Introduction: Do you know moral people who do not seem religious or
believe in God? On what is their morality based? Today, we have
competing views on what is moral. On one side is a belief in
equality – that all ideas, all philosophies and all opinions are
equal and should be equally valued. On the other side, the Bible
declares that some opinions are worthy of eternal life and some
worthy of eternal death. Equal opportunity is equal opportunity for
salvation. Differences in life, even disabilities, are opportunities
to bring glory to God. These are much different views of what is
right, moral and just. Let’s jump into our study of creation and the
Bible and see if we can better understand this!

  1. Tree Morality

    1. Read Genesis 2:8-9. Who owned the trees? (Read Genesis
      1:29-30. Trees were given to humans and animals to eat.
      They were a gift.)

      1. Would you say that humans had an inherent legal right
        to eat plants and the fruit of trees? (Unless you own
        something, you do not have the right to eat it. Once
        God gave them the right to eat, they had that right.
        But, it was not inherent.)

    2. Read Genesis 2:15-17. Does this change the nature of the
      legal right to eat the plants? (Yes. God has now entered
      into an employment contract with Adam. Adam takes care of
      the plants and trees in exchange for a promise that he can
      eat from what grows. He works for food. Adam has an
      enforceable legal right to eat if he works.)

      1. Does Adam’s contract include the right to eat from
        the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? (No.)

    3. The law has two kinds of rules. Rules which exist only
      because the government has authority to make the rule, and
      rules which reflect morality. These are called “malum
      prohibitum” (bad because it is prohibited) and “malum in
      se” (bad because it is evil). Another way to say this is
      that rules which exist simply because humans have made
      them are “positive law” and rules which prohibit evil are
      “natural law.” Is the speed limit malum prohibitum
      (positive law) or malum in se (natural law)? (The speed
      limits where I live get changed all the time, therefore
      they are malum prohibitum.)

    4. Look again at Genesis 2:16-17. Is this malum prohibitum or
      malum in se?

      1. Read Genesis 1:11-12. How does this impact your
        opinion? (The fruit of all trees was declared to be
        good. Therefore, God’s rule on the Tree of the
        Knowledge of Good and Evil would seem to be malum

    5. Read Genesis 3:2-5. What is Satan’s argument? (That the
      rule is malum prohibitum, and it is wrong.)

      1. Is Satan arguing more than that? (He seems to say
        that God’s rule is itself malum in se – that it
        violates the natural right of humans to know good and

      2. Can you explain why humans would have a natural right
        to know everything? (If they are to be treated
        equally with God and Satan then they would have a
        natural right to this information.)

      3. Is equality a natural right? Is it malum prohibitum
        to fail to treat everyone equally? (Clearly God and
        humans are not equal. God and Satan are not equal.)

    6. Let’s step back a few moments and contemplate this.

      1. If the rule on eating fruit plunged the entire human
        race into sin and sentenced us all to death, how can
        it be malum prohibitum? Humans generally agree that
        killing someone is malum in se!

      2. What about the knowledge of good and evil? Isn’t it
        inherently better to have more knowledge? In the
        abstract, isn’t Satan right?(This shows that equality
        of opinion, at least, is not a natural right. Satan’s
        opinion has been proven to be inferior to God’s

        1. How does the amount of information available to
          Eve impact this discussion? (If Eve knew more
          she would better understand the competing
          claims of God and Satan, and know that eating
          the fruit was the most serious malum in se

      3. What is the logical conclusion to be reached from the
        answers to these questions? What rule would you apply
        to decide which rules reflect the avoidance of true
        evil? What is the best guide to malum in se?(I
        suggest this: All of God’s rules, whether they seem
        to be malum prohibitum or malum in se are to be
        treated as malum in se. The reason being that God
        knows and understands everything and we do not!
        Humans can create positive law which is only malum
        prohibitum, but all of God’s commands reflect malum
        in se.)

  2. Examples

    1. Read Proverbs 14:31. Let’s remove, for a minute, the
      references to God. Is it malum prohibitum or malum in se
      to treat a person who has less money differently?

      1. This text complicates the issue because it refers to
        oppression and kindness. But, let’s say for purposes
        of this discussion, that not giving a person equal
        time or attention because of their lack of wealth
        would be considered “oppression” or “unkindness.”

      2. If your philosophy is that all opinions, ideas and
        people are equal, what would be your answer to the
        malum prohibitum/malum in se question about how you
        treat the poor? (It would be malum prohibitum,
        because not considering everything to be equal would
        be evil.)

      3. What would be the answer if you were selling million
        dollar sailboats?

      4. What would be your answer if you were looking for a
        sales person for your company, and you know that this
        person is poor because he is lazy or lacks emotional

    2. I can think of many practical reasons why you would not
      treat the poor equally. Let’s go back to Proverbs 14:31
      and consider the “God reasons.” What reason does God say
      we should treat the poor equally, and what does this have
      to do with the Creation? (God is the One who created both
      the poor and the rich, and God says we dishonor Him when
      we treat the poor badly.)

    3. Read Proverbs 22:2, Proverbs 22:4 and Proverbs 22:7. Do
      these texts argue for equality of thought and action? (No.
      Certain decisions improve your life or make it worse.)

      1. What, then, is Proverbs 22:2 saying to us? (One area
        of equality is that God is the Maker of all humans.
        This forms a baseline for our treatment of others.)

    4. There are trends in “morality” that are based on something
      other than the Bible. About a hundred years ago a popular
      theory was eugenics, which said that the human race could
      be greatly improved by paying attention to its genetic
      composition. Abortion has its roots in this movement,
      because it was thought this was a good way to control the
      birth rate of “undesirable” individuals. How does Proverbs
      22:2 speak to this kind of “morality?”

    5. Read Matthew 5:43-48. How would you resolve these
      “neighbor” issues without any reference to the words of

      1. How does the creation and our status as children of
        God change the answer?

    6. Read Matthew 25:31-36 and Matthew 25:40. Let’s just focus
      on one of these – taking care of the sick. What moral
      reasons could you think of for avoiding those who are ill?
      (They might be contagious! Think of what this might mean
      to you and your family? If you got sick you might not be
      able to work!)

      1. How does our conception of God as our Creator and
        Redeemer change our thinking? (God, as Creator,
        identifies with those in need. We might say that the
        sick got that way because they violated God’s laws on
        health, God’s laws on sexual purity, or in some other
        way “deserved” to be sick. We can say similar things
        about those who are poor. But, having a Creator God
        gives us all a certain level of dignity and worth.
        When we aid those who are suffering, we act like our

    7. Scan Deuteronomy 28. Does this in some way moderate what
      we just discussed? Are there times when we should not
      rescue those in need? (God says that He will punish bad
      behavior. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us
      to be sure our actions are always in line with God’s
      actions. We need to have the humility to say, “How many
      times have I failed God?”)

    8. Friend, will you decide today to make God’s word the only
      basis for your moral decisions? Will you decide that if
      God prohibits something, it is malum in se, even though
      you might not understand God’s thinking?

  3. Next week: Creation and the Fall.