward Lory, in his survey of Christian ethics, states that there is a recognizable difference between “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Give a cup of coffee to everyone who knocks on your door.” The difference is that the first “sets forth a principle; the second specifies a type of expected behavior; the first invites deliberation about the means necessary to express love for the neighbor; the second states how the

* Stanley Porter is part-time lecturer in Bible and theology at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

neighbor is to be treated.”2 But this comparison is unfair, since the first example is from the Bible but the second is not. Can the same opposition be made between “Love your neighbor as you...

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