• Reply to Matthew Flannagan on Biblical Moral Relativism

    Apologist Matthew Flannagan has criticised my points made on the recent post “Inter-Testamental Moral Relativism” which can also be expressed as “Covenantal Moral Relativism” as Justin Schieber has stated it. In this post I declared that the moral obligations being different between the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT) amounted to moral relativism (MR). Here is what Flannagan had to say:

    This post seems to misunderstand both the torah, and the new testament, and also to not grasp what relativism is.

    Taking the first point, and focuses on the example, of shellfish and mixed cloth and the suggestion that the NT supersedes or suspends these rules.

    Actually, if you read the Torah you’ll see it doesn’t present God as commanding all people to refrain from eating shellfish. It states that the Jewish nation,were prohibited from eating this food as a condition of a special covenant he had made with Isreal, the torah does in fact state that Gentiles have permission to eat meat.

    Moreover, when you get to the New Testament, and look at the context of Pauls writings ( and the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15) the issue was actually over whether Gentiles, that is non-Jews, had to convert to Judaism to become part of the church. The answer Paul gives is no, and that’s the context in which he argues that people are free to refrain from certain Mosaic restrictions. So it’s actually not a case where a group of people were previously bound by a set of rules and now aren’t. Gentiles were never required to keep these laws even in the torah. The issue is actually over which group is the covenant people.

    Note also that Paul, when he argues that Gentiles don’t have to convert, contends that this answer is actually the answer the Old Testament had always given. He stresses that Abraham had been called as a Gentile prior to the giving of these commands, and that the purpose of the covenant with Abraham was always to “bless the nations” and so the idea that Gentiles are part of Gods people and Gods intention was always to include them.

    (This incid enly is much of what is emphasised by the so called new perspective of Paul, proposed by people like Wright, James Dunn, Sanders and so on though Wright notes in fact its implicit in the reformed tradition all the way back to Calvin. But seeing you state you have researched this issue “extensively” you of course know this)

    As to the second issue of relativism, you write:

    “Or what was a sin in that cultural milieu is no longer a sin? I get it! To me, it looks like what was good and right as a moral truth worked for one set of peopl e in a geographical and historical location, but not for another. The second set of geographical and historically contextualised people (yourself included) appear to have a different set of
    rights and wrongs. Who’s to say that yours won’t be superseded? This lookslike, ya know, moral relativism.”

    This simply misunderstands what relativism is, you seem to be arguing that if the moral requirements of one group of people differs from that of another relativism is true. But that’s just mistaken, whether relativism is true or not will depend on why those moral requirements hold, specifically what makes it true that a given action is required and what constitutes the requirement in question.

    If the reason different moral requirements apply in the different communities is because those communities recognize different rights and make different demands, and that’s what constitutes these different requirements or makes it the case that they exist, then what you have is relativism. If on the other hand the reason different moral requirements apply is because different factual situations obtain in the two communities, and the fact in question obtain independently of whether the community in question accepts or rejects the requirement in question, then in fact what you have is objectivism, moral requirements are rooted in objective facts of the matter not the subjective preferences of society.

    There is lots to address here, but particularly the first sentence and the last paragraph. I do not think I have misunderstood moral relativism in the slightest! In fact, it seems rather like Flannagan has taken the tack which another commenter (Ryan M) and myself were talking about. Ryan said:

    The only way I see the relativism avoided is if such a theistic morality has propositions with truth conditions that depend on particular descriptive facts such as what the culture is like. In that sense, they can say some moral proposition M was true at some t1 but false at some t2. However, maybe that isn’t available to the Christian. I can’t say I want to read the bible to find out though.

    To which I replied:

    That is a really interesting point. I have thought about this before: like the individual context is part of the propositional statement about a moral truth, such that it becomes part of the absolute truth.

    I think this could be an option, though thoroughly unwieldy. Also you would have to ad hoc rationalise that absolutist decrees in the OT/NT have HIDDEN contextual propositional content, which would be stretching things entirely.

    I think this is what Fannagan is referring to in his last paragraph. this problem with the reasoning involved in moral relativism and seeing whether the system could work at all, can be seen in this section and the next of the Moral Relativism section in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) – it is well worth reading for a more in depth analysis than I will provide here.

    As far as what moral relativism basically is, here is the SEP:

    Most often it is associated with an empirical thesis that there are deep and widespread moral disagreements and a metaethical thesis that the truth or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to the moral standard of some person or group of persons…

    Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR). The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

    With respect to truth-value, this means that a moral judgment such as ‘Polygamy is morally wrong’ may be true relative to one society, but false relative to another. It is not true, or false, simply speaking. Likewise, with respect to justification, this judgment may be justified in one society, but not another. Taken in one way, this last point is uncontroversial: The people in one society may have different evidence available to them than the people in the other society. But proponents of MMR usually have something stronger and more provocative in mind: That the standards of justification in the two societies may differ from one another and that there is no rational basis for resolving these differences. This is why the justification of moral judgments is relative rather than absolute.

    There are, in reflecting moral philosophy in general, three areas of moral relativism: descriptive, normative and meta-ethical. Or what people do, what they should do, and what right and wrong mean within a relativistic paradigm. We can forget the first, as this is just describing the obvious, that there exist moral disagreements between cultures. The second talks about whether we ought to tolerate other moral value systems from other cultures etc. I think we need not worry about this either. The third is the important one; this deals with what defines the goodness and badness of a moral act it is seen as true within different cultural and historical contexts.

    I did not go into this in detail in the original short post and as such there could be equivocation between myself and Flannagan on this account. As far as MR is concerned, wiki states:

    Meta-ethical moral relativists believe not only that people disagree about moral issues, but that terms such as “good”, “bad”, “right” and “wrong” do not stand subject to universal truth conditions at all; rather, they are relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of an individual or a group of people.[3] …

    Meta-ethical relativists are, firstly, descriptive relativists: they believe that, given the same set of facts, some societies or individuals will have a fundamental disagreement about what one ought to do (based on societal or individual norms). What’s more, they argue that one cannot adjudicate these disagreements using some independent standard of evaluation—the standard will always be societal or personal.

    It seems fairly clear to me that if a group of people believe something is in some sense definitely descriptively and noaamtively required, morally speaking, but is not required by another group of people (in this case separated by time and perhaps geography) then this qualifies as moral relativism. It is of course the context which prescribes such. This is the case if you think that the first and second set of moral obligations held moral truth values.

    This is superbly articulated by Flannagan himself:

    Actually, if you read the Torah you’ll see it doesn’t present God as commanding all people to refrain from eating shellfish. It states that the Jewish nation,were prohibited from eating this food as a condition of a special covenant he had made with Isreal, the torah does in fact state that Gentiles have permission to eat meat.

    Now, what separated Jews from Gentiles if not geography and culture? Did each individual Jew sign a covenant with God? This looks precisely like moral relativism as simply unerstood.

    So it’s actually not a case where a group of people were previously bound by a set of rules and now aren’t. Gentiles were never required to keep these laws even in the torah. The issue is actually over which group is the covenant people.

    OK, so Flannagan could claim that the OT Jews are simply fulfilling divine commands such that it is divine command theory which defines the moral goodness; but this suffers the same issues as DCT in general suffers as I exposed in the last post. This means that the moral rectitude of such commands cannot be founded on moral reasoning otherwise the reasoning provides the foundation for the moral value as opposed to just God. This makes the actions of the Jews of this period as effectively morally arbitrary (or based on commands from God which appear to be a-rational or morally arbitrary as they cannot defer to third party moral reasoning).

    But it still means that a certain act has its moral value defined not by the act in and of itself (i.e. committing act A) but by who does it (a Jew or a Gentile). This is cultural moral relativism. Yes, God supposedly had a covenant. But that’s what ALL the cultures of the world claim of their morality: it’s somehow codified by a holy book or decreed by God, or spirits, or whatever. This is a sleight of hand to get the Torah Jews off the hook, but still allow moral relativism for all the other religions of the world to which Flannagan does not adhere. That’s moral relativism over there but this here isn’t! Take God out of the picture, and it is clearly moral relativism. Add God into the picture and at best Flannagan is arguing for DCT by special pleading his God whilst claiming all other divinely decreed culturally defined morality is moral relativism. He could deny MR altogether and claim that all other morality is DCT, just with the wrong God. It depends from which position you look at it. In some sense, then, Flannagan is almost invalidating moral relativism completely; that all examples of cultural relativism can be individually special pleaded from within that culture as being absolute and that all other cultures are wrong applications of the same sorts of moral frameworks.

    From an objective and neutral point of view, this is problematic. In some sense, there is no wonder Flannagan cannot see this as moral relativism because he is judging it from within that paradigm, rather than being an objective neutral (as far as that can exist) and seeing Christianity and Judaism from an anthropological perspective, rendering each system as “just another religio-cultural moral value system”.

    This gets me on to another point which I was going to make a post of, but will express here anyway as it is raised in this context. That is the nebulous definition of peoples, namely OT Jews, here. To have truth values in moral propositions being defined by groups of people, those groups of people must actually properly exist in some ontic sense. One might see this as group nominalism. The label “Jew” in the context of people who have a covenant with God at the time of the Torah is problematic. There are fuzzy areas around the outside and the problem of the No True Scotsman (Jew) fallacy raising its ugly head. Who gets to define who is in X, that group of people to which action A is morally good, and who is in not-X, where A is not morally good? This definition can have large moral consequences. Do certain actions morally invalidate them being called Jews, so that doing another action is now morally fine where it would have been bad? Do they define this themselves? Or the Jewish community around them? Or God?

    It appears that a person, then, just assigning an abstract label to themselves therefore changes the moral evaluation of an action they do. This internalises the moral evaluation and moves it away from an objectivist account to an internalist subjectivist account.

    “I am a Jew. This action A is obligatory.”

    “Actually, that was yesterday. I converted to Christianity today. That means that A is no longer obligatory and has a different moral value even though I am a human being committing an identical act.”

    This actually looks like moral subjectivism, which the SEP discusses in the context of relativism:

    The fact that social groups are defined by different criteria, and that persons commonly belong to more than one social group, might be taken as a reason to move from relativism to a form of subjectivism. That is, instead of saying that the truth or justification of moral judgments is relative to a group, we should say it is relative to each individual (as noted above, relativism is sometimes defined to include both positions). This revision might defuse the issues just discussed, but it would abandon the notion of intersubjectivity with respect to truth or justification—what for many proponents of MMR is a chief advantage of the position. Moreover, a proponent of this subjectivist account would need to explain in what sense, if any, moral values have normative authority for a person as opposed to simply being accepted. The fact that we sometimes think our moral values have been mistaken is often thought to imply that we believe they have some authority that does not consist in the mere fact that we accept them.

    Where Flannagan goes on to talk about Paul and defining the orthodoxy of the newly found Christian sect, we have further issues. Firstly, we can see that this one man, Paul, gets to define what is morally obligatory, whilst also recognising that he was arguing with others who believed the opposite to him at the time. This shows, empirically, that people were confused about the moral obligations; but also that they appear to be contextually derived. What’s more, one can argue that the loosening of moral rules and procedures was very much for pragmatic reasons, since getting Gentiles to sign up to the weird and wonderful requirements of the Jewish orthodoxy was a tough call. Conversions would come much more easily, as Paul no doubt saw, if some of those requirements were dropped (like slicing parts of penises, and what you had to eat).

    the issue was actually over whether Gentiles, that is non-Jews, had to convert to Judaism to become part of the church. The answer Paul gives is no, and that’s the context in which he argues that people are free to refrain from certain Mosaic restrictions. So it’s actually not a case where a group of people were previously bound by a set of rules and now aren’t.

    Flannagan appears to want to argue that Gentiles were somehow a-moral until converting. Because otherwise, he is accepting that they adhered to moral relativism or that they happened, by luck, to be moral beforehand, on certain occasions (since they had no access to the Torah). The problem, again, is that such morality would have to be defined using moral reasoning, and not on account of Divine Command Theory, since they would have no access to those commands. Perhaps, though, they were acting luckily in accordance with such commands that they were not aware of, but then such morality is definitely arbitrary because they just happened to be lucky enough, through no intention of their own, to accord themselves with a god’s (of which they had no knowledge) commands. Defining those actions as being good on account of X and Y means that the morality of such is defined by secular moral reasoning, or some other non-DCT moral value system.

    You see, the Bible does not explicitly explain why action A is good in the Torah times and not obligated in the NT times. That has to be investigated and interpreted by theologians and people like Paul. This plays into relativistic and anthropological accounts, since there is nothing but command, and then an explanation away of those commands by Paul and others. The simple fact is that action A is good by supposed divine decree (which is actually the writings and oral traditions of people) at time t=1, but not good or obligated by people (yes, still Jews, but ones who eventually come to be called Christians) at time t=2. But Jesus/God actually decreed that those same Laws would be fulfilled in him, every jot and tittle of them (ignored by Flannagan as a previous point).

    A further issue pertains to whether good and bad is not only defined by the Torah but by other rabbinic writings, and the problem with divine miscommunication therein.

    Flannagan also states:

    He stresses that Abraham had been called as a Gentile prior to the giving of these commands, and that the purpose of the covenant with Abraham was always to “bless the nations” and so the idea that Gentiles are part of Gods people and Gods intention was always to include them.

    Which rather looks like moral relativism just for Abraham, or failing that, that he was using intuitive and subjective morality and subsequent moral reasoning to define what was right, and then formed a covenant with God to closer define these moral obligations.

    Ryan M went on to comment:

    I know at least some will say that. As an example, I have seen apologists defend the notion that forcing a woman to marry her rapist was morally obligatory at some point on account of the culture of the time because the woman would have been ostracized otherwise. So in other words, some have said the culture made it such that a clearly false proposition now would have been true at the time.

    A comment in reply to Ryan from Flannagan continued:

    No that just again shows a failure to distinguish between contextualizing and relativism is.

    Suppose culture A has a moral code which prohibits a person firing dead horses over castle walls in catapults during a siege. The reason they prohibit this is because dead horses are diseased and
    this tactic is both designed to and does in fact result in the population of the beseiged city contracting diseases.

    Suppose culture B, doesn’t contain any prohibition regarding horses or catapults, instead it has a prohibition prohibiting firing dirty bombs civilian populations.

    Now, on your view this would be relativism, because different rules are being applied by different cultures in different contexts.

    However, that’s clearly not relativism, because an objectivist can quite easily accept this claim is true and compatible with his position. He can simply state that there is an objective moral requirement to refrain from using weapons that inflict diseases cancers, plaques and so forth on the civilian population of
    the enemy. The reason for the different requirements is due to different objective facts about the context, in society A, the technological level and techniques used in warfare mean that that in that culture, people use catapults and dead horses to inflict diseases on civilians.

    In society B, they don’t use catapults they use bombs, however in society B, dirty bombs are used for the same purpose that catapults and horses are in society A.

    This is the same kind of thing that occurs when people contextualise” command in torah. In fact it’s the same kind of thing that occurs in normal common law reasoning or any moral reasoning that reasons analogically from cases. To suggest this is automatically relativism is just erroneous.

    This reasoning seems to play exactly into what I stated above, and just goes to show that objectivist morality exists to which we morally reason. One would need to ask why such acts were morally good; what makes them good. It seems that Flannagan implicitly accepts the examples above to be consequentialist. In fact, I would actually argue that consequentialism is what underwrites most moral evaluations, and certainly those of God and her followers, as I have set out in my essay “God is a consequentialist“. Again, this appears to play into the notion (if he were to deny consequentialism as deriving moral value in terms of the OT/NT context) that Flannagan cannot ever see OT/NT as moral relativism since he is within that paradigm. He sees it as successive divinely commanded morality, and that the cultural and historical contexts were true events which defined and define the moral truths as divine commands.

    In other words, what Flannagan in effect does is not criticise my post, but criticises (correctly) meta-ethical moral relativism. It cannot be true because it cannot arbitrate for moral disagreements where something is supposedly true and not true when seen in different contexts.

    I am not a moral relativist and don’t think it makes sense as a moral value system, so to say as I did that there is Inter-Testamental Moral Relativism between the OT and NT is perhaps unfair because I don’t believe such a system exists or could exist in the meta-ethical sense.

    Of course, I am presenting the case from the Christian’s point of view, so it is useful to show it does not make sense. If it is not DCT, then it is MMR, or is a mixture of them both (as mentioned, descriptively and normatively it certainly appears to be MR). Neither make sense, so it is a win-win. Thanks to Matt Flannagan for his comments.

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    • sam

      “So it’s actually not a case where a group of people were previously bound by a set of rules and now aren’t.”

      That’s pretty interesting. I have never heard a xian apologist argue that Jews never needed to accept Christ. Someone should inform the Jews for Jesus folks.

      MT 5:17-20: _Anyone_ who sets aside one of the least of these commands & teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices & teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees & the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

      Eph 2:15 (NASB, ASV, NLT, GNT, NRSV, KJV, NIV, GW)– He [Jesus] has abolished the law with its commandments & ordinances…

      PS 119:151-152- Yet you are near, YHWH, & all your commands are
      true. Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever. PS 119:160 – All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.

      Hebrews 7:12 – When the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also

      I know, I’m taking everything out of context.

      • “So it’s actually not a case where a group of people were previously bound by a set of rules and now aren’t.”

        That’s pretty interesting. I have never heard a xian apologist argue that Jews never needed to accept Christ. Someone should inform the Jews for Jesus folks.

        If you read above you’ll see I didn’t say Jews didn’t need to accept Christ. I said that one group of people (Gentiles) weren’t previously bound by a set of rules ( the Mosaic law) and now are exempt from them. Quoting me saying one think and then pretending I said something else to mock it is good rhetoric, but not really honest or good logic.

        “MT 5:17-20: _Anyone_ who sets aside one of the least of these commands & teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices & teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees & the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

        That’s Jesus standing on a mountain telling a Jewish audience that they aren’t exempt from the Mosaic Torah. You see this when in chapter 4:23 it tells you who he was talking to, people from Synagogues in “Galilee, the Decapolis,[g] Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan” who came to hear him. In otherwords, Jews.

        Sorry but, that passages Jesus telling Jews that they are required to obey the entire Torah, isn’t the same as Jesus Gentiles they are bound by the torah.

        “Eph 2:15 (NASB, ASV, NLT, GNT, NRSV, KJV, NIV, GW)– He [Jesus] has abolished the law with its commandments & ordinances…’

        Actually, that passage refers to the law “with its commandments and ordinances “ and if you don’t pluck that passage out of context you’ll see it confirms what I said, here is the passage without the context omitted

        “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizenswith God’s people and also members of his household,

        Note what’s being said here, he is addressing “Gentiles” ( not Jews as Jesus was) Moreover, he states that people who were Gentiles by birth are foriegners to the promise and *not* part of the Mosaic covenant. Christs death however has meant that both Jews and Gentiles can be part of the covenant people, and that’s what he means by “setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations”. The claim is that the Mosaic law is no longer a boundary marker to entrance to the people of God. Gentiles are members of Gods household, despite not being circumcised and forefingers to the Mosaic covenant.

        Its doesn’t say Gentiles were once required to obey the Mosaic law and are now exempt. It actually strongly insinuates the opposite.

        PS 119:151-152- Yet you are near, YHWH, & all your commands are
        true. Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever. PS 119:160 – All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.

        Note sure how David singing a psalm before the congregation of Israel about how the laws God has given them stand, means that those laws were binding on Gentiles.

        Hebrews 7:12 – When the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also

        Again this says nothing about Gentiles being bound by the law and suddenly being exempt from it. But again its pretty easy to look at that passage without the omitted context and see what it does say.

        “For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared:

        “You are a priest forever,

        in the order of Melchizedek.”[a]

        18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.”

        When one reads this its pretty clear its not saying that the law of Moses is being abolished for Gentiles. Its addressing the legal requirement in the torah that jewish priests be from the tribe of Levi, whereas Jesus is from the tribe of Judah. The author points out that, in fact the Torah itself (7:1-10) recognized in addition to the Levitical priesthood a priesthood in the line of Melchizedek, which existed prior to Levis existence, (this is mentioned in Genesis during the time of Abraham) and the author also points out that according to the Psalms, the messiah would be appointed a priest in the order of Melchizedek, not the order of Levi.

        His point is that the Old testament itself made an exemption to the Levitical law for the purpose of establishing the messianic priesthood.

        So this doesn’t actually say what your conjecturing it does.

        I know, I’m taking everything out of context.

        Yes I demonstrate that above, the bible is widely available all people have to do is check your citations as I did above. So if you knew, why did you do it?

    • Primitive Man

      I’m curious — how does slavery fit into this discussion. It seems to me that foreign slaves were by definition subject to at least a portion of Jewish law. At a minimum the portion of the laws governing slavery. And of course since Christians didn’t abolish slavery, non-Christians were subject to Christian law/morality.

      It is interesting that tactics in war were used as examples. I don’t see any restraint whatsoever in OT war making. Whatever moral justification (divine command?), the victims were certainly subject to Jewish morality.

      In other words, doesn’t the OT itself confirm that Jewish law and morality were not confined to that group?

      • I’m curious — how does slavery fit into this discussion. It seems to me that foreign slaves were by definition subject to at least a portion of Jewish law. At a minimum the portion of the laws governing slavery. And of course since Christians didn’t abolish slavery, non-Christians were subject to Christian law/morality.

        Jewish exegetes have traditionally distinguished certain commandments of the torah, such as those pertaining to homicide or sexual immorality, as elaborating moral requirements that applied to all people prior to the Sinai covenant and other commandments such as circumcision, food laws, which are binding on Jews in virtue of the covenant. This distinction is actually implicit in the torah itself if you read it carefully youll see sometimes it emphasises that Gentiles must obey certain commandments as well as them other times it mentions Israel’s special status as the reason.

        It is interesting that tactics in war were used as examples. I don’t see any restraint whatsoever in OT war making. Whatever moral justification (divine command?), the victims were certainly subject to Jewish morality.

        Then with respect you haven’t read the torah, because it actually does contain restrictions on war making moreover the prophets also have a bit to say about it. I am sure pretending it advocates indiscriminate total war against everyone is good rhetoric its actually not true.

        In other words, doesn’t the OT itself confirm that Jewish law and morality were not confined to that group?

        No, actually take the food laws that Jonthan mentioned above, here is what the torah says in Deuteronomy:

        Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.(Genesis 9:1-3)

        Deuteronomy 14 “You are the children of the LORD your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, 2 for you are a people holy to the LORD your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession.

        3 Do not eat any detestable thing. 4 ….v 21. You may give it to the foreigner residing in any of your towns, and they may eat it, or you may sell it to any other foreigner. But you are a people holy to the LORD your God.

        Here it states that God made a covenant with Noah and his descendants ( gentiles) that they can eat any animal. Deuteronomy 14 states Isreal should refrain from eating certain animals, because they in distinction from all other peoples on earth are set apart, it goes on to say Gentiles can eat the foods in question.

        On the otherhand Leviticus 18 after mentioning various sexual practises such as incest, homosexual conduct, adultery, bigamy and so on states

        Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

        Here the torah explains that the prohibitions just mentioned, unlike the food laws, reflect requirements applicable to Gentiles and for this reason even Gentiles in Israel cant do these things.

        The point is the law itself recognises that some commands reflect moral requirements binding on all people and others don’t. Jewish exegetes in the Talmud, and prior to Paul also recognised this, the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 recognised this. As has most of moral theology throughout history. So, its acronistic to suggest that when the NT states that Gentiles aren’t required to be circumcised or eat kosher food its rejecting the torah. The torah never said they did

        • Primitive Man

          Thanks for the reply. I’m not a student of philosophy, so I apologize in advance if my responses seem naive.

          “Jewish exegetes have traditionally distinguished certain commandments of the torah, such as those pertaining to homicide or sexual immorality, as elaborating moral requirements that applied to all people prior to the Sinai covenant and other commandments such as circumcision, food laws, which are binding on Jews in virtue of the covenant. This distinction is actually implicit in the torah itself if you read it carefully youll see sometimes it emphasises that Gentiles must obey certain commandments as well as them other times it mentions Israel’s special status as the reason.”

          and

          “The point is the law itself recognises that some commands reflect moral requirements binding on all people and others don’t.”

          It is how the implicit distinction between moral rules applied to Jews versus all of humanity actually plays out that is of interest to me. Here in the U.S. many opposed to marriage equality cite biblical reasons for doing so. They not only reject it for themselves, but demand others also follow biblical morality. In your opinion, have they correctly interpreted the implicit “law” and are they therefor justified in demanding universal compliance?

          It seems to me that the law also imposes a universal restriction on religious belief. The war against the Midianites was justified because they “seduced” Jews into their religion. Instead of addressing the problem among themselves, the Jews went to war to eliminate the “temptation” of another religion.

          Related to this, and for my own information, I’m curious how the 10 commandments are seen in terms of the “implicit distinctions”. There is a fetish about this among many believers who claim they are universal. Yet they obviously conflict with our secular concept of religious freedom. Do you see religious freedom as a moral issue? If so, how does it “fit” into the “implicit distinctions” of moral law?

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