The idea of moral relativism has been around for centuries, if not millenia. What’s good for you is good for you, what’s bad for me is bad for me. We can all do whatever we want, there is no good and no bad, only how we perceive it or think about it in our minds. There is no black or white, only gray.
“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare – Hamlet
Moral Relativism: Definition: 1) The philosophy or belief that there is no absolute value of right or wrong, and that correct moral behavior is personalized to the individual and varies based upon that person’s culture, experience and circumstances. 2) Moral Relativism can also be applied to whole societies allowing for different moral values and laws to vary based upon geographic location (i.e. country, state, city, village). 3) The opposite of Moral Relativism is Moral Absolutism which is the belief that there are immutable moral laws of right and wrong that should be applied to all people regardless of location, culture, experience and circumstances.
In the Bible the Apostle Paul states in his writings to the Corinthians, “All things are lawful unto me”. So is he agreeing with the idea of moral relativism?
This quote by Paul is admittedly taken out of context. We read this quote in chapters 6 and 10 of 1 Corinthians, and in both of these chapters Paul is admonishing for and counselling from committing sin. Clearly as we read the Bible we find that there are clear commandments to obey and clear behaviors that are sinful. Yes, there are absolutes when it comes to the laws of God.
So why then would Paul write that all things are lawful to him? Let’s look at the full verse: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” – i Corinthians 10:23-25 NKJV. Paul was talking about food.
In the Gospel, there are things that are essential – the immutable laws of God – and things that are non-essential – the traditions and customs of people. The Corinthians had blurred the lines between these and began justifying clear sin by pointing at the customs of others. For example, there were both Jews and Gentiles in the church, and the Jews ate a kosher diet while the Gentiles did not – eating different foods did not make the Gentiles sinners. Paul was making it clear, that for the essentials there should be unity and obedience, and for the non-essentials there should be liberty. So when in Rome, do as the Romans do, as long it is not sinful – and yes, we can absolutely know what sin is.