Is God Bound to the Same Moral Code as We?

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” (Joshua 5:13-14, NIV)

It is popular today to criticize the actions God takes in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. Atheists are quick to accuse God of being evil due to the actions He commands Israel to do, especially in telling them to destroy the Canaanites, of which Jericho was the first battle. For a more lengthy response, see here. 

I heard a presentation today (from John Njoroge) that gave one additional explanation of God’s actions in this instance. If we tell our children that it is time to go to bed, but we as parents are allowed to stay up, the child views this as unfair. Yet we know it not to be so, for we have perogative as parents that make us able to set rules for them that do not apply to us. Yet as parents we are required to follow a much more profound set of moral rules which are much more important than bedtime. We are not immoral when we do not follow the same rules as we put on our children. What reason do we have to say that God is not in a simialar relationship? Is it reasonable to say that God is following a higher moral law?

In the passage above, it would appear to the people of Israel and to the people of Jericho that they themselves are right, and the other side was wrong. God shows up, and Joshua wants to know whose side this mysterious visitor is on, the good guys or the bad guys? God’s answer is neither, He is on His own side, and will act accordingly.

As such, we have no moral high ground to truly judge God.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Atheism, Bible, Morality. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Is God Bound to the Same Moral Code as We?

  1. Allallt says:

    There is not a single moral rule I inflict up on my younger siblings, or my parents ever inflicted upon me, that do not applied higher up the chain of command. I instruct my siblings to go to bed at a time that allows them to get appropriate levels of sleep; children need more sleep than adults, they go to bed earlier.
    A different bed-time is not a different rule; it’s the same rule applied in different circumstances.

    For the record, though, would you call this system were different levels of authority have different moral obligations (children different from adults, humans different from God etc) subjective morality or relative morality? Because it cannot be objective morality, can it?

  2. The Janitor says:


    The analogy has its deficiency in that humans are all ontologically equal. So at that level, there will be moral parity. However, this might be easier: imagine if humans outgrew the need to sleep. In this case, any moral imperative to sleep will not apply.

    • Allallt says:

      There is no moral imperative to sleep. There is a moral imperative to look after the wellbeing of those uninformed of how to do it for themselves. One aspect of that, in infant humans, is to encourage sleep.

      But the post claims that God has a different moral standard for himself. The question is whether that is relativistic morality or subjective morality, because it is not objective.

      The argument could be made that, in the same way parents know better how to look after the wellbeing of children than the children do, God better knows how to look after human wellbeing than humans do. That may be so, and if you try really hard I’m sure you could make the case that the slaughter and war-slavery of the Canaanites was a moral thing in the long run. You do this by arguing that by getting rid of the sinners human wellbeing would be higher, thus moral. (I don’t completely believe that to be true; although their murder could be moral, the war-slavery I cannot even imagine the moral benefit of).

      However, if this is the argument you choose to follow that you are saying that morality is based on wellbeing (and not God), and God is simply better informed than us. Well, in that circumstance God is not necessary of objective morality.

      If you follow the line of argument that goes “God says it therefore it is moral” then morality is relative and subjective. Therefore God is still not a source of objective morality.

      If you argue that God is under no obligation to be moral, and may be a jealous and petty ethnic cleanser then you are denying that God is the greatest possible being.

      • The Janitor says:

        If we have a moral obligation to take care of our selves, and this involves sleep then, all other things being equal, how do we not have a moral imperative to sleep?

        How do you define the terms relative, subjective, and objective? For instance if you define “objective” as applying to all beings equally and without regard to circumstance, function, or ontology then it seems obvious that there is no objective morality in that sense. And it also looks uninteresting that there is no objective morality in that sense. So, what is it that you think is “objective morality” that is being denied?

        Why would someone make such a vague statement like “morality is based on well being”? In fact, I cannot even imagine how one could cash that out. Well being of all living organisms equally? Well being of humans? Well being of God?

        Suppose morality has to do with well being, how do you move from t hat to the claim that god is not necessary? You’ll need to fill in some premises for me.

        You also seem to hint at the euthyphro dilemma, but of course Christians have interacted with that since forever. Your not moving the conversation forward in that regard.

        Finally, if God is not under moral obligation, it’s not clear why you think you can then ascribe moral adjectives petty and jealous to God and then claim that he is not the greatest possible being because, presumably, we could conceive of a being that doesn’t have those moral shortcomings (which God can’t actually fall short of if h e has no moral obligations).

        • Allallt says:

          I doubt that “jealous” could be considered a moral adjective. Even in an amoral world a being could be jealous. But a jealous being is not the greatest conceivable being, neither is a petty being. I don’t understand the objection so I can’t progress there.
          Yes, theists all of religions have been interacting with the Ethyphro dilemma for a long, long time. That doesn’t mean that anyone has given a good answer to it.
          If you can’t see how morality might be defined by wellbeing instead of being a top-down authorative concept from God then we might as well drop that aspect of the conversation.
          We have a moral obligation to look after each other, which just so happens to involve sleep given the nature of humans. But it’s not intrinsic to morality to sleep: if there was not benefit to sleep then it would not be a moral issue. The moral issue is to look after our wellbeing (and for a longer description on how that is so I recommend my post: (I talk a lot about morality over on my blog, feel free to visit

          Relative means changes on circumstance.
          Subjective means it’s not an ontological truth, but merely opinion.
          Objective means it can be measured.
          Absolute (a word I didn’t use, but you gave a definition to) means to be the same in all places to all things at all times.
          With these definitions in mind, the challenge from the previous comment stands.

  3. humblesmith says:

    Moral principles are indeed objective and universal. Everyone holds it wrong for me to steal their stuff. So the principles that establish moral law apply to all; no sane person really thinks it good and proper to torture innocents for fun.
    The distinction comes in with how moral codes are applied. The application of moral laws are relative. Everyone would agree it wrong to endanger the safety of others, so we establish speed limit laws. But policemen, in order to ensure the overall safety of society, are allowed to speed. Thus the underlying moral code is objective and universal, but the application into specific laws are not agreed to by all.

    Further, not all moral laws are equal, and some take precedent over others. Lying is wrong, but protecting an innocent victim from a murderer is a higher good, so it might be allowed to lie to the murderer to protect the innovent.

    As to Euthyphro, I’m afraid he has been answered for quite a while. God’s moral commands originate in His nature, not from His voluntary will. He gives moral commands because He is good, and the universe reflects His nature. Thus God could not voluntarily command “Thou shalt steal” for this violates His nature; but He also is not subject to some moral principle outside of Himself.

    As to the “well being” idea, it appears you are making some sort of a reference similar to Kant’s categorical imperative. It is flawed, which you can see here:

  4. The Janitor says:

    Re: jealousy. I have a hard time believing you don’t see any moral quality to jealousy. At least Richard Dawkins, for instance, recognizes jealousy to be a moral quality. On that score, you ignore the moral quality of being petty. Do you think that also doesn’t have any moral value? I doubt it. But anyway, you claim that a non-jealous being is better than a jealous one. Now I’m curious as to what your argument is for that, especially given that you view it as amoral.

    Re: the Euthyphro dilemma. You say that you don’t think anyone has given a good answer to it. Yet that’s not the point. The point is that answers have been given and yet you fail to interact with them. Instead, you raise a tired objection that has already been given a response. That’s akin to me going over to an evolutionist website and gonig “Oh yeah, so if humans evolved from chimps why are there still chimps?” For me to raise such an objection would only be excusable if I was completely ignorant of the fact that evolutionists have answered this on many occasions. To respond that I don’t find the answer convincing is hardly satisfactory, for on that account I should have addressed myself to the rejoinder.

    Re: morality as well being. Pardon me, but this looks like the Sam-Harris-Shuffle, if you don’t have an answer to a question, pretend like the question isn’t important or that the you just can’t have a discussion on the issue. That’s convenient, but unconvincing.

    Re: what’s intrinsic to morality. You say sleep isn’t intrinsic to morality, but, apparently, looking after each other is. I suppose your justification for this is the claim that “if there was not benefit to sleep then it would not be a moral issue.” Yet I find that justification entirely unsatisfactory, because we could just as easily say that if there was not benefit to looking after each other then that wouldn’t be a moral issue. So why isn’t that not intrinsic to morality? Further, it’s still not clear what sort of “benefit” you have in mind or who is to be the benefactors (all living organisms or just humans or just a subset of humans or etc.?). All of this ignores the fact that we were talking about moral imperatives, not what is intrinsic to morality. You’ve jumped to a new topic under the guise of answering the old one.

    Re: your definitions. Thanks for defining those terms. Defining objective as “can be measured” doesn’t make much sense to me. Any way, I don’t think any Christian or theist is interested in demonstrating that morality “can be measured.” So no problem there. And for what it is worth, I didn’t give a definition of “Absolute”, rather I suggested a definition for “objective.” Clearly you take the suggested definition for objective to better be described as absolute. That’s fine, but I want to avoid confusion of adding in new terms.

    Re: your website. Thanks for the link, I’ll give it a look when I have more time.

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