We all make ethical decisions all throughout the day. If I leave work early surely the boss won’t mind if I don’t note that early departure as vacation time. After all, I work hard for the company and they owe me. Only 45 mph in a construction zone? There is nobody around and I need to get where I am going. Surely it is not a problem to speed just a little bit as it is not harming anyone. These seemingly innocuous issues of life are often overlooked in favor of the more intense ethical issues such as abortion and homosexuality; however, they are ethical issues nonetheless. What then do we base our decisions on when we encounter ethical issues? David Jones, in his excellent book An Introduction to Biblical Ethics aptly captures the reality that answers to ethical questions are found in Scripture.
Quoting the noted Greek philosopher Socrates, Jones notes “We are discussing no small matter, but how we ought to live.” Questions of right and wrong permeate each and every action and thought of life. How we respond to those questions of right and wrong demonstrates where our worldview is rooted. Do we rely on our own self evaluation and opinion on matters of life or do we establish our perspective of life on a more sure foundation? Jones correctly defines biblical ethics as “the attempt to understand what it means to both live and to think biblically.” This is an extremely important statement given that when it comes to the truth of Scripture, application is just as vital as head knowledge. Far too many books on ethics or even biblical ethics keep the conversation at the philosophical level without connecting the head to the hands. Jones avoids such an approach by stressing the need for biblical morality to be lived out each and every day.
Many, even within the Church, view the law, specifically the Old Testament system as antiquated and superseded by the teachings of Christ. In order for there to be a standard of behavior, those standards must be rooted in a system of laws or guidance on how right and wrong behavior should be understood. Jones does a marvelous job of explaining the term law as it is used and applied in Scripture thus clearing the fog of understanding and approach that is often associated with God’s moral law found throughout Scripture. First, he engages how general revelation establishes within each individual the reality that there are right ways of thinking and acting and wrong ways of thinking and acting. We see such general revelation in God’s created order, it is seared in our conscience, and history itself reveals that individuals and societies have affirmed a moral base upon which acceptable and unacceptable behavior is understood.
While general or natural revelation provides some basis for understanding right and wrong, it has its limitations. Jones rightly avers “while general revelation may communicate aspects of moral law, it is questionable as to whether such revelation, considered in isolation, is comprehensive enough to be useful in moral theory.” Thus a more firm and unchanging foundation is needed, that of special revelation found only in the pages of Scripture, the basis for biblical moral law/ethics. Jones correctly states that when it comes to understanding God’s moral law, “the relationship between the law and the gospel must be considered by all who participate in the discipline of biblical ethics, for one’s answer to this question will set the parameters for the material from which one can engage in moral theory.”
Confusion often results in the misapplication of the types of laws found in Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. Jones notes the ceremonial, civil, and moral laws and the importance of grasping “the various manifestations and functions of the law in Scripture.” Jones does an excellent job of honing in on the moral law, sharing with the reader three important uses for such laws, namely the social use, the convictional use, and finally the normative use. This begs the question as to how the law and the gospel relate, a point which Jones also expertly explains commenting “the Bible does not teach that man’s problem is that he has the law; rather, man’s problem is that he cannot keep the law he already has. Therefore, one should not necessarily expect Jesus to abolish the law.” A proper understanding of the relationship of the law and gospel then is found in the reality that “The moral law of God does not change from Genesis to Revelation.” Furthermore, it “is the standard by which men are judged, and provides the framework for the practice of biblical ethics.”
A final element I thoroughly enjoyed was Jones exegesis of the Ten Commandments. In the two chapters dedicated to that topic, he does an excellent job of taking the foundation established earlier in the book, namely that of looking at God’s moral law and noting how to apply it. For example, in discussing the often debated and much maligned fourth commandment (Remember to keep the Sabbath day and make it holy), Jones states “The focus of the fourth commandment is on the temporal worship of God, which includes the temporal rest of man.” I appreciated that Jones correctly noted the Sabbath command as being a creation ordinance given God rested on the seventh day and blessed it, declaring it holy. Establishing that reality, Jones aptly comments “If Sabbath-keeping is a creation ordinance, or might even be considered the climax of creation, it would have to be part of the moral law which lasts forever.” For those caught up in the debate on what to do or not do on the Sabbath or even what day to remember the Sabbath day, Jones avers “Sabbath-keeping should ought not to be viewed as a laborious duty but rather should be a natural desire of the heart that reflects the eternal rest and redemption made possible through the cross.” Such a statement ties nicely the relationship between the moral law and the gospel.
I highly recommend this book for all believers. Jones does a marvelous job of explaining what the law of God is all about, why it matters, and how it relates intimately to the gospel. In an age where morality seems to be whatever one makes it, Jones returns the conversation of ethics and morals back to the only firm foundation we have – the word of God.
This book is available for purchase from B&H Academic Books by clicking here.
I received this book for free from B&H Acaedmic for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”