Monday, September 28, 2009

The Rahab problem

Also known as the Euthyphro problem. The story goes that Euthyphro was asking Plato about the definition of holiness and finally described it as an action of the gods, but Plato asked what if the gods did something 'unholy'? With Rahab, her lies saved the Jewish spies (Joshua 2:1-14), an action considered virtuous (James 2:25). How do we resolve this apparent contradiction? How do we take the 'Rahab problem' into account when we build our moral basis for Christian Ethics?


  1. With an external standard of goodness we judge God, Rahab and ourselves.
  2. We simply accept that although God provides absolute standards, they'll clash occasionally because His will to do and define how He pleases is His most important attribute.
  3. Humankind is made in God's image and so share common assumptions about what is good. This means God's character is His most important attribute.
  4. Graded Absolutism: God's commands are ranked in importance.

3 comments:

ish said...

Was Rabab flawed, but consistent with the light that she had? We all fall short of God's perfection. Other figures in the Scriptures are spoken of as 'walking in the way of the Lord' and 'righteous' and yet we know they too, like the rest of us, were flawed and inconsistent.

Andrew Bowles said...

The Euthyphro problem doesn't seem to get to the heart of Biblical faith for me. In it's original form it is not about God anyway, but about pointing out that polytheism does not provide a moral absolute since the gods themselves are not an absolute principle. In Trinitarian terms we would say that there is no 'unhypostatised' reality in God, so his goodness is not something separate from his being and therefore cannot be considered as a separate entity. I don't think the Bible buys into divine command theory anyway, even the ten commandments are a relational covenant rather than a revelation of an absolute standard. In the New Testament we move into the concept sanctification, which is only incidentally related to obeying moral commands.

What did Rahab actually do that was wrong, anyway?

arthurandtamie said...

Similar to what Andrew says, I wonder if it might be something like:

5. God himself is the standard/absolute.

In other words, there are no universal, black/white absolutes of 'right' or 'wrong', as if those things could exist in a vacuum, such as 'lie' or 'murder'. An action will only be 'right' or 'wrong' insofar as it relates to God himself...

Arthur