Can Anything a Human Does Be Morally Neutral? A Look at 1 Corinthians 8:8 (Part 1)

In a recent exchange here at SharperIron, I was asked what I thought 1 Corinthians 8:8 meant. I had just asserted that a being bearing the image of God could not possibly do anything that is morally neutral — neither right nor wrong, because such a being must either express that imago dei, or in some way insult it (or both at once, in different ways).

1 Corinthians 8:8 seems to say otherwise.

After offering a brief explanation of how Paul’s meaning there could be understood as consistent with the view that human actions are always moral, the question continued to nag me. My answer felt inadequate. And, since any answer to the question could have a lot of implications, it seems important to be confident.

Hence, this brief study.

The Passage

First, a bit of context. The apostle Paul is helping the Corinthian congregation work through how to behave in the matter of consumption of meat that had been offered to idols. He has just asserted that idols are not really real (1 Cor. 8:4), in the sense of representing or connecting to some deity (but cf. 1 Cor. 10:21, another study for another day). He then points out that not everybody understands this (1 Cor. 8:7), and 8:8 comes as further explanation of the true nature of eating this idol-associated food.

Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. (ESV, 1 Cor. 8:8)

Three variables require a closer look here, though the second and third tend to collapse into one for all practical purposes:

  • Commending (παρίστημι, paristemi) to God
  • Being worse off (ὑστερέω, hustereo)
  • Being better off (περισσεύω, perisseuo)

The key words are all verbs. “Will (not) commend” is a straightforward future active indicative. “Being worse off” and “being better off” are both present participles (something like “we are (not) worse-off ones” and “we are (not) better off ones”), though “being worse off” here is passive (or middle) and “being better off” is active.

A Few Views

1. It’s about the idol

Richard Pratt takes the view that commending here refers to “the god,” as in, the idol.

[I]t is also possible (and more literal) to translate, “Food does not bring us near to the god” (i.e., the idol to which the food in question was offered). In light of the preceding context, this seems to be the better option.1

He continues:

The phrase we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do probably expands the meaning of bring us near. It probably refers to the lack of prosperity an idol worshiper might anticipate if he failed to eat of the sacrifice, and to the abundance he would expect to receive if he did eat.

(In all of these excerpts, bold type is original and usually represents quotation from an English translation of the text.)

In this view, believers defending their freedom to eat this food defended their conduct with the claim that eating didn’t give them some kind of connection to a god. Paul either extends his reference to their defense in the rest of the verse or agrees with it and adds his own observation that eating also has no result one way or the other from a prosperity standpoint.

I haven’t yet found anyone else who takes this view of the passage.

2. It’s about God’s judgment

Focusing on the first verb, Anthony Thiselton takes exception to how most English translations handle this part of the verse.

The AV/KJV, RV, and RSV, followed by Barrett, translate: Food will not commend us to God. This is too restrictively positive for the verb; Senft, Maly, and Schrage note that had the word meant commend we should expect συνίστημι rather than παρίστημι, for these two verbs are not usually synonymous.2

After a very compressed (and helpful) survey of many views on the meaning of paristemi, Thiselton settles on a judgment focus, agreeing with Murphy-O’Connor and others:

Murphy-O’Connor and Jeremias take up the emphasis reflected in our proposed translation “Food will not bring us to God’s judgment,” viewed as both a negative or pejorative allusion to being judged and as a slogan or catchphrase of “the strong.” This allusion to judgment already finds expression in Weiss, Robertson and Plummer, and BAGD. In 2 Cor 4:14 the verb presupposes an allusion to God’s judgment, and some stress the eschatological reference which is implied in v. 8a. Similarly, Heinrici has little doubt that the issue concerns divine judgement.3

Thiselton seems less confident about the rest of verse 8, but prefers to see it as a response to a quoted slogan of the “strong” in the broader context, who were using it to justify themselves. However, he does see Paul’s response as a statement of principle for everyone in Corinth. In that context, he translates the verse as follows:

“Food will not bring us to God’s judgment”; neither if we abstain from food do we lose any advantage, nor if we eat do we gain any advantage. 4

3. It’s about indifference

Some interpreters summarize the verse as an expression of spiritual indifference, though it’s unclear what their concept of “spiritual indifference” is, exactly. Harold Mare observes,

First, as in 8:1, we should know that there is nothing inherently wrong with sacrificial meat and that in itself food neither enhances nor minimizes our standing before God. Second, since the eating of meat is of no spiritual importance and so is a matter of indifference, the Corinthians should realize that to eat sacrificial meat is not a practice to be insisted on for maintaining Christian liberty.5

As far as the question of whether any action can be morally neutral, John MacArthur is similarly vague.

[E]ating or not eating food has no spiritual significance in itself. Neither act will commend us to God. Commend (paristēmi) means “to place near, bring beside, present to.” Neither eating or not eating food will bring us closer to God or make us approved by Him. The general point is that doing things not forbidden by God has no significance in our relationship to Him. They are spiritually neutral. Food is an excellent illustration of that fact.6

It’s hard to see how a moral act can have “no spiritual significance,” but since this is not the question either Mare or MacArthur are trying to answer here, it probably wouldn’t be fair to say they see Paul as teaching the possibility of morally neutral action.

In their defense, John Calvin’s view is quite similar.

Meat recommendeth us not to God. This was, or may have been, another pretext made use of by the Corinthians — that the worship of God does not consist in meats, as Paul himself teaches in his Epistle to the Romans…. In this he tacitly acknowledges, that in the sight of God it matters not what kinds of food we partake of, because he allows us the free use of them, so far as conscience is concerned; but that this liberty, as to the external use of it, is made subject to love.7

On the “not better” and “not worse” language of latter part of the verse, Calvin says,

[H]e means, that we have neither more nor less of righteousness from eating or from abstaining. Besides, he does not speak of every kind of abstinence, or of every kind of eating. For excess and luxury are in themselves displeasing to God, while sobriety and moderation are well-pleasing to him. But let it be understood by us, that the kingdom of God, which is spiritual, does not consist in these outward observances, and therefore, that things indifferent are in themselves of no importance in the sight of God.8

Where We Are So Far

In this brief, somewhat random survey of views, we have two that are easily consistent with the idea that everything humans do is, in the final analysis, morally good or morally bad to some degree. We have one view that at least seems incompatible with that. Does the indifference view suggest, or require, that there is a category of human action that is genuinely amoral?

What I hope to do next is dig a bit into the positive case for “everything we do is moral,” and see how that affects the light in the room, so to speak, when we’re looking at 1 Corinthians 8:8.

Notes

1 Pratt, Richard L., Jr. I & II Corinthians. Vol. 7. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000. Print. Holman New Testament Commentary.

2 Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000. Print. New International Greek Testament Commentary.

3 Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000. Print. New International Greek Testament Commentary.

4 Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000. Print. New International Greek Testament Commentary.

5 Mare, W. Harold. “1 Corinthians.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol. 10. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976. 240. Print.

6 MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1 Corinthians. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984. Print. MacArthur New Testament Commentary.

7 The Calvin Commentaries, courtesy of The Bible Hub: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/1_corinthians/8.htm

8 Ibid.

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There are 58 Comments

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Seems like you’re saying that some decisions have equivalent choices, morally speaking. 

Seems like: What color pants should I wear? Absent any pertinent commands from God or God-ordained authorities (does my school have a tan pants rule?)  and absent any principles that I can or should apply (has my wife recently told me that she is getting tired of tan pants and wouldn’t I wear some other color?), the color of my pants lacks moral significance. To whatever extent they’re agatha, they are equally so.

 

Bert Perry's picture

Jay wrote:

God created foodstuffs for human consumption and says that it is morally good to eat them. For various reasons in certain settings, it may yet be morally good to refrain from eating certain things.

I'm not sure that I agree the bolded section is true. God specifically identifies foods that the Israelites were not to eat in the OT (making it a sin to eat those foods) although that prohibition is largely lifted now.  

Furthermore, how are you defining "foodstuffs"?  Is a Twinkie or Krispy Kreme a God- created foodstuff?

Apart from preservatives--I recently saw a movie where the heroine praises the "food of the ancients" while eating a centuries-old Twinkie--it's worth noting that both Twinkies and Krispy Kremes are mostly composed of flour, sugar, and fat--vegetable oil for Krispy Kremes, tallow for Twinkies if I remember right.  All of these ingredients (again save preservatives) are created by God and are therefore good.

Now I, having just taken a Metformin pill, am well advised to take it easy on these, especially the sugar, but they're still good (**) foods that can be eaten in moderation.   I'm reminded of something C.S. Lewis noted in The Screwtape Letters: that the Devil has never yet managed to create a single pleasure.  Every sinful excess is a perversion of something good God created.   As Don notes, context is huge here.

(** I confess that although I've just called Twinkies a "good" food, I can't stand them and never liked them even as a kid.  And Krispy Kremes are "meh".  So sue me.  )

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Dan wrote:
the color of my pants lacks moral significance. To whatever extent they’re agatha, they are equally so.

Well, I'm convinced nothing a human does is without moral signicance, and I think "spiritually neutral" and "amoral" are just not terms that can accurately describe anything a human does. But I do think there are lots of situations where our options are all either equally good or not distinguishable on the goodness scale with any confidence. 

The difference matters, because we're talking about human nature, right and wrong, and God's nature as well. 

Dan Miller's picture

Yeah, I guess I understand, but also there’s a need to be practical. This morning, for me, pants color wasn’t something I even considered from a moral standpoint. One might object that I should have at least considered the decision from that standpoint and decided that indeed, it’s arbitrary. We simply don’t (can’t) apply ratiocination to every decision.

 I think that’s why God created us the way He did - with a conscience that is both trainable and an autonomously acting self judge. 

RajeshG's picture

The NT is very clear that everything that God has created is good:

1 Timothy 4:2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. 6 If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

Jay's picture

I am well aware of I Timothy 4:3-4, Rajesh. My point is that "God created meats to be received with thanksgiving" is not the same thing as what you said earlier, "that it is morally good to eat [foodstuffs]" . 

I also wanted to know how you define foodstuff because God has barred people from eating certain foods at certain times, as in the OT Levitical law. Thankfully, those laws have been done away with now but they were in force (and still are for Jews).

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

G. N. Barkman's picture

Dietary restrictions are only "in force" in the mistaken thinking of Jews who have rejected their Messiah.  In the mind of God, they are no longer in force.

G. N. Barkman

RajeshG's picture

Jay wrote:

I am well aware of I Timothy 4:3-4, Rajesh. My point is that "God created meats to be received with thanksgiving" is not the same thing as what you said earlier, "that it is morally good to eat [foodstuffs]" . 

I also wanted to know how you define foodstuff because God has barred people from eating certain foods at certain times, as in the OT Levitical law. Thankfully, those laws have been done away with now but they were in force (and still are for Jews).

Of course, God's saying in 1 Tim. 4:3-4 that everything that He created is good and has "created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth" is the same thing as saying they are morally good to eat. "To be received with thanksgiving" means that it is right, good, and moral to eat those things.

Long before God gave certain dietary prohibitions to the Jews, He gave everything that He had created for food to all mankind when He made the Noahic Covenant (Gen. 9:3).
 
You are mistaken about any dietary restrictions being still in force for the Jews. All of that was done away with the completion of the work of Christ.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

For what it's worth...

  • Pretty sure everyone agrees that things that God made cannot possibly fail to be good.
  • It should be obvious that actions taken with those things are something else. And these have to be evaluated, regardless of whether the things involved are human creations or divine creations.
  • My view on actions: everything humans do is moral. We either know our actions are wrong, know they are not wrong, or are unsure.
  • There can be multiple options for action, all of which are wrong, or all of which are equally not-wrong as far as we can tell.
  • Because there are many things God has not commanded or prohibited (directly or indirectly), and we know what many of these are, we don't have to analyze every choice we make for rightness or wrongness. (The act is still either wrong or not wrong.)
  • We still don't get to look at anything in life and declare that it doesn't matter what we do. (Even the really small stuff matters: we just don't benefit from moral analysis because we don't have any expectation of being able to answer that question.)

But even the tiniest things can become important under the right conditions. Suppose, for example, someone who matters a great deal to me and who is very sensitive at the moment (for any reason you want to invent) gives me a gift of some blue socks. Now, my decision of whether to where them or the black ones is... not so "spiritually neutral." It really never was neutral and couldn't possibly be. But now, since I know it could have an impact on someone I don't want to offend, it obviously isn't neutral. Without those conditions, I don't really have any reason to think about it. With those conditions, I do. But there was never any chance of it being an amoral act, because a human being would be doing it.

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
...My view on actions: everything humans do is moral. We either know our actions are wrong, know they are not wrong, or are unsure...

I agree with your socks story, a situation like that places a moral layer on an otherwise “tiniest thing,” as you put it. But I think “tiniest things” are indeed a-moral. This layer of morality, which can make a “tiniest thing” moral, is not inextricably tied to the “tiniest thing.” That means that the “tiniest thing” can exist without such a layer and avoid your attachment of morality.

RajeshG's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

 

Aaron Blumer wrote:

...My view on actions: everything humans do is moral. We either know our actions are wrong, know they are not wrong, or are unsure...

 

I agree with your socks story, a situation like that places a moral layer on an otherwise “tiniest thing,” as you put it. But I think “tiniest things” are indeed a-moral. This layer of morality, which can make a “tiniest thing” moral, is not inextricably tied to the “tiniest thing.” That means that the “tiniest thing” can exist without such a layer and avoid your attachment of morality.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

This verse says that God is going to judge everything we do; it does not say that there are numerous "tiniest things" that we do that are exceptions that will not be divinely assessed.

Dan Miller's picture

Rajesh, you seem to believe that every choice (every work) must be either good or evil. And you said this in the context of a discussion about sock selection.

This morning, after deciding on black socks, I had a choice between some thinner ones and some thicker ones. No pattern, both purchased by dear wife, both washed by dear wife. 

Your post would seem to suggest that since I had a choice, necessarily one option was good and one was evil (unless I was supposed to wear the blue ones!).

Even the OT Law is filled with statements like, “eat any bird you want.”  And pay your tithe and then 

Deuteronomy 14:26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.

 I think the idea that every single tiny decision point necessarily has a sinful option to be avoided would render us so anxious and self-judging that we would make David Brainerd look carefree.

JNoël's picture

RajeshG wrote:

The NT is very clear that everything that God has created is good:

1 Timothy 4:2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. 6 If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

Is the context of 1 Tim 4:2 referring to everything - everything God ever created and ever will create, or is it only referring to "creatures" - in the context of animals and the fact that we can eat them?

Some examples I'm thinking about:

  • Humans who were not chosen by the Father as his own
  • Hell

 

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

RajeshG's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

Rajesh, you seem to believe that every choice (every work) must be either good or evil. And you said this in the context of a discussion about sock selection.

This morning, after deciding on black socks, I had a choice between some thinner ones and some thicker ones. No pattern, both purchased by dear wife, both washed by dear wife. 

Your post would seem to suggest that since I had a choice, necessarily one option was good and one was evil (unless I was supposed to wear the blue ones!).

Even the OT Law is filled with statements like, “eat any bird you want.”  And pay your tithe and then 

Deuteronomy 14:26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.

 I think the idea that every single tiny decision point necessarily has a sinful option to be avoided would render us so anxious and self-judging that we would make David Brainerd look carefree.

I never claimed nor do I believe that "every single tiny decision point necessarily has a sinful option to be avoided."

Deuteronomy 14:26 is not a statement that there were no limitations on what could be chosen and consumed. Anything that God had forbidden earlier in the chapter (14:7-8; 10; 12-19; 21) was off limits. As I see it, any choice made within the choices that were acceptable to God and consumed in a manner acceptable to Him was a moral choice (as opposed to an immoral choice).

I do not believe that Deuteronomy 14:26 or other statements like it support the notion that any of the choices that they would have made would have been amoral.

In my thinking, there are no actions that a human does that are amoral. Choosing among numerous acceptable choices does not mean that whatever choice you make is an amoral choice; it is a moral choice.

Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve could have eaten from any tree of the garden save one. As long as they ate from any of the trees except from the one that was forbidden them, they made moral (as opposed to immoral) choices--not amoral choices.

Dan Miller's picture

The apple. 

RajeshG's picture

JNoël wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

The NT is very clear that everything that God has created is good:

1 Timothy 4:2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. 6 If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

 

 

Is the context of 1 Tim 4:2 referring to everything - everything God ever created and ever will create, or is it only referring to "creatures" - in the context of animals and the fact that we can eat them?

Some examples I'm thinking about:

  • Humans who were not chosen by the Father as his own
  • Hell

My statement, "The NT is very clear that everything that God has created is good," was made in the context of a discussion about foods, and 1 Timothy 4:4 appears to be a statement limited to what He made for consumption as food. 

To assert, however, that there is anything that God has created that is not good is a position that has no biblical basis. 

RajeshG's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

The apple. 

Obviously, to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree was an immoral choice, and what I wrote earlier clearly implies that. As long as they ate from any of the other trees, they made moral (as opposed to amoral or immoral) choices.

Dan Miller's picture

Rajesh, would you please define these terms?

  • moral
  • amoral
RajeshG's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

Rajesh, would you please define these terms?

  • moral
  • amoral

No thanks, Dan. You can look them up in a dictionary, if you need definitions of them. I'm going to defer to Aaron Blumer for any further discussion with you along these lines--it's his thread.

I agree with his earlier statement:

Aaron Blumer wrote:
 

My view on actions: everything humans do is moral. We either know our actions are wrong, know they are not wrong, or are unsure.

Don Johnson's picture

The problem in this discussion is that there is more than one definition of "good." And there are more meanings to the use of "good" in the Bible than one single meaning. Some of the confusion in the discussion stems from:

  1. The insistence on the same meaning in every place, or
  2. Differing posters using the same term with different meanings.

I disagree with the proposition that everything humans do is moral. I think that statement goes beyond the Scripture, as so aptly illustrated by Dan in his latest "sock test" post.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Dan Miller wrote:

 

Aaron Blumer wrote:

...My view on actions: everything humans do is moral. We either know our actions are wrong, know they are not wrong, or are unsure...

 

I agree with your socks story, a situation like that places a moral layer on an otherwise “tiniest thing,” as you put it. But I think “tiniest things” are indeed a-moral. This layer of morality, which can make a “tiniest thing” moral, is not inextricably tied to the “tiniest thing.” That means that the “tiniest thing” can exist without such a layer and avoid your attachment of morality.

This would be true if a layer of the sort I described was the only way to make an act moral. But I believe I'm probably going to be able to make a strong case that there are many kinds of layers and the most basic is the nature of the being performing the action, and that being's connection to its Creator.

It will be a while before I get back to writing on the topic, though. It's one of those things I remember thinking through some years ago,and moving into my internal "settled things" column. It's still sitting there in that column with a high level of confidence attached to it, but unfortunately I no longer remember the why's and wherefore's.

Either way, it has pulled me into some very interesting reading, so I'm sure I'll write something up eventually.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think there are some category errors going on with the question of God making only good things. I can't speak for anyone else, but when I speak of a "thing" being "good," I mean that everything God makes perfectly suits His purposes, and all His purposes are righteous.

I suppose some might argue that "good" is not the right word for that, but surely we all agree that everything God makes perfectly suits His purposes, and all His purposes are righteous.

We would also all affirm, wouldn't we, that even rebellious natural man is made in the image of God. So if we're using "good" in the sense of "posessing good qualities" we all are good as well as bad. In that sense, goodness is not binary. "Things" are more or less good, in that sense, in a fallen world.

Dan Miller's picture

This would be true if a layer of the sort I described was the only way to make an act moral.

No, that’s not so. It’s true whenever no layers apply. 

RajeshG's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

I disagree with the proposition that everything humans do is moral. I think that statement goes beyond the Scripture, as so aptly illustrated by Dan in his latest "sock test" post.

Are there specific passages in Scripture that you believe teach that there are things that humans do that are not moral? If so, what are those passages?

Dan Miller's picture

We all keep repeating, “I believe humans have amoral decisions,” or, “I don’t believe anything humans do is amoral.” But we have not said what “amoral” means. 

I’ll try:

“amoral” is descriptive of a human choice that lacks significance in the sphere of right and wrong. A decision (doing A, doing B, or doing neither), about which none of the choices has been revealed by God to be more God-pleasing than the others, is an amoral decision. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm pretty sure I'll be using a different definition of "moral."

So far, I'm reading Feinberg and Feinberg for a refresher on ethics introduction. Also have some Van Til and some Aquinas that is very much on topic... but both VT and TA will require some work to make sure I understand them. Interesting so far: the Feinberg text is surprisingly friendly toward Kant. Van Til is, unsurprisingly, critical of both Kant and the Aristotle/Aquinas approach (and many others, all for the same reason).

Arist./Aquinas seem to see moral good as whatever conforms to right reason. And so they conclude that any behavior arising from the use of reason has to be either morally good or morally bad. They do allow for a category of "indifferent" choices, but in their view, these would have to be restricted to things we do unthinkingly, like absent mindedly scratching your nose. Pretty sure that selecting color of socks would be moral in their analysis.

Van Til... I have yet to read up on what he means by "analogical knowledge," but he seems, in the bit I'm reading, to make the case that nothing a human does can be morally neutral--for completely different reasons than those of Aristotle/Aquinas.

The Feinbergs like Kant's view that it's duty that makes conduct moral--acting in simple self-interest is not a moral act because it has no relation to duty. (I'm more sympathetic w/Van Til so far on this point. He doesn't put in these terms, but to me, the believer must view everything he does through the lens of stewardship, and so even acting in self-preservation is a moral act: because we are caring for property that belongs to our Lord. So there is not really anything we do with intention that has no relationship to duty. I might end up agreeing w/Aquinas that what we do unthinkingly isn't exactly "moral," though I think I would say it could still be objectively right or wrong.)

There are intriguing references to Augustine in Aquinas and I'm curious to see if I can find anything helpful there.

(Really what to get Grudem's ethics book, but it's due out in Logos in a couple of weeks, so... seems wise to wait for that format for my purposes.)

...just rambling, really, but I'm finding the topic very interesting.

Dan Miller's picture

Whether you follow Aristotle and define right and wrong by “reason” or the others and define it by duty, it’s all the same thing. 

When one says that we have a duty or something that we “ought to do,” he means that a power outside ourselves has a right to make demands on our behavior. 

———

And whatever terms they dress it in, I’m betting they all have categories of insignificance in relation to [duty, reason, morals, “ought”]. Yes they will reason on principles of duty to encourage us to reconsider acts that we thought of as [amoral, unthinking, non-duty], explaining how when you [ratiocinate, consider, take heed] there’s a layer of morality on a great many things. 

(I believe that is what Paul is doing to the “strong” in 1cor 10:12 “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”)

RajeshG's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I think there are some category errors going on with the question of God making only good things. I can't speak for anyone else, but when I speak of a "thing" being "good," I mean that everything God makes perfectly suits His purposes, and all His purposes are righteous.

I suppose some might argue that "good" is not the right word for that, but surely we all agree that everything God makes perfectly suits His purposes, and all His purposes are righteous.

We would also all affirm, wouldn't we, that even rebellious natural man is made in the image of God. So if we're using "good" in the sense of "posessing good qualities" we all are good as well as bad. In that sense, goodness is not binary. "Things" are more or less good, in that sense, in a fallen world.

Having given a fair bit of additional thought to these comments, I'd like to see what you think Paul is saying in 1 Tim. 4:4 when he uses the word "good" to characterize every food that God has created. Based on what you say here, do you hold that Paul was saying that every food that God has created is good because it "perfectly suits His purposes" for that food and that this is why believers are to reject the demonic teaching to abstain from certain foods?

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