Ethics is the branch of philosophy which examines the question of what actions are morally right or wrong and why. The Bible contains numerous prescriptions or laws and many narrative accounts of ethical relevance.
Prescriptive utterances (commandments) are found throughout, some related to inter-human relationships (the prohibition against murder) while others focus on issues of worship and ritual (e.g. the Day of Atonement festival).
Jewish tradition classically schematizes these prescriptions into 613 mitzvot ("commandments"), beginning with "Be fruitful and multiply" (God's command to all life) and continuing on to the seven laws of Noah (addressed to all humanity) and the several hundred laws which apply specifically to Jews (such as the kashrut dietary laws). Jewish tradition also records the aforementioned distinction between commandment's that relate to man's interaction with fellow man (בין אדם לחבירו) and those that effect his relationship with God (בין אדם למקום Many commandments are remarkable in their blending of the two roles. For example, observance of the Shabbat is couched in terms of recognizing God's sovereignty and creation of the world, while also being presented as a social-justice measure to prevent overworking one's employees, slaves, and animals. As a result, the Bible consistently binds worship of the Divine to ethical actions and ethical actions with worship of the Divine.
The gem of Old Testament ethics is the Biblical command to "love thy neighbor as thyself." Later traditions recognized its prominence by claiming that all other commands are just means by which to accomplish this lofty goal.
The commands of the Old Testament appear in a particular context, namely that of an Iron Age Canaanite people. Thus, some commands, such as the prohibition of theft, are near-universal, while others, such as levirate marriage and the holding of slaves, record how to go about specific ancient practices. To understand the nature of these latter Old Testament commands, a full understanding of the ancient practice is necessary. In particular, understanding the way it was practiced in neighboring and pre-Biblical societies allows one to grasp the novelty of the Old Testament's preferred method.
This method has enjoyed considerable attention in the realm of Biblical court law. Understanding the Iron Age legal context highlights the ethics inherent in Old Testament legal theory. A quick survey of non-Israelite legal codes from the time produces the following patterns: punishment for mere economic crimes can be capital; punishment for murder can be a mere fine or economic recompense; a man's family can be punished for crimes he did; a high ranking ruler can pardon one subject from crimes he committed against another subject; executions were often highly symbolic, disrespectful, and unusual.
For example, certain forms of stealing were punishable by death, murder of certain individuals was punishable by supplying the injured party with new workers, if a man rapes, his wife is given over to the victim to be ravished, if a house collapses the builder is killed and his body is used in building the new home, etc.
The Old Testament adamantly opposes these popular Mesopotamian practices. In their stead, the Old Testament claims that life has no set monetary value; it claims that no economic crime should ever be punished with death; it claims that man can never punish someone for crimes not his own; it demands justice before the law, regardless of political or financial status; and it sets very specific, non-theatrical forms of capital punishment. These novelties of Biblical ethics are central to the modern conception of legal justice.
Unsurprisingly in an Iron Age legal text, several Biblical prescriptions do not correspond to modern notions of justice; this may concern concepts such as slavery (see Lev. 25:44-46), intolerance of religious pluralism (see Deut 5:7, Deut 7:2-5, 2 Corinthians 6:14) and freedom of religion (see Deut. 13:6-12), discrimination and racism (see Lev. 21:17-23, Deut. 23:1-3), subjugation of women, honor killing (see Exo 21:17, Leviticus 20:9), genocide (see 1 Sam. 15:3), religious wars and capital punishment for certain sexual behavior like adultery and sodomy (see the Bible and homosexuality) and Shabbat breakers (Num. 15:32-36).
The nature and context of the books of the New Testament are seen by some as very different from that of the Tanakh, which Christians call their Old Testament. For example, the New Testament are texts intended to proselytize for a new teaching, not records of time-honoured traditions, according to some interpretations. The main dispute of the Council of Jerusalem whether non-Jewish converts should be considered bound to the 613 Mitzvot, are said to be addressed directly elsewhere in the New Testament, e.g. regarding dietary laws
See also Mark 7.
or regarding divorce
See also Mark 5.
See also Ministry of Jesus.
However, according to critics, numerous passages seem to contradict this teaching: Matt. 23:17,25-33, Luke 11:40, Matt. 11:20-24, Luke 10:13-15, Luke 19:27, Matt. 26:24, John 8:44, Acts 13:7-11, 1 Tim 1;20, Gal. 1:8, 2 Cor. 6:14-15, 1 Cor. 5:5,13.
Others dispute this. Meir Y. Soloveichik, a Jewish scholar, in his essay titled "The Virtue of Hate" writes
... Is an utterly evil man — Hitler, Stalin, Osama bin Laden — deserving of a theist's love? I could never stomach such a notion... The danger inherent in hatred is that it must be very limited, directed only at the most evil and unrepentant. We who hate must be wary...lest we become like those we are taught to despise... The message is that hate allows us to keep our guard up, to protect us. When we are facing those who seek nothing but our destruction, our hate reminds us who we are dealing with. When hate is appropriate, then it is not only virtuous, but essential...
Asked by one of the Pharisees which is the greatest commandment in the law (Matthew 22:36), Jesus names as the central commandment of his teaching the practice of love (agape) both towards God and one's fellow men:
Elsewhere in the New Testament (for example, the "Farewell Discourses" of John 14 through 16) Jesus elaborates on what has become known the commandment of love, repeated and elaborated upon in the epistles of Paul (1 Corinthians 13 etc.), see also The Law of Christ and The New Commandment.
The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Gentile: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah notes the following reconciliation: "R. Emden, in a remarkable apology for Christianity contained in his appendix to "Seder 'Olam, gives it as his opinion that the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law — which explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the laws of Moses and the Sabbath."
Theodicy seeks to explain why we may simultaneously affirm God's goodness, and the presence of evil in the world.
Some Jews, Christians, and Muslims say that God is not exclusively good, but transcends all opposites; or cannot be described. Thus, to call him "good" is as inadequate as to call him "evil" (see mysticism). Descartes in his Meditations considers, but rejects, the possibility that God is an evil demon ("dystheism").
The Bible contains numerous examples seemingly unethical acts of God.