Before discussing the ethics of ‘truth’ we need to agree on the meaning of ‘ethics’. This is critical because many of us (most?) treat the words ‘ethics’ and “moral values” as synonymous. However, they are very different concepts that philosophers, largely secular, have made unduly complex. In this introduction, I want to clarify the difference between ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ before we launch into the study (below).
Simply put, ethics are the rules by which we express the values we hold. For example, suppose our culture establishes the value that human life is more precious than other forms of life. To express this value, we might institute laws, traditions, or both that restrict the behaviors that are inconsistent with this value. For example, we may prohibit the taking of all human life, but permit the killing of plants and non-human animals for food. Rules that define the limits of a value (like the value of life) are called ‘ethics’. Simple!
Both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament speak to us in terms of ethics and values. To illustrate this, let’s examine Exodus 20:2-6
2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 Do not have any other gods before me.4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
- Genesis 38:14-19 – Tamar deceives her father-in-law into being her redeemer (to fulfill the Levirate marriage obligation).
- Exodus 1:15-21 – God rewards two midwives for lying to Pharoah.
- 1 Samuel 12:12-13, 20:1, 26:6-7 – Abraham lies to save his own skin telling Pharaoh and Abimelech respectively that Sarai is his sister.
Now, go and study
- Ethics are rules governing behavior. Values are what we like and dislike↩