What Is Natural Moral Law

Article ID: DE197-1 | By: J.P. Moreland

The following is an excerpt from article DE197-1 of the Christian Research Journal. The full pdf can be downloaded by following the link below the article.


Natural Moral Law- What IsNatural Moral Law?

How should a Christian approach moral issues in a pluralistic culture? Should he or she try to work for a Christian state (one where the state is under Scripture) or should the goal be a just state?3 Must a believer appeal to Scripture in a moral argument with an unbeliever or is there, in addition, a further source of moral truth and knowledge? Throughout the history of Christianity, most Christian thinkers have acknowledged that there is something called natural moral law sourced in general revelation (certain knowable truths revealed by God through creation). Simply put, an advocate of natural moral law believes that there are certain moral laws or norms that are true and can be discerned by all men and women as men and women. These moral norms do, in fact, come from God, and the existence of such objective moral norms provides strong evidence for the existence of a moral, personal God. But one does not need to believe in God or appeal to Holy Scripture to know that certain moral precepts are genuine moral absolutes.4 Again, these basic principles of moral obligation are absolutes that are knowable (at least in principle) by all people everywhere without the aid of Scripture. What is meant by an absolute here? An absolute is an objectively true moral principle that is unchanging and cross-cultural. It is true whether or not anyone believes it to be true. Natural moral law theory implies that we discover morality — we do not invent it. Belief in a natural moral law seems to square with the Scriptures themselves. For example, one often finds the Old Testament prophets pronouncing judgments on Gentile nations who did not have the Law of Moses. The pronouncements of judgment often appeal to the fact that these nations have violated fundamental principles of morality which they know to be true — breaking promises, lying, murdering, stealing, oppressing the poor and weak (e.g., Amos 1—2). These nations do not know the God of Israel nor do they possess Holy Scripture, but they are culpable for violating basic moral principles that they should know to be true simply because they are human beings with access to the natural moral law. In the New Testament, texts such as Romans 1—2 indicate that Paul believed in a natural moral law. In this passage, Paul teaches that there is a universal knowledge of God and His moral law that is available to all men and women apart from the special revelation in the Bible. Humans, he tells us, can sin against nature (Rom. 1:26, 27); that is, against natural obligations that they should know are right because of the way things are in creation. Furthermore, Paul candidly observes that “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15 NIV). In other words, Gentiles have a knowledge of right and wrong even though they have no access to Scripture. As C. S. Lewis put it, the great majority of civilizations have acknowledged “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false….”5 While we should not be naive about moral agreement, nevertheless, natural moral law theory offers the believer this strategy: he or she should work for a just state; that is, one in which the common good is in keeping with the natural moral law. And we can have confidence that everyone should have access to some basic moral principles which they know deep down are true.