The Myth of Absolute Morality

A topic commonly discussed by Christian apologists is that of morality. There are three common arguments:

  1. They declare that the atheist has no basis for making moral decisions, whereas Christianity has an absolute basis for morality, given to us by God in the Bible.
  2. This argument is often supplemented by accusations that the atheist is being logically inconsistent when they make ANY judgements of right and wrong.
  3. Many Christians will further claim that atheists reject god because they wish to be free of moral constraints. Those Christians will ask, “Without a belief in god, and the threat of eternal damnation, what is to stop humans from devolving into wanton murderers, rapists, etc?”

This article focuses on the first claim – that the Bible provides the sole basis for absolute morality

Note: all Bible references in this article are from the NRSV.

On Absolute Morality

Christians’ claim that the Bible provides their guidance in absolute morality has two major problems:

First, Christians themselves can’t agree on several significant moral issues, such as abortion and homosexuality. Christians on both sides of the abortion issue bolster their case with Bible verses in support of their respective positions.

Second, the Bible condones a number of practices that most modern civilized people (including most Christians) abhor. This includes rape, slavery, genocide, and the subjugation of women.

So the undeniable fact is that few if any Christians actually treat the Bible as their go-to source in matters of morality. Instead, it’s treated like a Chinese menu, from which they cherry-pick their positions in various matters of morality, ignoring any that don’t fit with their own worldview, and inventing other positions that are absolutely lacking any sort of Biblical basis.

Remarriage by Divorcees

One of the best examples of Christians ignoring Biblical teachings is in the case of remarriage by divorcees. Jesus himself unambiguously condemned remarriage by divorcees. From Mark 10:1-10

He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

In spite of this condemnation, most modern Christians, including many of the most ardent Bible thumpers, see no moral problem with divorcees remarrying. It is commonplace among their ranks, and I’ve yet to hear of a Christian baker or florist refusing to hire out their services for weddings involving heterosexual divorcees (as they have for same-sex weddings). So in this case at least, most Christians clearly don’t really believe the Bible provides any sort of absolute moral guidance. I’ve raised this issue numerous times with conservative Christians, and have yet to hear a single meaningful response as to why they ignore Jesus’ condemnation of remarriage by divorcees, while being unyielding on the subject of homosexuality.

Homosexuality

The Old Testament (Leviticus chapters 18 and 20) declares homosexual acts to be an abomination. From Leviticus 18:22-23:

22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion.

Leviticus 20:13 defines the penalty for being caught in homosexual acts:

 13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

Interestingly, we can see that the author of Leviticus only had a problem with homosexual acts between men. Note that immediately following his proscription of male homosexuality, he made it a point to explicitly prohibit bestiality for both men and women, so it would seem that lesbian acts were deemed to be perfectly acceptable.

There is also the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis Chapters 18 and 19), which were destroyed due to wickedness. A central part of that story is the attempted gang rape of Lot’s male visitors by a mob of men in Sodom. There is considerable debate among Christians as to the significance of this story, and what “wicked” behaviors ultimately led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But certainly it seems consistent with the overall Old Testament views on male homosexuality.

Jesus himself never said a word on the topic of homosexuality, though I’ve frequently seen opponents of same-sex marriage point to Mark 10:6-7 (part of the section that I referenced earlier in which Jesus condemned divorcees remarrying) claiming that Jesus was overtly defining marriage to be between one man and one woman.

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,

They infer that since Jesus described ONLY marriages between man and woman, that no other types were allowed. Of course, reading those same verses, and using the same strict logic, we would also have to conclude that a man may never leave his parents except to be married (since Jesus listed that one reason, and one reason only). Clearly there are few Christians who would infer or follow that extreme (and silly) rule.

But there are other New Testament passages that also DO appear to condemn homosexuality, though there are varying opinions on those among Biblical scholars. These include:

  • Romans 1:26-27
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Since I am NOT a Bible scholar, I won’t engage in that debate. I will just summarize that the Old Testament clearly condemns homosexual acts between men, as does (apparently) the Apostle Paul, while Jesus was silent on the topic. In spite of that, many millions of Christians don’t view those proscriptions as absolute moral guidance, but rather (correctly in my opinion) as being just a product of the culture and the times. Conservative Christians, in particular, generally take a hard line in condemning homosexuality (both male and female, in spite of the fact that the Bible condemns only the former).

Marriage – One Man and One Woman?

An argument frequently made by conservative Christians in their opposition to same sex marriage, is that marriage is defined in the Bible to be between one man and one women. But that claim is patently false. David, Solomon, Jacob, Abraham, etc. all had multiple wives and/or concubines. Solomon is reported to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

1 Kings 11:1-3

King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods”; Solomon clung to these in love. Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. 

Genesis 16:2-3

and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.

Genesis 30:1-13

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob became very angry with Rachel and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Then she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.” So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son”; therefore she named him Dan.Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed”; so she named him Naphtali.

When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 And Leah said, “Good fortune!” so she named him Gad. 12 Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 And Leah said, “Happy am I! For the women will call me happy”; so she named him Asher.

There are many other such examples. Apologists have made various attempts to explain these, such as:

  • God did not condone these, but tolerated them. But there’s no Biblical support for this claim.
  • God condoned these, because they were required to grow and propagate the Jewish population, etc. This is an argument for moral relativism, in direct contradiction to the claims for absolute morality.
  • Polygamy was commonplace during those times. This argument sidesteps the question as to whether polygamy is morally acceptable, but appears to be another argument for moral relativism.

Rape 

The Old Testament unequivocally condones rape, as long as the victim is:

  • Female, and
  • Not married, and
  • Not betrothed

Relevant verses

Deuteronomy 22:22-29

22 If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

25 But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. 27 Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her.

28 If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, 29 the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.

So we have several specific cases here:

  1. A man is caught having intercourse with a married woman (verse 22): Both are executed, with no apparent regard for whether it was consensual.
  2. A man is caught in town having intercourse with a betrothed woman (verses 23-24): The presumption is that it was consensual (since she did not cry out), and they both are executed.
  3. A man is caught outside of town having intercourse with a betrothed woman (verses 25-27): Since it happened outside of town, she is given the benefit of the doubt (as to whether she cried out), so only the man is executed.
  4. A man seizes a non-betrothed virgin, and is caught having intercourse with her. Well in this case, his “punishment” is to marry the object of his desires.

Christians have claimed that this does not condone rape, but rather it was the merciful solution for a woman who had been sullied, and who would likely have trouble finding a husband as a result. But that argument fails on two counts.

1. Few women would welcome being forced to marry their rapist, so in that sense, it’s hardly a mercy.

2. As noted previously, most modern civilized people view rape to be an evil act, regardless of the marital or betrothal status of the victim. So unless we’re all just misguided on that, the more appropriate “absolute moral guidance” would have been for God to direct that:

  • Rape is unequivocally wrong, and
  • A rape victim is blameless, and remains unsullied. PERIOD.

EVERY argument against those points that I’ve seen, has implicitly been an argument for moral relativism, and against the use of the Bible as an absolute moral standard.

Genesis 19:1-8

The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the square.” But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

Yes, this is in one of the same stories that conservative Christians point to, as justification for their stance on homosexuality. But in this case, Lot (our hero) offered up his virgin daughters to be gang-raped (verse 8). Lot, of course, was spared from the destruction of the city, having been judged to be a righteous man (In spite of offering his daughters to the mob). But as we’ve already seen, the Old Testament condones rape of women, as long as they’re neither married nor betrothed.

Numbers 31:1-18

31 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Avenge the Israelites on the Midianites; afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your number for the war, so that they may go against Midian, to execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian. You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war.” So out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe were conscripted, twelve thousand armed for battle. Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar the priest,[a] with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for sounding the alarm in his hand. They did battle against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and killed every male. They killed the kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian, in addition to others who were slain by them; and they also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. The Israelites took the women of Midian and their little ones captive; and they took all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods as booty. 10 All their towns where they had settled, and all their encampments, they burned, 11 but they took all the spoil and all the booty, both people and animals. 12 Then they brought the captives and the booty and the spoil to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the Israelites, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.

13 Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. 15 Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? 16 These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the Lord in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the Lord. 17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves. 

So this story covers two atrocities: genocide against the Midianites (discussed later in more detail), and rape of their virgin captives (verse 18), with the rape commanded by God’s own prophet Moses.

The New Testament, as far as I’m aware, is silent on the topic of rape. So the only reasonable conclusion is that the Bible condones rape, as long as the victim is female, and neither married nor betrothed. The harsh position on rape of married and betrothed women appears to be due to the perceived harm to the husbands and fiancées, rather than to the actual victims.

Fortunately, even those who claim that the Bible is our only source for matters of morality will generally agree that rape is an immoral act.

Genocide

In the rules for warfare, Deuteronomy 20:16-17 states:

16 But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. 17 You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded,

I previously mentioned the genocide inflicted by Moses’ army against the Midianites. But this was just the tip of the iceberg. The book of Joshua chronicles an entire campaign of genocide against the kingdoms of Canaan. Moses and Joshua led the slaughter of most of the people of Canaan, summarized in Joshua chapter 12:

The Kings Conquered by Moses

12 Now these are the kings of the land, whom the Israelites defeated, whose land they occupied beyond the Jordan toward the east, from the Wadi Arnon to Mount Hermon, with all the Arabah eastward: King Sihon of the Amorites who lived at Heshbon, and ruled from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Wadi Arnon, and from the middle of the valley as far as the river Jabbok, the boundary of the Ammonites, that is, half of Gilead, and the Arabah to the Sea of Chinneroth eastward, and in the direction of Beth-jeshimoth, to the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea,[a] southward to the foot of the slopes of Pisgah; and King Og[b] of Bashan, one of the last of the Rephaim, who lived at Ashtaroth and at Edrei and ruled over Mount Hermon and Salecah and all Bashan to the boundary of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and over half of Gilead to the boundary of King Sihon of Heshbon. Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the Israelites defeated them; and Moses the servant of the Lord gave their land for a possession to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

The Kings Conquered by Joshua

The following are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the Israelites defeated on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, that rises toward Seir (and Joshua gave their land to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their allotments, in the hill country, in the lowland, in the Arabah, in the slopes, in the wilderness, and in the Negeb, the land of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites):

the king of Jerichoone
the king of Ai, which is next to Bethelone
10 the king of Jerusalemone
the king of Hebronone
11 the king of Jarmuthone
the king of Lachishone
12 the king of Eglonone
the king of Gezerone
13 the king of Debirone
the king of Gederone
14 the king of Hormahone
the king of Aradone
15 the king of Libnahone
the king of Adullamone
16 the king of Makkedahone
the king of Bethelone
17 the king of Tappuahone
the king of Hepherone
18 the king of Aphekone
the king of Lasharonone
19 the king of Madonone
the king of Hazorone
20 the king of Shimron-meronone
the king of Achshaphone
21 the king of Taanachone
the king of Megiddoone
22 the king of Kedeshone
the king of Jokneam in Carmelone
23 the king of Dor in Naphath-dorone
the king of Goiim in Galilee,[c]one
24 the king of Tirzahone
thirty-one kings in all

To be clear, Joshua did not just take the kings. He slaughtered every man, woman, and child in those kingdoms. From Joshua 11:19-20:

19 There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon; all were taken in battle. 20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

But Joshua did leave some Canaanites alive, for the sole reason that he eventually became too old to finish the job. So God handled the rest, by just driving them out of Canaan. One must wonder why God didn’t just drive EVERYONE out of Canaan in the first place. This is recounted in Joshua chapter 13:

The Parts of Canaan Still Unconquered

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years; and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land still remains to be possessed. This is the land that still remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites (from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron, it is reckoned as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron), and those of the Avvim in the south; all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, to Aphek, to the boundary of the Amorites, and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the east, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath, all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Sidonians. I will myself drive them out from before the Israelites; only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. 

The genocide against the peoples of Canaan was purportedly all at God’s direction. And for that reason, many Christians (Evangelicals at least) defend it, because God the creator has the right to kill (or order to be killed) anyone he chooses. The Great Flood would, of course set the record for genocidal acts if it was actually true.

So those apologists rely on the “God told me to do it” defense, which has been used by various religions and individuals for all of human history to justify all sorts of evil and barbarity. Indeed, the same people who defend the genocide of the Old Testament, are harshly critical of the same behaviors perpetrated by some Muslims (which is also purportedly done at God’s direction). The “God told me to do it” defense, if employed today in a murder trial, would at best land the perpetrator in a mental hospital. In any case, most modern, civilized people view genocide as immoral for any reason. That includes most Christians (Evangelicals perhaps notwithstanding).

Abortion

While many Christians (conservative Christians in particular) are staunchly opposed to abortion, the Bible simply does not support that position. In fact it’s quite the opposite. I cover this topic in detail, in: https://unapologetics.org/2020/01/18/abortion-is-ok-god/

So this is a case where many Christians, especially those who are the strongest believers that the Bible is THE source for matters of morality, reject the Biblical position, and arbitrarily declare abortion to be immoral.

Slavery

The Bible unequivocally condones slavery. Conservative Christians frequently will falsely justify it with the claim that it wasn’t slavery as practiced in the US South, but rather was just an indentured servitude, established as a means to pay debts. But that’s only partially true. Jews could be kept as indentured servants. And Mosaic law forbade the enslavement of other Jews as slaves, but non-Jews were fair game. Deuteronomy 20:10-11 describes, in the the laws for waging war, a directive to enslave any who surrender to the army of the Israelites.

10 When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. 11 If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labor.

Exodus 21:1-11 institutionalized slavery, laying out the rules and regulations in the conduct of slavery.

The Law concerning Slaves

These are the ordinances that you shall set before them:

When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” then his master shall bring him before God.  He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.

Exodus 21, verses 20-21 and 26-27 address the penalties (or lack thereof) for violence against a slave.

Exodus 21:20-21

20 When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.

Exodus 21:26-27

26 When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. 27 If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth.

So there can be no question that slavery was condoned and firmly institutionalized in the Old Testament. The New Testament has several mentions of slavery. Jesus told the Parable of the Unforgiving Slave, and The Parable of the Faithful Slave

Matthew 18:23-35

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 24:45-51

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. 51 He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In their Epistles, Paul and Peter repeatedly tell slaves to obey their masters, and/or masters to treat their slaves kindly.

Ephesians 6:5-9

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.

And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.

Colossians 3:22-25

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, 24 since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve[l] the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality.

1 Timothy 6:1-2

Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.

Titus 2:9-10

Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, 10 not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

1 Peter 18-25

18 Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. 19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Colossians 4:1

Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

Then, in his letter to Philemon, Paul says he is returning Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, but encourages Philemon to set Onesimus free.

Philemon 1:8-21

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Onesimus was obviously a Christian, and a close personal friend of Paul, so Paul’s request to Philemon was an isolated instance. In all other cases, Jesus, Paul, and Peter tacitly condone the institution of slavery. None of them indicate any issues with the institution of slavery (whether it be the enslavement of non-Jews, or indentured servants). None of them even hint that slavery, in any form, is wrong.

So in summary, the Old Testament codified the institution of slavery, and the New Testament condoned it. This fact was routinely used by US slave holders to defend the practice, and was almost certainly a factor in the establishment of slavery in the American colonies, beginning in 1508, and its persistence here, for over 350 years.

But contrary to the Biblical stance, most modern civilized people, including most Christians, view slavery to be abhorrent, no matter how kindly slaves are treated.

Subjugation of Women

The Old Testament is firmly patriarchal in nature. The Old Testament views women as little more than property. As discussed above:

  • A virgin who is raped is forced to marry her rapist.
  • Men are allowed to have many wives, but a woman may have but one husband.
  • Lot offered his virgin daughters to be gang raped, rather than allow his male visitors to be gang raped by a mob.

The Ten Commandments clearly reflect the view that a woman is the property of her husband (Exodus 20:17):

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Women can be sold by their fathers into slavery, as concubines (Exodus 21:7-11):

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.

And women are consistently viewed as being inferior and subservient to men.

Genesis 3:16

16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.”

A husband could divorce his wife, but a wife could not divorce her husband. And a woman who is divorced and then remarries, is viewed as having been defiled, such that she may not remarry her first husband if her second husband dies or divorces her. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)

Laws concerning Marriage and Divorce

1 Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession.

The New Testament likewise views women as subservient to men, having been created from man, and FOR man. They are overtly told to be submissive to their husbands, and told to remain silent in church. Some relevant verses below:

Ephesians 5:22-23

22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.

1 Corinthians 11:1-9

I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

34 Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

1 Timothy 2:13-15

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Titus 2:3-5

Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.

1 Peter 3:1-2

1 Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

On this topic, there certainly are many Christians, especially Evangelical Christians, who follow these teachings, but we also have no shortage of female Evangelical preachers and televangelists, who apparently reject the notion that it is unseemly for a woman to teach men on matters of faith.

But Many other Christians, as well as a great many non-Christians take serious issue with the notion that women should be treated as second class citizens.

Conclusions

As discussed, while Christian apologists claim that the Bible is the source for absolute morality, not even they actually believe that, as evidenced by the fact that most of those same apologists reject Biblical teachings on rape, slavery, divorce, and abortion (at a minimum). And they can’t agree among themselves on what the Bible actually teaches on a number of matters (thereby rendering the Bible useless on those matters).

And the Bible condones a number of practices that most modern civilized people (including most Christians) abhor. This includes behaviors such as rape, slavery, and genocide. That fact alone should disqualify the Bible as a moral standard.

When one reads the Bible objectively, its moral teachings show no evidence that they were bestowed upon us by a loving, moral, just God. Rather, they show every indication that they were the inventions of ancient men, as the simple products of their time and culture.

It is absurd to think that modern man should be ruled by the primitive morals of ancient men. We can do far better.

One thought on “The Myth of Absolute Morality

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