The Dating of the New Testament

Norman Geisler

When the New Testament was written is a significant issue, as one assembles the overall argument for Christianity. Confidence in the historical accuracy of these documents depends partly on whether they were written by eyewitnesses and contemporaries to the events described, as the Bible claims. Negative critical scholars strengthen their own views as they separate the actual events from the writings by as much time as possible.

For this reason radical scholars argue for late first century, and if possible second century, dates for the autographs [original manuscripts]. By these dates they argue that the New Testament documents, especially the Gospels, contain mythology. The writers created the events contained, rather than reported them.

Arguments for Early Dates (Luke and Acts)

The Gospel of Luke was written by the same author as the Acts of the Apostles, who refers to Luke as the 'former account' of 'all that Jesus began to do and teach' (Acts 1:1). The destiny ('Theophilus'), style, and vocabulary of the two books betray a common author. Roman historian Colin Hemer has provided powerful evidence that Acts was written between AD 60 and 62. This evidence includes these observations:

1. There is no mention in Acts of the crucial event of the fall of Jerusalem in 70.
2. There is no hint of the outbreak of the Jewish War in 66 or of serious deterioration of relations between Romans and Jews before that time.
3. There is no hint of the deterioration of Christian relations with Rome during the Neronian persecution of the late 60s.
4. There is no hint of the death of James at the hands of the Sanhedrin in ca. 62, which is recorded by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews (
5. The significance of Gallio's judgement in Acts 18:14-17 may be seen as setting precedent to legitimize Christian teaching under the umbrella of the tolerance extended to Judaism.
6. The prominence and authority of the Sadducees in Acts reflects a pre-70 date, before the collapse of their political cooperation with Rome.
7. The relatively sympathetic attitude in Acts to Pharisees (unlike that found even in Luke's Gospel) does not fit well with in the period of Pharisaic revival that led up to the council at Jamnia. At that time a new phase of conflict began with Christianity.
8. Acts seems to antedate the arrival of Peter in Rome and implies that Peter and John were alive at the time of the writing.
9. The prominence of 'God-fearers' in the synagogues may point to a pre-70 date, after which there were few Gentile inquiries and converts to Jerusalem.
10. Luke gives insignificant details of the culture of an early, Julio-Claudian period.
11. Areas of controversy described presume that the temple was still standing.
12. Adolf Harnack contended that Paul's prophecy in Acts 20:25 (cf. 20:38) may have been contradicted by later events. If so, the book must have appeared before those events.
13. Christian terminology used in Acts reflects an earlier period. Harnack points to use of Iusous and Ho Kurios, while Ho Christos always designates 'the Messiah', and is not a proper name for Jesus.
14. The confident tone of Acts seems unlikely during the Neronian persecutions of Christians and the Jewish War with the Rome during the late 60s.
15. The action ends very early in the 60s, yet the description in Acts 27 and 28 is written with a vivid immediacy. It is also an odd place to end the book if years have passed since the pre-62 events transpired.

If Acts was written in 62 or before, and Luke was written before Acts (say 60), then Luke was written less than thirty years of the death of Jesus. This is contemporary to the generation who witnessed the events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. This is precisely what Luke claims in the prologue to his Gospel:

Many have undertaken to draw up a record of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. [5uke 1:1-4]

Luke presents the same information about who Jesus is, what he taught, and his death and resurrection as do the other Gospels. Thus, there is not a reason to reject their historical accuracy either.

First Corinthians

It is widely accepted by critical and conservative scholars that 1 Corinthians was written by 55 or 56. This is less than a quarter century after the crucifixion in 33. Further, Paul speaks of more than 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection who were still alive when he wrote (15:6). Specifically mentioned are the twelve apostles and James the brother of Jesus. Internal evidence is strong for this early date:

1. The book repeatedly claims to be written by Paul (1:1, 12-17; 3:4, 6, 22; 16:21).
2. There are parallels with the book of Acts.
3. There is a ring of authenticity to the book from beginning to end.
4. Paul mentions 500 who had seen Christ, most of whom were still alive.
5. The contents harmonize with what has been learned about Corinth during that era.

There is also external evidence:

1. Clement of Rome refers to it in his own Epistle to the Corinthians (chap. 47.)
2. The Epistle of Barnabas alludes to it (chap. 4).
3. Shepherd of Hermas mentions it (chap. 4).
4. There are nearly 600 quotations of 1 Corinthians in Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian alone (Theissen, 201). It is one of the best attested books of any kind from the ancient world.

Along with 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians and Galatians are well attested and early. All three reveal a historical interest in the events of Jesus' life and give facts that agree with the Gospels. Paul speaks of Jesus' virgin birth (Galatians 4:4), sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21), death on the cross (1 Corinthians 15:3Galatians 3:13); resurrection on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:4), and post-resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). He mentions the hundreds of eyewitnesses who could verify the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6). Paul rests the truth of Christianity on the historicity of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Paul also gives historical details about Jesus' contemporaries, the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:5-8), including his private encounters with Peter and the apostles (Galatians 1:18-2:14). Surrounding persons, places, and events of Christ's birth were all historical. Luke goes to great pains to note that Jesus was born during the days of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) and was baptised in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee. Annas and Caiaphas were high priests (Luke 3:1-2).

Acceptance of Early Dates

There is a growing acceptance of earlier New Testament dates, even among some liberal scholars. Two illustrate this point, former liberal William F. Albright and radical critic John A.T. Robinson.

William F. Albright wrote, 'We can already say emphatically that there is no long any basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about AD 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.' (Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands, 136). Elsewhere Albright said, 'In my opinion, every book of the New Testament was written by a baptised Jew between the forties and eighties of the first century (very probably sometime between about AD 50 and 75)' ('Towards a More Conservative View,' 3).

This scholar went so far as to affirm that the evidence from the Qumran community show that the concepts, terminology, and mind set of the Gospel of John is probably first century ('Recent Discoveries in Palestine'). 'Thanks to the Qumran discoveries, the New Testament proves to be in fact what it was formerly believed to be: the teaching of Christ and his immediate followers between cir. 25 and cir. 80 AD' (From Stone Age to Christianity, 23).

Known for his role in launching the 'Death of God' movement, John A. T. Robinson wrote a revolutionary book titled Redating the New Testament, in which he posited revised dates for the New Testament books that place them earlier than the most conservative scholars ever held. Robinson places Matthew at 40 to after 60, Mark at about 45 to 60, Luke at before 57 to after 60, and John at from 40 to after 65. This would mean that one or two of the Gospels could have been written as early as seven years after the crucifixion. At the latest they were all composed within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the events. Assuming the basic integrity and reasonable accuracy of the writers, this would place the reliability of the New Testaments beyond reasonable doubt.

Other Evidence – Early Citations

Of the four Gospels alone there are 19,368 citations by the church fathers from the late first century on. This includes 268 by Justin Martyr (100-165), 1038 by Irenaeus (active in the late second century), 1017 by Clement of Alexandria (ca. 155-ca. 220), 9231 by Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254), 3822 by Tertullian (ca. 160s-ca. 220), (ca. 160s-ca. 220), 734 by Hippolytus (d. ca. 236), and 3258 by Eusebius (ca. 265-ca.339; Geisler, 431).

Earlier, Clement of Rome cited Matthew, John, and 1 Corinthians, in 95 to 97. Ignatius referred to six Pauline epistles in about 110, and between 110 and 150 Polycarp quoted from all four gospels, Acts, and most of Paul's epistles. Shepherd of Hermas (115-140) cited Matthew, Mark, Acts, 1 Corinthians, and other books. Didache (120-150) referred to Matthew, Luke, 1 Corinthians, and other books. Papias, companion of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John, quoted John. This argues powerfully that the gospels were in existence before the end of the first century, while some eyewitnesses (including John) were still alive.

Other Evidence – Early Greek Manuscripts

The earliest undisputed manuscript of a New Testament book is the John Rylands papyri (p52), dated from 117 to 138. This fragment of John's gospel survives from within a generation of composition. Since the book was composed in Asia Minor and this fragment was found in Egypt, some circulation time is demanded, surely placing composition of John within the first century. Whole books (Bodmer Papyri) are available from 200. Most of the New Testament, including all the gospels, is available in the Chester Beatty Papyri manuscript from 150 yeas after the New Testament was finished (ca. 250). No other book from the ancient world has as small a time gap between composition and earliest manuscript copies as the New Testament.

Jose O'Callahan, a Spanish Jesuit paleographer, made headlines around the world on March 18, 1972, when he identified a manuscript fragment from Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) as a piece from the gospel of Mark. The piece was from Cave 7. Fragments from this cave had previously been dated between 50 BC and AD 50, hardly within the time frame established for New Testament writings. Using the accepted methods of papyrology and palaeography, O'Callahan compared sequences of letters with existing documents and eventually identified nine fragments as belonging to one gospel, Acts, and few epistles. Some of these were dated slightly later than 50, but still extremely early:

TextFragmentApprox. date

Mark 4:287Q6AD 50

Mark 6:487Q15AD ?

Mark 6:52537Q5AD 50

Mark 12:177Q7AD 50

Acts 27:387Q6AD 60+

Romans 55:11127Q9AD 70+

1 Timothy 3:16,4:1-37Q4AD 70+

2 Peter 1:157Q10AD 70+

James 1:23247Q8AD 70+


Both friends and critics acknowledge that, if valid, O'Callahan's conclusions will revolutionise New Testament theories. If even some of these fragments are from the New Testament, the implications for Christian apologetics are enormous. Mark and / or Acts must have been written within the lifetime of the apostles and contemporaries of the events. There would have been no time for mythological embellishment of the records. They must be accepted as historical. Mark could be shown to be an early gospel. There would hardly be time for a predecessor series of Q manuscripts. And since these manuscripts are not originals but copies, parts of the New Testament would have been shown to have been copied and disseminated during the lives of the writers. No first century date allows time for myths or legends to creep into the stories about Jesus. Legend development takes at least two full generations, according to A.N Sherwin-White (see Sherwin-White, 189). Physical remoteness from the actual events is also helpful. Neither are available here. The thought is utterly ridiculous with a ca. 50 or earlier Mark. Even putting aside O'Callahan's controversial claims, the cumulative evidence places the New Testament within the first century, and the lives of eyewitnesses.


W.F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel.
– From Stone Age to Christianity.
– Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands.

– 'Recent Discoveries in Palestine and the Gospel of St. John,' in W.D. Davies and David Daube, eds., The Background of the New Testament and Its Eschatology.
– 'William Albright: Towards a More Conservative View,' Christianity Today (18 January 1963).
R. Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate.
D. Estrada and W. White, Jr., The First New Testament.
E. Fisher, 'New Testament Documents among the Dead Sea Scrolls?' The Bible Today 61 (1972).
P. Garnet, 'O'Callahan's Fragments: Our Earliest New Testament Texts?'Evangelical Quarterly 45 (1972).
N. Geisler, General Introduction to the Bible.
C.J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History.
B. Orchard, 'A Fragment of St. Mark's Gospel Dating from before AD 50?' Biblical Apostolate 6 (1972).
W.N. Pickering, The Identification of the New Testament Text.
W. White, Jr, 'O'Callahan's Identifications: Confirmation and Its Consequences, 'Westminster Journal 35 (1972).
J.A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament.
A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.
H.C. Theissen, Introduction to the New Testament.
J. Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark, and Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem.
E. Yamauchi, 'Easter-Myth, Hallucination, or History,' Christianity Today (15 March 1974; 28 March 1974).

Do We Have the Exact Words of Jesus in the Gospels?

Norman L. Geisler


 The question is sometimes raised as to whether the Gospel have the words Jesus said. Liberal critics deny this, assigning large portions of Jesus words to the Gospel writers but denying Jesus actually said them.  So, the writers are not reporting but are creating the words of Jesus.  However, evangelical scholars reject this and affirm that the NT is accurately reporting, not distorting, Jesus’ teaching.  So, when the NT says Jesus said it, then Jesus actually said it.   

However, as we noted elsewhere, “Of course, this does not always mean we have the exact words Jesus spoke (ipsissima verba), but we do have an accurate reproduction of their meaning (ipsissima vox).  After all, Jesus probably spoke in Aramaic and the New Testament is written in Greek.  So, even in the original, the New Testament authors were translating what Jesus said.  Also, a comparison of parallel passages in the Gospels reveals that the words Jesus spoke on the same occasion are not always exactly the same.  Sometimes one Gospel gives only part of what he said, and other times the wording is different, thought the meaning is the same” (N. L. Geisler,  A Popular Survey of the New Testament , Baker, 2007, p. 345). 

Another question is the role of the Holy Spirit.  When Jesus promised he would bring to the minds of the apostles whatever he had taught them (Jn. 14:26:16:13), does this mean that it was a word-for-word dictation of what Jesus said?  Not necessarily, although the Holy Spirit is capable of doing this, but this is not at all necessary to the doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.  What was guaranteed by this Spirit-guided process was that they would remember all that Jesus taught them (Jn. 14:26) and that the Holy Spirit would “guide them into all truth” (Jn. 16:13).  That is, they would not forget any truth Jesus taught them, and they would not commit any error on the matter.  Giving the exact words is not necessary to accurately conveying what Jesus taught.  There are many ways to convey the same meaning without using the exact same words, and the Holy Spirit is capable of both.

"If God Exists, Why Does Evil?" - Dr. Norman Geisler

What is Evil and  How Did It Get Here?

Why Is It Still Happening and What is the Purpose of Evil?

Dr. Norman Geisler

, who trained and instructed William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias, gives some lucid and helpful insights into these fundamental questions concerning the "Problem of Evil and Suffering".  

It is interesting to note, that every Worldview have to answer the "Problem of Evil" coherently, even though according to consistent Atheism there is no such thing as "evil" and with Pantheism "evil" is simply and illusion.

Christian Theism

seems to be the only Worldview that gives a consistent and satisfying answer to the "Problem of Evil", both intellectually and practically.  It's good to be a Christian and a follower of Jesus!  I don't have enough blind faith to commit to any of the alternate worldviews - there simply isn't enough justification to do so, intellectually or evidentially. 

Have an Intelligent Faith!

- Pastor J. 

Christianity beats Atheism?!?

Is Christianity rationally and evidentially superior to all other Worldviews?

(pt.3 of 3) 

This is Lesson #2 in our video class on foundational Christian Apologetics, entitled 

"The War of the Worldviews"

.  Here I begin to cover what a worldview is, what the seven major worldviews are, and how each of them compares to Christian Theism in terms of their logical consistency and evidential strength.  

In today's culture of Pluralism (many roads to God), Syncretism (the combining of many different religions/philosophies into one), and Relativism (all truths are subjective and not absolute), having a solid understanding of worldviews in general, and of the Christian worldview in particular, is absolutely vital.

As one man said, Christians need to start thinking "Worldview-ishly" as we share our faith and live out our beliefs in public.  I hope this teaching is of benefit to you, and that you can grow of your understanding in this very important area of our thinking.  

Here is a wonderful book by Dr. Norman Geisler if you want to study deeper in this area of your thinking and faith: 

"Worlds Apart: A Handbook On Worldviews".  It can be found 


 on Amazon. 

Have an Intelligent Faith!

- Pastor J.

Any Absolutes? Absolutely!

By: Norman L. Geisler

Can a system of ethics be sustained apart from a belief in moral absolutes? And, can a belief in moral absolutes be sustained apart from a biblical world view? Norman L. Geisler

provides compelling answers to these questions in this highly readable survey of basic issues and options in Christian ethics.

Absolutes- Summary

Though non-Christians have offered various relativistic definitions of moral “right,” all fall short of an adequate basis for making ethical decisions. Christians define “right” in terms of what God wills. What God wills is rooted in His moral nature. And since His moral nature does not change, it follows that moral obligations flowing from His nature are absolute (they are binding everywhere on everyone). When two or more absolutes come into conflict, the Christian is responsible for obeying the greater commandment. The Christian is not held guilty for not following the lesser of two (or more) conflicting commandments.

Once while in Australia for a speaking engagement, I was engaged in dinner conversation with a medical student. “What is the subject of your lecture series?” he asked. “Ethics,” I replied. “What is that?” he inquired. I took a moment to recover from my shock. Here was a bright young man about to enter a profession involving some of the major ethical decisions of our time who did not even know what ethics was!

I said softly and gently, so as not to offend him for his ignorance, “Ethics deals with what is right and what is wrong.” I confess I felt a bit like the famed football coach Vince Lombardi, who once, after his Green Bay Packers played a particularly inept game, allegedly told the battered team, “This is a football!” Perhaps we cannot get too basic. In view of this, I will begin with some basic definitions.


Many non-Christian thinkers have offered definitions of moral “right” and “wrong.” All fall short of an adequate basis for making ethical decisions. But each offers the occasion for insight into the true nature of ethics.


Absolutes- Might Is Right

Thrasymachus, the ancient Greek philosopher, believed that right is found in might. According to this position, “justice is the interest of the stronger party.” What is morally right is defined in terms of who has the power. This is often understood as political power, such as Machiavelli believed. However, it could mean physical, psychological, or other kinds of power.

The might-is-right theory contains several fatal flaws, but the most fatal is this: it fails to recognize the difference between power and goodness. It is possible to be powerful without being good, and it is possible to be good without being powerful. Evil tyrants from Nero to Stalin are sufficient evidence to refute the belief that might makes right. History provides ample testimony that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Absolutes- Morals Are Mores

Another ethical theory suggests that what is morally right is determined by the culture to which one belongs. Ethics is defined in terms of what is ethnically acceptable. What the community says constitutes what is morally right for its members. Cultural practices are ethical commands. Whatever similarity may exist between moral codes in different social groups is simply due to common needs and aspirations, not to any universal moral prescriptions.

The first difficulty with this position is what is called the “is-ought” fallacy. Simply because someone is doing something does not mean one ought to do so. Otherwise, racism, rape, cruelty, and murder would automatically be morally right. Further, if each individual community’s mores are right, then there is no way to adjudicate conflicts between different communities. For unless there are moral principles above all communities, there is no moral way to solve conflicts between them. Finally, if morals are relative to each social group, then even opposite ethical imperatives can be viewed as right. But contradictory imperatives cannot both be true. Everything cannot be right, certainly not opposites.

Absolutes- Man Is the Measure

The ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras claimed “man is the measure of all things.” Understood in the individual sense, this means each person is the standard for right and wrong. The morally right thing to do is what is morally right for me. And what is right for me may be wrong for another and vice versa.

This theory is morally unacceptable because it implies that an act can be right for someone even if it is cruel, hateful, or tyrannical. Further, if this theory were put in practice, society would be rendered inoperative. There can be no true community where there is no common core of basic values. If everyone literally “did his own thing,” chaos would result. Finally, this theory does not tell us which aspect of human nature should be taken as the measure of all things. One cannot simply beg the question by taking only the “good aspects.” For that implies some standard of good beyond individuals or the race by which one can tell what is good and what is evil in human nature or activity.

Absolutes- The Human Race Is the Basis of Right

In an attempt to avoid the radical individualism and ethical solipsism of the previous position, some posit that the human race as a whole is the standard for good. According to this theory, the part does not determine what is right for the whole, but the whole determines what is right for the part. In brief, humankind is the measure of all things.

It should be noted, however, that even the whole race could be wrong. Whole communities, like Jonestown, have committed mass suicide. What if the majority of the human race decided that suicide was the best “solution” to the world’s problems? Should dissenters be forced to conform? Further, the human race is changing, as are its ethical practices. Child sacrifice was once commonly approved, as was slavery. Today we like to think the race has a better moral standard. But better implies a best or an objective standard outside the race by which the progress can be measured. The fact is, we cannot gauge the moral level of the human race unless there is a perfect standard outside it by which it can be measured.

Absolutes- Right Is Moderation

The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle believed morality is found in moderation. The right course of action is the “golden mean” or moderate course of action between two extremes. Temperance, for example, is the mean between indulgence and insensibility. Pride is the moderate course between vanity and humility. Courage is the ideal between fear and aggression.


Certainly moderation is often the wisest course. Even the Bible says, “Let your moderation be known to all men” (Phil. 4:5). The question is not whether moderation is often the proper expression of morality but whether it is the proper definition (or essence) of morality.

Several reasons suggest strongly that moderation is not the essence of what is good. First, many times the right thing is the extreme thing to do. Emergencies, actions taken in self-defense, and wars against aggression are cases in point. In these situations moderate actions are not always the best ones. As well, some virtues obviously should not be expressed in moderate amounts. One should not love only moderately. Neither should one be moderately grateful, truthful, or generous. Further, there is no universal agreement on what is moderate. Aristotle, for example, considered humility a vice (an extreme); Christians believe it is a virtue. Moderation is at best only a general guide for action, not a universal ethical rule.

Absolutes- Right Is What Brings Pleasure

Although Epicurus himself was more moderate, some Epicureans (4th century B.C. and following) were hedonists who claimed that what brings pleasure is morally right, and what brings pain is morally wrong. Since few things are all pleasure or all pain, however, the formula for determining what is good is more complicated. The good, they claim, is what brings the most pleasure and least pain to the greatest number of people.

Among the difficulties with this theory is that not all pleasures are good (e.g., sadism), and not all pain is bad (e.g., warning pains). Then, too, this theory does not specify what kind of pleasure should be used as the basis of the test. (There are physical, psychological, spiritual, and other kinds of pleasure.) Further, are we to use immediate pleasure (in this life) or ultimate pleasure (in the next life) as the test? Finally, should our gauge be pleasure for the individual, the group, or the race? In short, this theory raises more questions than it answers.

Absolutes- Right Is the Greatest Good for the Greatest Number

In view of the problems just mentioned, utilitarians define moral rightness in terms of what brings the greatest good in the long run. Some have understood the meaning of good quantitatively — that is, the greatest amount of pleasure. Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) fits into this category.


 Others, such as John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), viewed it qualitatively — that is, the greatest kind of pleasure for the greatest number.


One problem with the utilitarian view relates to deciding how “good” should be understood (e.g., quantitatively or qualitatively). Moreover, it begs the question to say that moral right is what brings the greatest good. For then we must ask what is “good”? Either right and good are defined in terms of each other, which is circular reasoning, or they must be defined according to some standard beyond the utilitarian process.

Further, no one can accurately predict what will happen in the long run. Hence, for all practical purposes, a utilitarian definition of good is useless. We must still fall back on something else to determine what is good now, in the short run.

Absolutes- Right Is What Is Desirable for Its Own Sake

Some ethicists have defined good as that which is desirable for its own sake, in and of itself.


 Moral value is viewed as an end, not a means. It is never to be desired for the sake of anything else. For example, no one should desire virtue as a means of getting something else (such as riches or honor). Virtue should be desired for its own sake.

This view has obvious merit, but it raises several questions. First, it does not really define the content of a morally good act but simply designates the direction one finds good (namely, in ends). Moreover, it is easy to confuse what is desired and what is desirable (i.e., what ought to be desired). This leads to another criticism. Good cannot simply be that which is desired (as opposed to what is really desirable), since we often desire what is evil. Finally, what appears to be good in itself is not always really good. Suicide seems to be good to someone in distress but really is not good. It does not solve any problem; it is the final cop-out from solving the problem.

Absolutes- Right Is Indefinable

Despairing of any hope of specifying what is morally right, some thinkers simply insist that good is indefinable. G. E. Moore (1873–1958), for instance, argued that every attempt to define good commits the “naturalistic fallacy.” This fallacy results from assuming that because pleasure can be attributed to good they are identical. Moore contended that all we can say is that “good is good” and nothing more.


 Attempting to define good in terms of something else makes that something the intrinsic good.

There is some merit in this view. There can be only one ultimate good, and everything else must be subordinated to it. However, the view as such is inadequate. First, it provides no content for what good means. But if there is no content to what is right or wrong, then there is no way to distinguish a good act from an evil one. Further, just because the good cannot be defined in terms of something more ultimate does not mean it cannot be defined at all. For example, a morally good God could create morally good creatures like Himself. In such a case, even though God is the ultimate moral good, nonetheless. His goodness could be understood from the moral creatures He has willed to be like Himself.

Absolutes- Good Is What God Wills

One final alternative is to define good in terms of what God wills. This view is sometimes called the divine command theory of ethics. Whatever action God specifies as a good action is a good action. Conversely, if God specifies an action to be evil, then it is evil. Thus, moral good is both ultimate and specifiable. It is ultimate because it comes from God. It is specifiable since it can be found in His revelation to humankind.

There are two objections often raised against this view. First, it is alleged that it is a form of authoritarianism. This objection, however, is valid only if the authority is less than ultimate. That is, if any finite creature professed to have this ultimate authority, then we could rightly cry “authoritarianism.” However, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that the Ultimate Authority has ultimate authority. If an absolutely perfect God exists, then by His very nature He is the ultimate standard for what is good and what is not.

The second objection argues that defining good in terms of God’s will is arbitrary. This objection applies, however, only to a voluntaristic view of good, not to an essentialistic view. A voluntarist believes that something is good simply because God wills it. An essentialist, on the other hand, holds that God wills something because it is good in accordance with His own nature. This form of the divine command view of ethics escapes these criticisms and forms the basis for a Christian ethic.


The Christian view of right and wrong is neither arbitrary nor groundless. It is not arbitrary because what God wills is in accord with His nature as absolute good. It is not groundless because it is rooted in what never changes, namely, God’s immutable essence: “I the Lord change not” (Mal. 3:6); “There is no shadow of change” with God (James 1:17). Even though the universe will change, “You [God] are the same,” declared the psalmist (Ps. 102:27). Although God is free to act according to the dictates of His own essential goodness, He is not “free” to act contrary to it. Likewise, His commands will always be rooted in His immutable nature as the ultimate Good.

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Can Atheists Justify Being Good Without God ?

by Norman L. Geisler


 There is a new atheist’s ad out with a picture of  Santa Claus and the words: “Why  believe in a god?Just be good for goodness sake.”  This is clever, but is it possible?  Let’s analyze it more carefully. 

First, if there is no Moral Law Giver (God), then how can there be a moral law that prescribes: “Be good.”  Every prescription has a prescriber, and this is a moral prescription.

Second, what does “good” mean?  How is good to be defined.? If it can mean anything for anyone, then it means nothing for anyone.  It is total relativism. Being “good” for some (like Nazis) can mean killing Jews.  But for Jews it is evil.  Hence, on this view there is no objective difference between good and evil.

Third,  what does “goodness” itself mean in the atheist slogan.  Being good “for goodness sake” implies that something is just plain good in itself.  That is, it is an ultimate goodness.  But this by definition is what Christians mean by God.  Everything else has goodness, but only God (the Ultimate) is goodness.  In this case, the atheist is using “goodness” as a surrogate or substitute for God.  

This maneuver is not uncommon for atheists. Before the Big Bang evidence, atheists were fond of doing this with the word  “universe.”  It was supposed to be eternal and, hence, needed no Cause since only what begins needs a Beginner.  Carl Sagan employed the term “Cosmos” as a God-substitute.  He said, “the COSMOS is everything that ever was, is, or will be.”  It sounds a little like what Psalm 90 declares: “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”  Bertrand Russell attempted the same tactic in his famous BBC debate with Father Copleston.  When asked what caused the universe, he replied that nothing did.  It was just “there.”  But how does an eternal, uncaused universe from which everything else came to be differ from an Uncaused Cause (God)?

However, in the light of the Big Bang evidence that the universe had a beginning, these answers lack scientific support.  As agnostic Jastrow put it, "The scientist’s pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation."  And  "This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but theologians.  They have always accepted the word of the Bible: `In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth'" (God and the Astronomers, 115).

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