Excerpt from the Gutenberg Bible
of all Christian
begin with the
Bible – the
Sacred Word of
of reference in
the Bible for
are as follows:
The Bible and Christian Ethics
1. The Ten Commandments from the Old Testament (Deut. 5: 6-22) – given
to the Israelites as the Covenant between God and them.
2. The Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) with the Beatitudes as Jesus’ teaching on
3. Paul’s letters
4. The life and actions of Jesus on earth.
Most Christians share common ethical ideals. Different denominations, however
have some variations in their interpretation of what is authority.
Orthodox Christians in general stress the reliance on Biblical authority,
but they also place emphasis on the Church Fathers and the early Church
Councils (from Nicaea to Constantinople). They might also consult the
later Orthodox Fathers of the Eastern Church, such as St Gregory Palamas.
The Catholic Church stresses the reliance on Biblical authority, but it also
uses other sources. These are:
1. Tradition – the decisions made by the Church hierarchy (bishops and
Popes) over the centuries.
2. The Church Councils – in particular, the more recent Councils of
Trent, Vatican 1 and Vatican 2.
3. Encyclicals (formal letters) by the Pope and documents tabled by
Vatican Offices, such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
However, not all Catholics accept the teachings of the Pope or the Bishops.
In the end, the Church states that the very last resort is one’s own conscience.
In general, Protestant ethics can be divided into 2 groups - Liberals and
1. Liberal Protestants stress the concept of “situation ethics”
2. The basic concept here is that love is the only thing that is
intrinsically good and Christians decisions should always be
based on love.
3. Only the END of an action justifies the means, nothing else.
What does this mean ? It means that there is no absolute right or wrong
and that it all depends on compassion for the person. So, a young woman
who is pregnant, but unable to support the child would be helped to get an
abortion because it would relieve her suffering.
Examples of Liberal Protestants would be Anglicans in areas other than Sydney,
certain Uniting Church members, and some Lutherans. Quakers also have a
Liberal viewpoint when it comes to ethics.
1. These people stress the absolute authority of the Bible.
2. They interpret Scripture in a literal sense and little allowance is given
to human fallibility.
3. When an answer is not plainly obvious in the Bible, they will search
for related passages and try to make them fit.
4. They would condemn the woman mentioned above, as abortion is
considered murder, according to Bible teaching.
Examples of Evangelical Protestants are Sydney Anglicans, some Uniting
Church members, Baptists, Pentecostals and Presbyterians.
Catholic Church teachings on bioethics are based on the Natural Law.
This law applies to the whole human race, because every person has
Natural Law operating in his/her conscience.
The essence of it is to do good and avoid evil. The idea is that human
beings instinctively know what is right and wrong and that conscience
will guide them (provided that conscience is well informed).
The rule which God has prescribed for our conduct is present in
Nature itself – because Nature is a product of God Himself.
Thomas Aquinas the main
proponent of Natural Law
A Consistent Ethic of Life
In recent years, the Catholic Church has promoted a consistent ethic of life.
This means that we treat all life as sacred in all situations.
Thus, if we condemn abortion in any situation, we should also condemn
the destruction of life by environmental pollution and the shedding of
Life in war or in capital punishment.
Pope John Paul II was a strong supporter of this viewpoint.
A Last Note
It is important to note that not all Christians follow the dictates of their Church.
Many Catholics do not accept the Church’s teachings, particularly on issues
such as contraception and certain reasons for abortion. This is because they
see the rulings as too absolute and believe there can be exceptions to the rule.
Many Protestants may follow the evangelical ruling for issues such as
Abortion, but may tend towards the liberal viewpoint when it comes to
an issue such as euthanasia.
Orthodox followers may have the same characteristics as Roman Catholics.