Christian Ethics

Christian Ethics-Christianity etc.

Christian Ethics

Sources of Guidance

  • BIBLE-> seen as God's word, revelation of the Divine will. Needs interpreting;varying and conflicting ideas ->tension between OT and NT?. Jesus' teachings
  • THE CHURCH-> tradition of teachings; inherited 'building' of beliefs and moral opinions. Where the holy spirit does its work.
  • PERSONAL JUDGEMENT-> conscience, personal decision to follow Jesus, personal responsibility for actions, prayer.

Various approaches

  • ROMAN CATHOLIC-> predominately NATURAL LAW theory; reason can tell you what's right and wrong; supernatural divine revelation is beneficial but not needed to know what's right and wrong; tradition plays a major role in determining that moral rules believers should accept e.g. papal decree. confession and absolutism.
  • PROTESTANT-> it's motto (....) Sola Sciptura: Bible is main source for moral knowledge-> divine revelation is essential. Guided by Holy Spirit. Personal Responsibility Sola Gratia: only through grace we are saved by sin. Sola FideL only through faith we're saved.
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The Pharisees have been made notable by references in the NT to conflicts between themselves and John the Baptist and with Jesus. According to NT, Pharisees are obsessed with man-made rules (especially concerning purity) whereas Jesus is more concerned with God's love; The Pharisees scorn sinner whereas Jesus seeks them out. e.g. Mark 3: "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?"

Jesus is an anti-nomian i.e. anti-legalistic.

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Why is subject of Christian Ethics so complex?


  • consists of OT and NT which often contradict each other and OT is basis of Judaism rather than Christianity.
  • many different interpretations: literally, fundamentally, conservatively and liberally. Different ethics to live by. e.g. literalist would absorb everything from the Bible exactly as it's shown whereas a liberal view would believe content was inspired by God, containing spiritual truths rather than literal facts: "All Scripture is inspired by God" -> 2 Timothy 3:16.
  • Biblical translation brings about problems too.
  • Bible is basic source of principles which help determine what's right and wrong for Christians and encourages them to act in certain ways along with revealing God's true nature although isn't always clear in vital places influencing our ethical lifestyle.
  • doesn't give precise instructions as to what to do in every situation and apart from anything else, the problems that we face today were entirely unknown in Biblical times
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Different Churches and their teachings

Roman Catholic

  • pope is head and known as 'spiritual guide'. Mary is also highly respect by Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and some Anglicans. Symbol of purity and a role model.
  • more orthodox as their basis of an ethical lifestyle is following Natural Law. They believe that supernatural divine revelation is beneficial but not needed to know what is right or wrong and that confession of one's sins is a necessary part of this branch of Christianity.
  • The Magisterium is the teaching authority of Roman Catholic Church. exercised by Pope and bishops due to apostolic succession which is unbroken line of descent from Jesus' apostles.
  • decide what is right and wrong based on : a) example and teachings of Jesus, b) considering ourselves in perspective to the world, as God made us in 'imago dei', c) listening to teachings of bishops as they are seen to follow 12 disciples. Also follows papal decree, d) early traditions of church-collective wisdom of Christians for past 2000 years. e) influence of Holy Spirit-guiding us correctly to understand Jesus and Bible.
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  • teachings tend to be more absolute than that of any other denomination purely because the basis of this church is based on Aquinas's theory of natural law.
  • prime principle of Catholic social teaching is the 'correct view of the human person' according to Catholic Catechism #357
  • very strong views on sanctity of life believing in an inherent human dignity from conception to death. In the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, "Joy and Hope" it is written that "from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care". The importance of life is very highly regarded as they strongly believe that we were created in "imago dei" and that everyone's life is just as important as anyone else's and that we hsould treat it with utmost respect and follow by God's intentions.
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  • mainly summed up by motto of 16th century Protestant Reformation of the Church declaring that the Bible is the main source of moral knowledge and unlike Catholics, they maintain that this leads of divine revelation which is essential for the understanding of God and his desired principles.
  • like the catholic church, we are guided by the Holy Spirit to make decisions but unlike the former, there is no need for meditators as they hold personal responsibility for their actions.
  • through 'Sola Gratia' we are saved by sin and NOT from following the divine commandments and furthermore, 'Sola Fide' announces that only through faith we are saved.
  • Modern day Protestant ethics try to apply Biblical principles to new situations which is often when Situation ethics are often incorporated.
  • like catholics, their ethical theories are mainly based on the consideration of Jesus and his teachings which reveals God's true nature.
  • has both conservative and liberal theological strands within it, its styles of public worship tend to be simpler and less elaborate than those of Roman Catholics, Anglicans and eastern Christians
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Other Denominations

  • tend to come under one of the above branches.
  • all Christians no matter what church, will profess their faith through creeds. This is a summary of belief the word "creed" coming from Latin meaning 'I believe'. most popular being Nicene Creed and Apostle's creed. these also state the presence of God's Trinity that is a mystery Christians accept on the basis of Biblical teaching. They don't believe in three different Gods but God with his three different 'natures': the father, son and Holy Spirit.
  • Christ promised to protect teachings of the Church in Luke 10:16. Now of course the promise of Christ cannot fail: hence when the Church presents some doctrine as definitive or final, it comes under this protection, it cannot be in error, in other words it is infallible.
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  • form of personal judgement= often used as a form of reflection. Not a definite definition of 'conscience' although in Greek it is "syndressi' which appears in Book of Wisdom 17:11. Often referred to as an awareness of what is good/bad and observes it can be weak and mistaken (1 Corintheans 8:10-12)
  • addressed very frequently in Bible which shows its high importance for all types of Christianity and how its a vital part of ethical practices. St Jerome saw conscience as power to distinguish between good and evil whereas St. Augustine considered conscience to be the tool of observing the law of God within human hearts.
  • these diverse ways in which many important people discern what conscience is reflects how differently many people view it which makes Christian Ethics somewhat personal and involves one's own opinions rather than just following a determined set of rules. Enables Christians to use their initiative of what their conscience is.
  • own beliefs regarding purpose of conscience lies on foundation that many believe one's conscience to be the voice of God speaking to us which we must seek within ourselves. This intuitive behaviour reveals God-like behaviour bringing us closer to God.
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  • ambiguous definition due to varying religious figure's ideas. Common theme though of conscience distinguishes between right and wrong actions and Aquinas in particular- "The Synderesis rule". Thought that when people seek apparent goods it reflects a mistaken conscience. He claimed that the conscience is "reason making right decisions" which he maintains in Summa Theologica. Joseph Butler believed that our conscience was our "natural guide, the guide assigned us by the Author of our nature" which suggests that once again, it is the voice of God guiding us personally and St. Paul further explains in his letter to the Romans that it is possible to have a sense of knowing what one ought to do, but lack the strength or will to do it.
  • acting abiding by one's conscience means acting on innermost convictions and involves an act of integrity. St Jerome believe it the capacity to make judgements and a power of the soul.
  • Catholics are particularly keen on the idea of conscience as Cardinal John Henry Newman believed it was an intrinsic approach and following one's conscience was following divine law, which once again is a correlation with Natural Law.
  • Schleiermacher was another figure who believed that going against your conscience was sinning as he links conscience directly to God claiming that it is "held to be an original revelation of God"
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The Old Testament- Justice and Righteousness

  • about God's old covenant-his relationship with the Jews and chosen people (Deut. 8:1)
  • the OT teaches us about law, prophecy and wisdom to behave morally.
  • Case law is main type of law- GORDON WENHAM- law is not as significant as the fundamental principles which it embodies i.e. problem with looking at individual things which often conflict. Reason for law? "that he may teach us his ways".
  • JOHN BARTON- "love is not only founded in the will of God or in Natural Law but also motivated."
  • Jesus' interpretation: "in everything do to others as you would have them do to you" Matthe 7:12 (The Golden Rule)
  • much of OT is concerned with urging people to return to their moral obligations under the covenants to obey God.
  • stories e.g. Adam & Eve also reflect ethical decisions made by Christians and how we should morally behave and our punishment for not behaving properly.
  • claims life has no set monetary value. claims no economic crime should ever be punished by death; demands justice before law.
  • basis of all christian morals as gives 10 commandments and shows covenant-4 about God and 6 about how we should treat each other.
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New Testament- Gospels and St. Paul

  • For christians, it is more important than OT as it's about God's new covenant- his relationship with whole of humanity rather than just Israelites- sealed by death of Jesus. GOSPELS ARE MOST IMPORTANT PART-> describes life, death resurrection of Jesus.
  • made up of Prophecy, History (e.g. Acts of Apostles), Gospels and Letters (St. Paul's letters to the Romans)
  • Important source of what's right and wrong: a) God inspired NT writers, b) example of Jesus sets pattern for Christians to follow. c) Jesus was God incarnate and sinless.
  • Gospels regarded as human document. Example of Jesus is to be a way of moral decision making which each individual must practice. How J conflicts with Nomiums e.g. Pharisees.
  • Follow Jesus' teachings and examples: a) sermon on the mount, b) treatment of women, c) Good samaritan OR St. Paul's teachings. shows AGAPE.
  • St. Paul's letters were written to various churches/individuals to teach new Christian churches doctrines and encourage Christian Ethics- evoked a spirit of quiet meditations.
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  • a communication between the Father, God, and his children.
  • Jesus taught us to pray.
  • reinforces idea of acceptance and forgiveness as even sinners and outcasts can pray. Jesus' ethics of agape- prayer is a reciprocal love between God and his followers.
  • Praying to God makes Christians feel guided in situations where they don't know what to do. Seeing as Bible does not always have modern day applications, prayer enables Christians to ask God personally what to do. Gives guidance.
  • a form of confession which is one of the necessities of Catholicism- to meditated although this is also relevant to Protestants as although they don't necessarily believe in confession, for every denomination of Christianity, prayer is vital.
  • important as Christians believe they are in constant battle with evil's intention to neutralise and demoralise us (Epiphanies 6:10)
  • prayer enables Christians to feel they are guided towards God's intentions rather than being misled to go against ethical theories that God intended.
  • Jesus' teachings of love show we must show love towards our creator and in return we will be loved and guided towards the right way of living.
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Divine Command Theory

  • 'the view that morality is dependant on God and that moral obligation consists of obedience to God's commands'-> includes the claim that morality is ultimately based on commands/character of God
  • concisely put by EMIL BRUNNER - "the Good consists in always doing what God wills at any particular moment".
  • if you believe moral actions are good/bad because they're commanded/forbidden by God: if they hadn't been commanded/forbidden by God they wouldn't be good/bad; if God had said the opposite thing to what he did say, then things which would have been good are now bad and vice versa. ARBITRARY. Surely murder is wrong in itself rather than God saying it's wrong? A.J. AYER believes morality can't depend on morality alone- "no morality can be founded on authority, even if the authority were divine". Also, if God chose his commands arbitrarily then why worship him?
  • ......this then leads to the Euthyphro Dilemma. James Rachels believes its unacceptable for religious belief to involve unqualified obedience to God's commands as it removes the need for personal autonomy.
  • BUT-> how do we know what God wants? If we just obey whatever God says we are not making responsible and ethical decisions.
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Does Utilitarianism fit with a Christian approach?


fits-> Bentham though Christ. should support Util as God was supposed to be benevolent. Jesus' death was an act of Util (one of many). Jesus did not always keep to the law e.g. arguing against Pharisees.

doesn't fit-> Bentham rejects rule-based system of morality: Bible, conscience or Natural Law as means to knowing what's right/wrong. He was an empiricist- measured pleasure/pain using Hedonic Calculus. Doesn't see some actions (e.g. murder) as intrinsically wrong. Understands that humans are only motivated by pleasure or pain. No room for being made in 'imago dei', Typically Christian acts e.g. turning the other cheeks forgiving etc cannot be measured on HC.

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fits-> some traditional rules aimed at helping the community, rather than leaving people free to make own decisions at every situation. Mill likened Princ. of Util. to Golden Rule. He saw Util. as universal benevolence, doing good to others and denying self love. Fletcher recognised similarities between situation ethics and Util. e.g. relative. Good of Util. replaced with agape- work out the most loving thing to do for all.

doesn't fit-> love is not always about the collective good (as suggested by Util) but also about the individual-love will not sacrifice for the few for the sake of majority without considering their needs and welfare.

  • William Paley argued virtue is: "doing good to mankind, in obedience to the will of God, and for the sake of everlasting happiness".
  • Bentham though Christ. would endorse Util view if only Christians would take seriously their view of God as benevolent creator: "They call him benevolent in words, but they do not mean that he is so in reality".
  • It is clear that traditional understanding of NL as expressed by Roman Catholic Magisterium is the antithesis of Util. thinking e.g. clash due to controversy over rubella vaccine- govt wanted children vaccinated by vaccine originated from dead foetuses.
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How is Christian Ethics Relativist?

  • Teleological- subjective- concerned w/consequences of actions.
  • Jesus- his teachings of Agape and the Golden Rule.
  • NT-> vital for discovery on what's right and wrong. no set rules.
  • as a generalisation, Protestant church is more relative e.g. contraception. They don't follow by absolute ethics of NL.
  • GOLDEN RULE-> Absolute rule but relativist approach
  • Situation Ethics-> believed Christian Ethics must escape from two extremes of legalism and antionomism. only one absolute-> agape.
  • Free Will and conscience. -> why would God have given us free will if he did not think we had responsibility? By giving us responsibility he gives us ethical codes.
  • consider Utilitarianism?
  • JESUS was relativist? followed Ethics of LOVE. shows love is the greatest virtue. consequences are responsibility of the decision maker-within the limits of what may be reasonably assessed as possible consequences.
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How is Christian Ethics Absolutist?

  • Deontological- objectively true principle.
  • Broadly speaking, Roman Catholicism is more absolute as it follows NL.
  • 10 commandments-> absolute moral laws laid down by God in OT. Certain moral standards always apply, regardless of time and space- have lasted over 2000 years and morals still apply today.
  • in broad terms, OT is seen to be absolutist- reflects covenant and includes law, prophecy and wisdom. Stories e.g. Adam and EVe reflect definitive rights/wrongs and the punishment they deserve.
  • theories e.g. sanctity of life is involved with Christian ethics. e.g. Catholics believe that life starts from conception to death- it's sacred and blessed by God.
  • Divine Command Theory-> claims that morality is dependant on God and that moral obligation consists of OBEDIENCE to God's commands.
  • Jesus' eight Beatitudes-> where in the sermon on the mount he reinforced the 10 commandments and taught us the Lord's prayer.
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