Author Topic: Is there a biblical morality?  (Read 305 times)

Brian Stoffregen

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Is there a biblical morality?
« on: January 20, 2022, 04:27:00 PM »
Carrying over from another discussion.

My approach in seeking answers to this question is to see if translators actually use "moral" or "morality" in their understanding of the original words. Thankfully, BibleGateway.com allows one to search numerous different English translations for key words.

Using the ESV, the word "morality" never occurs in that translation. The word "moral" occurs only once: 1 Corinthians 15:33: Do not be deceived, "Bad company ruins good morals." Paul is quoting a well-known proverb. The Greek word used is ἦθος and used only here in the NT. More often it is translated, "customs" or "habits," as it usually is in the LXX. A synonym, ἔθος, is used of Mary and Joseph's "custom" of going to the temple at Passover (Luke 2:42) and Jesus' "habit" of going to Gethsemane (Luke 22:39). It's not likely that we would consider regularly going to church or frequently walking in a garden as "moral" issues; even if they are good "habits."

Doing a search for "immorality" gives many more results; but in every case (except 1), it is a translation of πορνεία, πορνεύω, ἐκπορνεύω, or πόρνος. (The one OT verse that shows up, Genesis 38:24, uses these words in the LXX.) The one exception is Romans 13:13 where κοίτη is used. All of these terms refer to sexual behaviors. Is sexual morality the only morality that the Bible is concerned about?

These leads to what probably should be the first question: What is morality? (We don't get an answer by trying to look at Greek or Hebrew words for "morality" used in Scriptures.)

An English definition:

principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior: the matter boiled down to simple morality: innocent prisoners ought to be freed.
a particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society: a bourgeois morality.
the extent to which an action is right or wrong: behind all the arguments lies the issue of the morality of the possession of nuclear weapons.


There are many things that the Bible and Christians say are good to do, like going to church, that we usually don't consider morality. The Bible uses terms like "righteousness" (δικαιοσύνη) for good and right behaviors. However, in Lowe & Nida's Semantic Greek-English Lexicon, this is not included under the subdomain of "moral/ly." The Greek words and brief definitions under that domain are:

συνείδησις = the inward ability to distinguish between right and wrong, "conscience"
ἄσπιλος = literally, "without stains" so, "(morally) spotless"
ἀσθενής = literally, "weak," so "without (moral) strength"
ῥυπαρία = literally, "dirt, filth," so "(morally) filthy
ῥυπαρός = "dirty, filthy, unclean, defiled"
ῥυπαίνομαι = literally, "to make dirty," and it became "to defile oneself, to make oneself dirty."
μίασμα; μιασμός = literally, "to be stain (with dye)," so "the state of being stained by evil, defiled"
μιαίνω = literally, "to stain (with dye)," so "to cause someone to be stained by evil, to defile."
ἀκαθαρσία = literally, "unclean," so "the state of moral corruption, moral uncleanliness"
πλάνη = literally, "wandering," so "straying from the path of truth, error, delusion, deceit."

The words related to doing wrong (immorality) are more prevalent those related to doing right (morality). In many cases, the moral sense of these words come from a figurative meaning and application of the words.

So, for further discussion, what are your definition(s) of morality? What do you see as biblical morality? What are the differences between morality and good habits? Is morality somewhat culturally based, i.e., the customs/habits of a group or society? And to throw in a wrinkle I've tossed in before, how situationally is morality? For example, was dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a moral choice given the situation of the war? Was the Great Flood that killed nearly all of humanity a moral choice given the evilness of humanity at that time?
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Is there a biblical morality?
« Reply #1 on: Yesterday at 03:49:00 PM »
This morning (1/23) on CBS Sunday Morning, a segment was on limiting the wealth of the super-wealthy. I bring it up here, because one proponent called it a moral issue. One speaker thought that $10 or $20 million would be an acceptable limit. Folks could live very comfortably with $20,000,000 of wealth.


Considering that the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. A grand-daughter of Roy Disney argued that extreme wealth ruins people. She used the analogy of the Japanese beetle that destroys trees by eating up the insides. From the outside nothing looks wrong, until the tree falls over. Wealth is like that.

Some quotes from Behind the Stained Glass Windows, by John Ronsvalle and Sylvia Ronsvalle related to money being a spiritual (and moral?) issue.

This increase in affluence becomes significant to the degree that the Bible suggests that money has a spiritual component. For example, in Matthew 6:24 Jesus tells his followers, "You cannot serve both God and Money." French philosopher Jacques Ellul points out that in this text, Jesus personifies mammon "as a sort of god," a force that is competing with God for our souls. Ellul suggests that Jesus' choice of words "reveals something exceptional about money, for Jesus did not usually use deifications and personifications. What Jesus is revealing is that money is a power."

In Matthew 6:21 Jesus also describes another aspect of money, that it is an important indicator of our heart's condition: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Money is a measure of devotion, the way we spend it indicating something about us – sort of like a spiritual thermometer – according to Jesus. In a consumer society, such as the United States, it may be the intentional measurement available.
[p. 29]

Church members have changed from stewards into consumers. A middle-aged church woman reached that conclusion after six months of trying to raise the mission vision of her congregation. The idea had seemed so clear to her. Once the congregation met its own financial goals, it would raise its sights and expand mission outreach. But after six months of talking to various people in the church about this idea, enthusiasm was still limited. Her frustration was evident as she tried to put her experience into words. People are not returning a portion of their incomes to God, she concluded. Rather, they're paying for services rendered by the church. [p. 31]

A comprehensive study was conducted by the Stewardship Office of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. With the cooperation of fifteen denominations, in-depth interviews were conducted with 3,450 laypeople and pastors throughout the United States and Canada. In the report of the study, published in 1972, the authors concluded, "As people see it, the main thing blocking church support simply is a surpassing urge for more affluent living. … Rival attractions seem to be gaining more of the religious dollar." [p. 35]

In reality we found a definite prejudice in the church against talking about money as a spiritual concept, about its discipleship aspects, its lifestyle implications, and church members' own individual giving patterns. [p. 128] Could this also imply a prejudice in the church against talking about money (or excessive wealth) as a moral concept?

The conflict between culture and the church is clear to church leaders. What is less clear is the church's willingness to wage the battle. "The materialism of our culture is the dominant issue, and the church has not combated materialism with its own set of values," said Wes Willmer. When asked why the church was not presenting a viable alternative, Willmer went on, "People in the church often feel that if they take the biblical teaching on stewardship to heart, they would have to give up a lot that they don't want to do without." [p. 171]
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

D. Engebretson

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Re: Is there a biblical morality?
« Reply #2 on: Yesterday at 03:56:57 PM »
This morning (1/23) on CBS Sunday Morning, a segment was on limiting the wealth of the super-wealthy. I bring it up here, because one proponent called it a moral issue. One speaker thought that $10 or $20 million would be an acceptable limit. Folks could live very comfortably with $20,000,000 of wealth.


Considering that the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. A grand-daughter of Roy Disney argued that extreme wealth ruins people. She used the analogy of the Japanese beetle that destroys trees by eating up the insides. From the outside nothing looks wrong, until the tree falls over. Wealth is like that...

I live 'comfortably' on much, much less. It's a matter of perspective as to what is comfortable.  Who is to determine the arbitrary limits of wealth?  And where does the Bible condemn all wealth? Or where does the Bible establish acceptable limits? And if someone earns more through investment and other means, how do you take it away and how do you justify taking it away?  Is this the government's job to essentially penalize someone for being too wealthy?
Pastor Don Engebretson
St. Peter Lutheran Church of Polar (Antigo) WI

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Re: Is there a biblical morality?
« Reply #3 on: Yesterday at 04:29:31 PM »
Moral compass setting for True North

1. Mom’s stink eye. (Must be done with glasses off…)
2. Teachings of Jesus.
3. Not getting involved in things that entail a lot of paperwork and court appearances.

Peter (A Christian mother is the first teacher) Garrison
« Last Edit: Yesterday at 04:32:18 PM by pastorg1@aol.com »
Pete Garrison

Harvey_Mozolak

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Re: Is there a biblical morality?
« Reply #4 on: Yesterday at 04:36:17 PM »
talking about money...not in response to any previous post... but it occurs to  me that the one thing that money cannot buy much of is a solid and real reduction of fear... in fact it often brings more fear(s)... 

I wonder how much wealth accumulation today is caused by various fears...  how many middle class folks sock it away because they fear they will not have enough when they are ready for nursing homes, incapacitated in some way or bed bound and family care and caring is now less than maybe it once was... for instance

in order to protect their wealth, the rich must, as their fears instruct, spend more money on barn building and security

even the poor are driven by fears... maybe someone can describe them better than I can...

wonder what the average Ukrainian is doing this day with thoughts about keeping wealth... how to deal with fears of war...
Harvey S. Mozolak
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Donald_Kirchner

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Re: Is there a biblical morality?
« Reply #5 on: Yesterday at 05:48:33 PM »
I wonder how much wealth accumulation today is caused by various fears...  how many middle class folks sock it away because they fear they will not have enough when they are ready for nursing homes, incapacitated in some way or bed bound and family care and caring is now less than maybe it once was... for instance

???  :o
Don Kirchner

"Heaven's OK, but it’s not the end of the world." Jeff Gibbs

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Is there a biblical morality?
« Reply #6 on: Yesterday at 06:15:30 PM »
This morning (1/23) on CBS Sunday Morning, a segment was on limiting the wealth of the super-wealthy. I bring it up here, because one proponent called it a moral issue. One speaker thought that $10 or $20 million would be an acceptable limit. Folks could live very comfortably with $20,000,000 of wealth.


Considering that the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. A grand-daughter of Roy Disney argued that extreme wealth ruins people. She used the analogy of the Japanese beetle that destroys trees by eating up the insides. From the outside nothing looks wrong, until the tree falls over. Wealth is like that...

I live 'comfortably' on much, much less. It's a matter of perspective as to what is comfortable.  Who is to determine the arbitrary limits of wealth?  And where does the Bible condemn all wealth? Or where does the Bible establish acceptable limits? And if someone earns more through investment and other means, how do you take it away and how do you justify taking it away?  Is this the government's job to essentially penalize someone for being too wealthy?


There are ways that social scientist can determine how much income is needed to buy essentials. A study I heard a few years ago on NPR stated that up to a point, money does buy happiness. There is a level of income below which people are less happy than those above it. (This line varies depending on the cost of living in an area.) Generally, if people are struggling to buy the necessities, they are less happy than those who do not worry about affording the necessities of life. The same study also showed that more money doesn't buy more happiness. Once folks's income was above that line, having more money did not make them more happy.


When I look at the taxation percentages back in the 1950s and 1960s when the super wealthy were heavily taxed, e.g., 90% of their income, our nation seemed to be better off. The interstate system was completed. We jumped ahead in the space race. The divide between the rich and poor did not seem as great as it is today.


One of the issues that was brought up in the TV show was how the super-wealthy end up influencing politics and government decisions. An illustration of this is in the movie, Don't Look Up. A very wealthy contributor to the president's campaign talked her out of taking the steps that might have destroyed the asteroid that was heading towards earth so that he might create a way of making money off the rare minerals in the huge rock. He failed. The rock destroyed earth. It's fiction, but it's also a parable about real life.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Charles Austin

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Re: Is there a biblical morality?
« Reply #7 on: Today at 01:57:29 AM »
The "morality of money" is a tricky matter. The love of money may be at the root of all evil, but a healthy desire for what it takes to live comfortably is not evil.
And "what it takes" depends upon many things, including the personality and inner being of the individual.
Beloved Spouse and I have been through various stages, times when we had to worry about almost every penny and times when we were reasonably comfortable. We bought a house, took vacations, traveled, got a daughter through college, funded some job-training for a son, saved when we could to provide a base for retirement on top of pension and social security.
Since both of us worked professionally all our lives, salaries were on a professional level, so pensions were decent and social security reached a good level.
I don't think finances shaped our "morality" at all, and "happiness" is also a tough term to define.
I do think ostentatious wealth, miserly hoarding of money, and failing to generously share what comes from God-given blessings like the skills we have to earn a living is sinful.
And on a merely practical level, I favor taxing the incredibly rich at a very high level. Proportionally, the very very rich pay less taxes than professionals, plumbers or factory workers. That's wrong.
Retired ELCA Pastor. You can say liberal Christians are wrong. You can say that you disagree with our interpretation of faith. But when you say we are driven by “culture” or “trendiness,” you prove that you do not listen to us. Luther fared better with Rome.

Harvey_Mozolak

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Re: Is there a biblical morality?
« Reply #8 on: Today at 08:45:52 AM »
very seldom do I ponder things of a civic nature... I may rail against them but seldom inwardly digest... this weekend for some reason the phrase:  Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, kept reoccurring in my thoughts. 

You would think that our founders in their seemingly great wisdom in creating the cradle of democracy would have come up with a better last word:  Life, liberty and the pursuit of ______. 

What wisdom, unity, community, caring...  those are not the right ending... but could you come up with a better word or words...  Happiness is a ballon for a toddler not the birth of a child.
Harvey S. Mozolak
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Dan Fienen

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Re: Is there a biblical morality?
« Reply #9 on: Today at 09:55:05 AM »
This morning (1/23) on CBS Sunday Morning, a segment was on limiting the wealth of the super-wealthy. I bring it up here, because one proponent called it a moral issue. One speaker thought that $10 or $20 million would be an acceptable limit. Folks could live very comfortably with $20,000,000 of wealth.


Considering that the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. A grand-daughter of Roy Disney argued that extreme wealth ruins people. She used the analogy of the Japanese beetle that destroys trees by eating up the insides. From the outside nothing looks wrong, until the tree falls over. Wealth is like that.
The vast majority of modern translations render 1 Timothy 6:10 as some variation of the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. I'll leave it to you to parse the Greek.  In any case I'd argue that lust for power results in much evil whether or not money is involved.  It isn’t only the super wealthy that can be corrupted by the love of money. The kid sticking up a Bodega for the few hundred in the register is as corrupted by the love of money as the multi-billionaire scheming to cheat everyone in sight to add to his pile. But it is always more fun to point out the faults of others that can't apply to me, than face my own.


The Bible does not specifically deal with tax policies or whether there should be a limit to wealth above which it the excess should be confiscated. It does have some things to say about the dangers of wealth and how wealth should be used, workers and others treated.
« Last Edit: Today at 10:41:46 AM by Dan Fienen »
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JEdwards

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Re: Is there a biblical morality?
« Reply #10 on: Today at 10:38:44 AM »
When I look at the taxation percentages back in the 1950s and 1960s when the super wealthy were heavily taxed, e.g., 90% of their income...
You do understand that this was a marginal rate, not 90% of all their income, right?  If memory serves, the highest marginal rate did indeed peak at 91%.  However, many more deductions were allowed in those days as well, so the high marginal rate rarely kicked in at all, and even when it did, it was only on the income above a very high threshold.  The idea behind the 1986 tax reform was a dramatic reduction in marginal rates, coupled with elimination of many deductions.

This is not to deny that the wealthy were more heavily taxed in the 1950s, but your statement is extremely misleading.

Peace,
Jon