Ethical Values In The Old Testament
BY JOHN G. TAYLOR III
RELIGION 205 DR. FRANK JOHNSON 18 NOVEMBER 1996 ETHICAL VALUES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
How we live our lives is governed by ethics. Ethics is "human moral conduct according to principles of what is good or right to do." Our ethical values today descend primarily from a Christian ethic in which "a truly ethical decision, we are told, must be spontaneous, undirected, free - the individual's unfettered and uncoerced response to each new decision-demanding situation." The ethical values of today, especially Christian ethics, borrow and carry forward the Hebrew ethics of the past. Yet it is hardly fair to explain Old Testament ethics with only what was borrowed from it.
What sets Judaism apart from other religions of the time was its monotheistic basis. The ethics of Judaism is historical and traditional as opposed to philosophical and theoretical. "In Israel, for the first time, an ethical conception of God is attained, and this not philosophically but historically; while its view of the moral life is certain of justification not only by reason but by history." Thus God is looked at as an ethical personality and is looked to as an example of good and right. In the Old Testament, God's voluntary (voluntary for God) covenant with man must be looked at as the prime example of ethical value. The covenant's requirements is the source of all ethics, morals, laws, and justice in the Old Testament.
The Mosaic Covenant is the best example of ethical values and norms in the Old Testament. The Mosaic Covenant has three parts; the Decaloque, the Covenant Code; and the Holiness Code. The Decaloque is made up of apodictic (or absolute) law, it is unconditional and has no "ifs or buts" about it. This is commonly refereed to as the "Ten Commandments." Although legally vague these commandments are the basics for all ethical norms in the Old Testament. The Covenant Code is made up of casuistic...
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Anderson, Bernhard W., Understanding the Old Testament. New Jersey: Prentice-
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Hertzberg, Arthur, Judaism. New York: George Braziller, 1962.
White, R. E. O., Biblical Ethics. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979.
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