Is Morality Relative?

In the Old Testament it appears that God speaks to people in there time, since he had not fully revealed himself at that point in time, seeming to condone such things such as slavery, an eye for an eye, etc. Does this make morality relative during that time? If so,
does it still morality relative today? Even though God came to earth is he truly fully revealed? If God is capable of revealing himself further to us, then will our decedents looks back on us one day and say our morality was relative to our understanding of God?

Morality is not relative. So how do we explain why the Old Testament permits certain things that we understand to be objectively wrong? The Jewish philosopher Maimonides proposed a solution in his Guide of the Perplexed (Book 3, Ch. 32):

…When such an animal is born it is extremely tender, and cannot be fed with dry food. Therefore breasts were provided which yield milk, and the young can be fed with moist food which corresponds to the condition of the limbs of the animal, until the latter have gradually become dry and hard.

Many precepts in our Law are the result of a similar course adopted by the same Supreme Being. It is, namely, impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other: it is therefore according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed…

…There occurs in the Law a passage which contains exactly the same idea; it is the following: “God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt; but God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea,” etc. (Exod. xiii. 17). Here God led the people about, away from the direct road which He originally intended, because He feared they might meet on that way with hardships too great for their ordinary strength; He took them by another road in order to obtain thereby His original object. In the same manner God refrained from prescribing what the people by their natural disposition would be incapable of obeying, and gave the above-mentioned commandments as a means of securing His chief object, viz., to spread a knowledge of Him [among the people], and to cause them to reject idolatry. It is contrary to man’s nature that he should suddenly abandon all the different kinds of Divine service and the different customs in which he has been brought up, and which have been so general, that they were considered as a matter of course…

In Christian tradition we see this through the lens of God’s gradual revelation: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1) and Jesus appears to say that the Mosaic law did in fact make concessions to the weakness of human nature (Matthew 19:8). This would be in harmony with the traditional Jewish view that God permitted certain things but did not approve of them and gave every indication that they were wrong.

Britain’s Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks:

There is little doubt that in terms of the Torah’s value system the exercise of power by one person over another, without their consent, is a fundamental assault against human dignity. … So slavery is to be abolished. … [God] wanted slavery abolished but he wanted it to be done by free human beings coming to see of their own accord the evil it is and the evil it does. The God of history, who taught us to study history, had faith that eventually we would learn the lesson of history: that freedom is indivisible. We must grant freedom to others if we truly seek it for ourselves."


Sacks, Jonathan. “The Slow End of Slavery.” Orthodox Union. Accessed 21 December 2014

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