GOD, FACE TO FACE CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER EIGHT: The meaning of Biblical Morality

General

According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance for the King James Bible, there is no Biblical reference to either morality or immorality.  There are, however, multiple passages in the Bible that essentially equate our notion of the word “morality” to other common terms.  These will be explored below.

There are numerous discussions on the Internet regarding Biblical morality, two of which reference a number of Bible verses the authors thought to be appropriate to the topic.  Many of these verses reference notions that are thought to be equivalent to our basic understanding of what Biblical morality might represent.  They are arranged below according to their commonality of these alternate expressions.

Morality as fulfillment of the Law (sometimes equated with love, other times equated with doctrine, most dealing with sexual deviation): Genesis 19:1-38; Exodus 20:13; Leviticus 18 and 20; Deuteronomy 23; 1 Kings 14:24; 2 Kings 23:7; Proverbs 20, 23; Matthew 5:27, 28; Matthew 7:12; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:17; 1 Timothy 1:10; Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15;

Morality as righteousness, which is most used in terms of our obedience to the call from God to love our neighbors and most specifically for our honesty in dealing with others, our responsibility toward those under our control or supervision and for our compassion toward those hurting or less fortunate than ourselves:  Isaiah 64:6; Matthew 6:33; Matthew 25; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Timothy 3:16

Morality as love of God: Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:30, 31;

Morality as obedience to God: references under fulfillment of the Law; references to righteousness; Proverbs 6:23-25; Proverbs 12:1; Matthew 6:24; Matthew 24:44-46; Acts 5:29; 1 Corinthians 2:13; Ephesians 6:4; James 1:22-25

Morality as good manners (responsible, thoughtful conduct): 1 Corinthians 15:33

Morality as harmonious with man’s creation: Genesis 1:27

Sexual Morality

The issue of sexual morality, and in particular the Biblical implications regarding it, is so important and so generally misunderstood that it deserves a separate discussion.

Webster’s New American Dictionary, 1956 Edition, defines “morality” as follows: “right living, virtue; conformity to generally accepted standards of conduct. “ Virtue, in turn, is defined therein as: “moral excellence, chastity”.  Continuing on, chastity is defined therein as: “the state of being chaste; purity”, where the word “purity” is defined as: “the quality of being free of blemishes and without admixture; chastity”.  Despite this unhelpful circularity of definition, chastity is commonly equated with virginity, which, in that dictionary, is defined as: “the quality of being a virgin; celibacy; chastity”.  Therefore, according to this dictionary, the term “morality” is equated, in a roundabout way, with celibacy.  There certainly are other, nonsexual, connotations of morality as well, but the sexual connotation takes center stage.

This linkage of morality with sexual purity, most commonly interpreted as strict celibacy, has been with the Church virtually since its beginning.   The implication is that sexuality of any nature, is at best a diversion preventing full intimacy with God and, at worst, a sin.  This notion is sometimes taken to the extreme of pronouncing as sinful passion of any kind.  This notional attitude is common in both Protestant and Catholic denominations, the Catholic expression of it being the most open.   As demonstrated in numerous Catholic publications, and particularly in those that deal with Mary, this equivalence is quite pronounced.  As an example is the Catholic insistence upon Mary’s perpetual virginity, despite the clear contradiction in Matthew 13 of that notion.  (The Catholic answer to Matthew 13 is her interpretation of the terms “brothers” and “sisters” is that of close relatives rather than siblings.)  It is true that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7, describes celibacy as a desirable objective with the intent that the virgin may place all his or her affection on God undiluted, but note in verses 6 and 25 his acknowledgment that virginity is not a commandment from God.  Note also in verse 40 that Paul seems unsure as to how much of the call to celibacy of which he speaks is actually of God.  Nowhere in the Bible outside of Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 7 is there a hint that celibacy is a desirable practice.  There is no commandment that says “Thou shalt not lie with a woman.”  To the contrary, in Genesis 1:28 God told them to be fruitful and multiply.  Furthermore, Deuteronomy 23:1 insists that full masculinity is required for service to the Lord by stating that “He who is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.”  As a final point on the sexuality issue is the presence of the overtly sexual Song of Solomon in the canon of Scripture.

On the other hand, there are a host of abuses of normal sexuality that are proscribed in the Bible (especially in Exodus 20:14 and 17 and Leviticus 18 and 20) as abominations, or as one might otherwise put them, as immoral acts, such as adultery, homosexuality and bestiality, all of which represent violations of the way that God designed us, and consequently are in disharmony with our basic (unfallen) natures.  Adultery, in particular, also directly violates God’s second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39), which is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Additional  Comments on the Church’s Notion of Sexual Morality

Perhaps the most intellectually theological expression of the notion of sexuality or even passion as being beneath God is the virtually Gnostic pronouncement given by Jerome Zanchius in his tome “Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted”.  The first of these statements may be found on p. 40 as “Position 2” under the heading “The Mercy of God”.  In that statement Zanchius says “Mercy is not in the Deity, as it is in us, a passion or affection, everything of that kind being incompatible with the purity, perfection, independency and unchangeableness [immutability] of His nature; . . .”  The second of his statements is on pp. 43 and 44 under headings I and II of chapter 1.  Therein he fleshes out his concept of God’s love, as the following excerpts show: “When love is predicated of God, we do not mean that He is possessed of it as a passion or affection.  In us it is such, but if, considered in that sense, it should be ascribed to the Deity, it would be utterly subversive of the simplicity, perfection and independency of His being. . .”;  “. . .His love towards them arises merely from ‘the good pleasure of his own will,’ without the least regard to anything ad extra or out of Himself.”; “When hatred is ascribed to God, it implies (1) a negation of benevolence, or a resolution not to have mercy on such and such men. . .”

Zanchius thus defines a God whose primary attribute is his majestic greatness.  Had his mind access to expressions denoting higher level superlatives, he certainly would have included them.  In defining God in this way, he automatically makes love a secondary attribute, despite John’s emphatic identification of God as the very embodiment of love.  Zanchius’ passionless God, in fact, is alien to the God of Scripture.  This is to be expected, as he assigns attributes to God without any reference whatsoever to Scripture itself.

Zanchius’ God, then, being positionally remote from and by nature very different from the mankind of His creation, is alien to it as well.

In opposition to Zanchius, Scripture paints a far more beautiful picture of God, depicting His majestic glory as His willingness to give up the majesty of greatness and power in favor of a love of great fullness and depth.  The Gospels appear to support this view, depicting Jesus Christ (as God) as a Being full of the attributes of love as we know it, including passion.  Examples that come to mind include His weeping over Jerusalem and Lazarus and His ordeal in the garden of Gethsemane.  It is difficult to picture the risen Jesus talking to His followers on the road to Emmaus in the context of Zanchius’ notion of God’s remote perfection.

Zanchius’ definition of God not only suppresses His most important attribute, but inhibits those to whom Scripture was written from loving Him back.  This is a serious issue because it runs counter to His Great Commandment to love Him with all our hearts, and our souls and our minds.

[to be continued]

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