Does the Bible teach situational ethics?Question: "Does the Bible teach situational ethics?"
Answer: Situational ethics is a particular view of moral ethics that holds that the morality of an act is determined by its context. Situational ethics states that if there is a right and wrong, it is merely determined by the desired outcome of the situation. Situational ethics is different from moral relativism in that moral relativism states that there is no right or wrong. Situational ethics envelopes a code of ethics in which meeting the needs of each situation determines what is right or wrong.
From cover to cover, the Bible is true, consistent, and applicable. Does the Bible teach, admonish, or even lean toward advocating situational ethics? The short answer is "no." Let us consider three principles: 1) God is creator and sustainer. 2) All of God’s Word is true. Even the parts we don’t like or understand. 3) Right and wrong are determined and defined by who God is.
1. God is creator and sustainer. Situational ethics states that morality is determined by surroundings or circumstance. God’s Word says morality is determined by God’s sovereignty, as He is creator and sustainer. And that is not a matter of semantics but of fact. Even if God were to give a command to one group of people and forbid it to another group, the determination of whether it is right or wrong, ethical or not, is not based on the situation, but rather on God’s command. God has the authority to govern right and wrong. Romans 3:4 says, “Let God be true and every man a liar.”
2. All of God’s Word is true. To suggest that the Bible advocates situational ethics would be to imply that there are errors contained therein. That is not possible. It is not possible because of number 1, God is creator and sustainer.
3. Right and wrong are defined by who God is. Love is God’s nature. He defines what love is not by what He does, but simply by who He is. The Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Love is selfless and considerate of others, never seeking its own glory or pleasure (1 Corinthians 13). Therefore, by virtue of who God is, the Bible, being given by God and being all true, cannot contain a system of ethics that would in itself defy the nature of God. Situational ethics finds right and wrong to please the majority or a single person out of selfishness. Love is the opposite. Love seeks to encourage and build up others.
Two foundational problems with situational ethics are the reality of an absolute truth and the concept of real love. The Bible does teach absolute truth, which demands that right and wrong are predetermined by a Holy God. And love—God’s definition of true, honest, real love—leaves no room for selfish or impure motivations. Even if someone were to say that the situation demands selflessness, it is still a human determination and not a divine one. A human being’s reasons for determining what is best, without true love are foundationally selfish.
So what happens when things look right but God says they are wrong? We must trust God’s sovereignty and trust “that all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). If we belong to Christ, God has given us His Spirit (John 16), and through Him we have an understanding of what is right and wrong. Through Him we are convicted, encouraged, and guided to righteousness. An earnest desire to know the truth of a matter, coupled with seeking God, will be rewarded with God’s answer. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6).
Recommended Resource: Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues & Options, Second Edition by Norman L. Geisler
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