The Word 'Morality' in the Bible


The word morality, if we met it in the Bible, would surprise us as much as the word telephone or motor car.

George Bernard Shaw

Any answers to this?


I would be quite surprised, as the word “morality” does not occur in the Bible (or, at least, not in the English-language KJV). I would suspect deliberate translator bias (as the NIV is well known for).


I have read in 1 Corinthians 5:33

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.

Others translate as:

Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for "bad company corrupts good character.


So he’s saying the word “morality” would be anachronistic in Biblical times? And therefore there is No morality in the Bible? The propagation of right conduct is certainly in the Bible.


I interpreted the quote in the opposite fashion. Anachronistic means out of place for the time (such as the clock chimes mentioned in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which was set long before the invention of a chiming clock).

Shaw seems to be saying that we should NOT be surprised to find the word “morality” in Scripture. Clearly, the concept of morality is expressed in many ways without using the actual word, which is what I thought Shaw was saying. My initial reply was a bit snarky, sharing in the irony of the statement (ie, that a book based upon morality would not happen to mention that word).

In a similar fashion, much of Scripture talks about laws and justice, but Scripture does not happen to employ the term “adjudicate.” But, if we encountered this term in Scripture, we should not be surprised, because the concept is well established.


Without any context to the Shaw quote, I don’t see How you can interpret it that way. For certainly “telephone” and “motor car” would be anachronistic in the Bible, just as a chiming clock would be anachronistic in Shakespeare’s Ceasar.

However, to give answer to this, I would say the problem with Shaw’s quote is that it is comparing One incorporeal thing to two corporeal things. Just because the word is not there doesn’t mean the concept is not. Just as the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible the concept is certainly there.


Other than agreement?

The NT contains more bark rather than bite, but I think it would be hard to justify the vast majority of the OT as moral by any Ethical code post 1200AD as moral.


The Bible isn’t concerned with morality. It is concerned with righteousness.

Being “moral” is about conforming to norms, which isn’t the Bible’s cup of tea at all. Being “righteous” is about being in an intimate relationship with one’s maker. It’s nothing like morality, though its effects may appear to be the same.


Here is the quotation in context


Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary:

MORALITY. Relation between a human act and the final destiny of a human being. It is the norm of behavior that flows from each person’s ultimate end, which is the possession of God in the beatific vision.

Depending on what is conceived to be this final destiny, morality will be determined accordingly. Since Catholic Christianity believes that this destiny is heaven, a human act is either good or bad according as it leads to or detracts a person from his or her heavenly goal. The moral norm of human acts, therefore, consists in their aptitude at leading one to that end. Such an aptitude cannot be created by the human will, nor is it entirely at the disposition of some arbitrary divine freedom. It flows necessarily from the nature of God, from the human nature elevated by grace, and from the nature of the acts themselves. Hence the norm of morality contains precepts that transcend every legislative will. The acts related to them are said to have an intrinsic (essential) morality of good or evil. Extrinsic morality, on the other hand, is external to this built-in relationship between action and purpose; they depend exclusively on the free dictate of the legislator.


I found at least one translation that has the word “morality” in it. The NET Bible translates Isaiah 59:14 – “Justice is driven back; godliness stands far off. Indeed, honesty stumbles in the city square and morality is not even able to enter.”


FWIW, I believe the early church fathers (Augustine, Ambrose, Aquinas et al) adopted (or looked to) the moral code of Cicero among others, specifically De Officiis (On Civic Duties), which was supposedly the second most printed book after Gutenberg. Aside from the Ten Commandments, there probably isn’t much moral guidance in the Bible or in any of its translations, but I could be wrong.


Ah, now I understand what you mean. I had interpreted Shaw’s quote as meaning that we might encounter such terms in any source (even a modern source), in which case we ought not be surprised to find such terms.

Given the lack of context, I think that either interpretation could be supported. But I strongly sense that your interpretation is correct.


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