Online College Courses for Credit

2 Tutorials that teach Applying Divine Command Theory
Take your pick:
Applying Divine Command Theory

Applying Divine Command Theory

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Given a situation, apply divine command theory

See More
Fast, Free College Credit

Developing Effective Teams

Let's Ride
*No strings attached. This college course is 100% free and is worth 1 semester credit.

29 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

312 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 27 of Sophia’s online courses. Many different colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.


Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons,

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello, I'm Glenn, and this is the ethics tutorial on applying the divine command theory. Let's look at a couple of things to keep in mind and then the content for this tutorial. In this tutorial, we're going to look at the application of the divine command theory and see how that works. We're going to see how we get both intuitive and counter intuitive results from the divine command theory, that is intuitive is widely accepted and counter-intuitive is widely rejected.

We'll show how the application of the divine command theory sometimes reveals ambiguous results. And then we're going to apply divine command theory to ethical topics to show how it approaches larger ethical issues, and in that context you can think of it as the shape or the manner of the divine command theory being applied to bigger issues that we face in our lives. When we abide by the divine command theory and apply it, we get some results that seem to be intuitive.

Intuitive is another way of saying commonsensical or widely accepted. For example, we get commands regarding stealing. Stealing is wrong, and killing, murder is wrong. OK. These are both commands from God, yet, it's also widely accepted that stealing is wrong and murder is wrong.

The commands here are helpful, but they really sort of reinforce ideas that we already have, right? We consider them to be common sense. Command theory also provides actions and directions, which seem counter intuitive. In other words, they go against regular reasoning. They go against widely accepted beliefs.

So we have a command to not work on the Sabbath. Well, generally, it's accepted that we can work any day we want because it's socially permissible in many societies. We have a command in Leviticus not to eat shellfish. OK.

But you see it's widely accepted throughout the world that it's permissible. It's ethically OK to eat shellfish. It's a common food and element of cuisine.

So what divine command theory does is it sometimes reinforces our common sense reasoning, and sometimes it goes against it. Also sometimes when we look at divine command theory and remember that what makes an action right or wrong is the command itself and as the recipient of the command, it is simply my job, my duty, to follow the command. However, sometimes we end up with ambiguous results. And it's important to remember that ambiguity means there is more than one way of understanding it. There's more than one answer.

So let's take the command not to kill, or to kill, we get both of these commands in scripture. So sometimes it's permissible and it's obligatory to kill and sometimes it's impermissible to kill. It's unclear and, therefore, ambiguous.

Another place where we can find this is in "The Book of Genesis" and God's directions to Noah. If you want to look this up, it's in "chapter 6 verse 19" and "chapter 7 verse 3". God commands Noah to put the animals on the ark, and in the first instance, God commands to bring two of each kind on to the ark. And in the second instance, he commands Noah to bring seven of the clean and two of the unclean onto the ark.

And according to scripture if we read it directly, Noah did both of them. However, it would be impossible for Noah to do both of those at the same time. So which one did he follow? We don't know. It's ambiguous.

But as the recipients of command theory, we just have to take it in this instance that somehow it happened. So divine command theory does sometimes have ambiguous results. Divine command theory also provides a general framework, or a shape, of identifying elements and understanding larger contemporary issues. So even though the commands may be specific, if we look at a group of commands or a tendency in the commands, we can get a general sense of what God's commands might be regarding an issue that might not appear in scripture itself.

So let's look at a common topic. Let's say the social topic of welfare. Good idea? Bad idea?

Well, given the general directions that we get from God in divine command theory, we realize that it is good to give to others. We are obliged to give to the poor, or directed and commanded to love thy neighbor as thyself. We're directed to give when it's asked of us.

So we put all these together, and we get a general shape of an ethical perspective from divine command theory on the topic of welfare. And it would seem that generally speaking divine command theory recommends us to support something like welfare as a good thing that would be in accordance with God's commands, even though there is no direct command specifically towards welfare in scripture. So overall we can get both specific directions and a general direction from divine command theory.

In summary, we've covered both intuitive and counter-intuitive results that come from the following divine command theory. We've also seen how divine command theory can sometimes lead to ambiguous directions. And then we looked at a specific situation such as welfare and saw how although divine command theory does not have a specific directive towards welfare in particular, we can get a sense of what it would say, given other commands.