The divine command theory?

Discussion in 'Defending the Faith' started by InevitablyReformed, Feb 10, 2009.

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  1. InevitablyReformed

    InevitablyReformed Puritan Board Freshman

    Accordiing to this theory (Plato's?) Christians must either adhere to what is right 1) because God commands it (therefore the problem of arbitrary commandments) or 2) God commands only what is right (therefore, there must be a standard that exists outside of God to which even He must adhere).

    Obviously, this theory is not predicated on an accurate understanding of God and His holy character. Which is to say, those that assert this theory are merely knocking down a strawman.

    Thoughts on how to deal with this issue with precision?

    (BTW, this topic is going to be discussed in my military ethics class at school later this week.)

    Thanks.
     
  2. Wanderer

    Wanderer Puritan Board Freshman

    1. What arbitrary commands are you referring too? I can't think of any, and I don't think there can be.

    2. God's person defines truth and what is right. Something is right simply because God says it is. He defines truth. To go beyond that is to make him less than God. It is man's duty and pleasure to discover what God has already defined.
     
  3. InevitablyReformed

    InevitablyReformed Puritan Board Freshman

    The arbitrary commands that I am referring to are not mine. They are the non-Christian's. In other words, the dilemma is not actual, it is a perceived dilemma from the non-Christian's standpoint.
     
  4. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    A starting place would be to ask the question whether we are to serve a Sovereign God or an Impersonal Right.
     
  5. ManleyBeasley

    ManleyBeasley Puritan Board Junior

    Being the all powerful, all wise, perfect creator renders the idea of anything God says as arbitrary a nonsensical notion. God has no whimsies or new ideas but only a perfectly wise, sovereign will. His will is an extension of his unchanging, perfect character. Sin is the disobeying of His never changing will and a dishonoring of His immutable character. Arbitration is impossible with an infinite Being. For something to be arbitrary it must be subject to change. God and His moral commands have never changed and will not change.
     
  6. Wanderer

    Wanderer Puritan Board Freshman

    :agree:

    You got to go back to His attributes.

    The problem with discussing these matters with unbelievers is that there understanding is flawed. They don't understand when that when someone called Christ, "Good Teacher", that Christ reply back to that person who could be "Good" except God himself. God's being defines that which is good, It is God who defines what is wise. Not men. This is why if one seeks truth, understanding God's word is paramount. For there is no truth apart from God's truth.
     
  7. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Euthyprho's dilemma;

    it can be countered by saying that God commands according to his own nature.

    there's more to it, obviously.
     
  8. steven-nemes

    steven-nemes Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm currently reading an essay by Plantinga on the topic of "Does God have a nature?", meaning, do the attributes of God describe him from an external standpoint as some standard he fulfills or is he identical with those attributes? I suppose the same sort of question is asked here: is God good because he conforms to some standard, or is he that standard?
     
  9. Whitefield

    Whitefield Puritan Board Junior

    Obviously they are assuming "arbitrary" is bad. Challenge them as to why they choose #4 below and not #1 through #3.

    Arbitrary:
     
  10. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Is there any Scriptural exegesis that can support this claim? And what results when God's positive commandments take precedence over His moral commandments, as in the case of Abraham being told to sacrifice his son?
     
  11. ManleyBeasley

    ManleyBeasley Puritan Board Junior

    Good question. I would say that God always has the right to take or give life. His will in the given situation is reflective of His never changing, sovereign right over His creation. It's not possible for God to be guilty of murder because He always has the rights over His creation's lives. To answer what you asked about exegesis I would say that any verses proclaiming His sovereignty are stating this. God always does what He (the perfectly wise, just and holy God) wants. Calvin said that the universe is the "theater of the glory of God" and so God's actions in the universe are the displaying of his nature.

    *My point was that God's infinite and immutable nature make accusations of arbitration nonsensical. If God's own nature defines right, wrong, and justice, and is unchanging then assigning a term like "arbitrary" to Him seems blasphemous. Their (Non-christian's) use of the word arbitrary seems to indicate that they see God as a peer who happens to be a bigger and stronger bully not the perfectly wise and holy God.
     
  12. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    So is it possible to ever question whether or not, what you hear or think is of God?

    CT
     
  13. ManleyBeasley

    ManleyBeasley Puritan Board Junior

    Absolutely. We must hold it up to scripture which is something Abraham didn't have. Abraham's only special revelation was God speaking directly to him.

    PS-I was editing what I said while you were publishing your statement.
     
  14. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I can appreciate that. My concern was with the setting up of a "will" in God that is an extension of His "nature." It allows the creature to respond to God, Why hast thou made me thus? In Arminian theology it leads to doctrinal formulations based on what God must do because He is loving and just. Reformed theology counters that God is free and that it is the counsel of His will which determines how He acts towards His creation. His "nature" is not something distinct from His "will," but it is His will as made known to His creatures in a variety of relations and actions.
     
  15. ManleyBeasley

    ManleyBeasley Puritan Board Junior

    I completely agree with you. I may not have worded it as clearly as I should.
     
  16. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I think I may have brought this up in another thread on Euthyphro's dilemma, but the positing of this "dilemma" is a classical example of idolatry (I think that'd be the right concept), as the atheist attempts to bring God down to the level of creature. He assumes that God is like a man who can command whatever he wills -- which would indeed be arbitrary in a malicious sense -- forgetting that God is God and that it is perfectly acceptable for God to decree what is good.
     
  17. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    In the case of Abraham God did not allow the complete fulfillment of his positive command.

    I wonder: is there anywhere in Scripture where God's positive commands took precedence over his moral will and was carried through to the completed obedience of the positive command with a resultant violation of his moral will? Off the top of my head, I can't think of any.
     
  18. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I think by definition positive laws are "on top of" moral laws and cannot actually disagree with them.
     
  19. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    I would have thougt so too, but Rev. Winzer is apparently attempting to postulate a situation in which such a contradiction is the result.
     
  20. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Abraham carried through so far as his part was concerned. He was stopped in process of carrying out the action required of him, and is considered to have offered his son by faith and to have demonstrated his faith by his works.
     
  21. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    Your original post was
    The problem is in this situation God intervened before the positive command could be fully carried out so he himself ensured that his positive command did not in actuality take precedence over his moral commandment. My question was: is there anywhere in Scripture where God does not so intervene and allows a positive command that is contradictory to his moral will to be fully carried out?
    Just curious.
     
  22. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I would not say that God's positive command contradicted any moral command, at all. God was not commanding Abraham to murder Isaac, but to sacrifice him. Seeing as God has complete control over human life, and seeing as Abraham was essentially acting as an agent of God in the situation (just like Israel when punishing nations for their sins, by God's command), there is no contradiction here. It's not like God "bailed Himself out" or anything by revoking the command -- if God did actually tell Abraham to break the moral law, then He contradicted Himself at that point, and revoking it wouldn't change anything. He was merely testing Abraham, but He wasn't telling him to break the moral law. That would be an outright contradiction.
     
  23. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    As noted, the fact that God intervened is of little relevance because commands pertain to human duties, and the command had an ethical bearing on the actions of Abraham.

    The event of course points forward to that salvific transaction in which God did not spare His Son, and His Son willingly gave Himself for His people, the just for the unjust, notwithstanding on a human level the condemning of the innocent is an abomination to the Lord, and the human actors are said to have crucified and slain Him by wicked hands. In this transaction the human nature of Christ refused deliverance and gladly submitted to drink of the cup of suffering, even though the sixth commandment requires all lawful means to preserve our own life. He refused the use of such means and denied His own human will in order that He might accomplish the positive salvific will of the Father.
     
  24. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Is it really denying the sixth commandment to commit martyrdom? It almost sounds as if we can be put in situations where we're forced to sin -- either break God's positive command and do not sacrifice yourself, or break God's moral command and do not defend your life.

    I would rather say that sacrifice is not proscribed by the sixth commandment. The alternative implies contradiction.
     
  25. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Brother, I hope you do not look on the death of the Christ of God as mere martyrdom. It was a judicial transaction -- the just for the unjust. In martyrdom we are faced with the dilemma, sin or suffer, and of course we are obliged to choose suffering over sin. But fundamental to the sacrifice of Christ is that He voluntarily laid down His life, when all the means were at His disposal to save Himself.
     
  26. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I'm not looking at it as mere martyrdom -- there is certainly much, much more to Christ's sacrifice than that, but I am nonetheless disputing the point that Christ had to choose between moral law and positive law.
     
  27. Brian Withnell

    Brian Withnell Puritan Board Junior

    False dichotomy. That is the starting point. I would explain that God is the definition of what is good, and that God can only command what is in concert with his own character, and therefore whatever he commands is by definition both good and in perfect accord with who God is. It is not possible to have a definition of good outside of God ... any standard that is not perfectly in accord with the character of God throughout the sphere in which it operates is a false and evil standard.

    Any person that would posit such an argument has already made up their mind as to what they believe. I doubt they would be sincere in the inquiry, and if the answer above does not dissuade the folly, then call them to repentance rather than argue philosophy.
     
  28. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    "Not my will, but thine be done." Let's think about that for a moment. The Christ of God sought to do only that which was in perfect accord with the moral will of God. Yet even here He was obliged by the covenant of redemption to renounce that will in order to obey the higher, salvific will of the Father. There was clearly a choice which had to be made.
     
  29. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Thomas Manton (Works, 14:353):

     
  30. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    This isn't a choice between moral law and positive law, but a choice between what Jesus wanted to do and what the Father wanted Him to do.

    If Jesus broke the moral law, then He sinned. I don't see how there's any way around that. I guess you could say that God doesn't have to follow the moral law, but this can't seriously apply to Jesus or what was He doing living His good life? If He were never obliged to live under the moral law at all times then He never actually fulfilled the covenant of works, His righteousness was never imputed to us, and we are therefore in a position of neutrality (rather than righteousness) before God.
     
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