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The Ethics of the Old Testament: Two Views

Philip Davies, “Are There Ethics in the Hebrew Bible?

There are various systems determining human behavior. The best known comprises, the “commandments” or “laws,” supposedly dictated by the invisible god and stipulating that humans should not kill, steal, commit adultery or worship any god but this one, etc. What are the reasons for such behavior? That it is good to obey divine commands—additional motivation being provided by threatened consequences of neglecting to do so. However, “only obeying orders” was summarily dismissed as a defense at the Nuremberg trials and although in some circumstances one can still plead “higher authority” as a defense against charges of misconduct, these pleas do not constitute an assertion of ethical behavior: they are just a get-out where one has clearly behaved unethically.

Peter Enns, “A Thought on the ‘New Atheism’ and Old Testament Morality.”

Rather than protecting the Bible against such criticism by justifying such instances of OT morality, I think Christians would do better to understand the nature of the OT, accept it for what it is, but then do the necessary theological thinking to give a reasonable and sophisticated account of things. Central to that necessary theological thinking is to bring the NT into the discussion….

[The New Atheism] misses this entirely. Christianity is a faith that is not bound to every OT expression of morality. Rather, it has built into it a moral trajectory that goes beyond the culturally informed moral limits of the OT period. Where Christians box themselves into a corner is when they fail to see that moral trajectory and try to maintain the notion that everything in the Bible is of equal ultimacy.

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