Chapter 7. Deontological Theories: Natural Law
Section 3. Divine Command Theory

There are ethical theories that make reference to or depend upon the existence of a deity.  Two are presented here in this section.  THEY ARE NOT THE SAME.    The first is Divine Command theory that is not used anywhere in the world by the major organized religions.  It is mistaken for the foundation of the moral theory of Judaism and Christianity and Islam but it is not so.   The Divine Command theory has too many problems with it to be used by large organized religions.  It is used by small cults and by those who are uneducated about what their own religion holds.

I.  DIVINE COMMAND THEORY and Criticisms of it

The first is one that equates the GOOD with whatever the god or deity commands. 


Socrates (469-399 BCE)was one of the first to question this theory.  He asked whether we call the GOOD good because the gods have done it or whether they have done it because it is GOOD.  His question implies the possibility of the existence of a standard for the GOOD separate from the divine.

Religions often base their notion of morality on the character of their God claiming that (1) What is 'good' is good because God commands it and (2) people cannot live moral lives unless they follow God's moral teachings. In Christianity (2) is often believed to be impossible until a person has had their sin dealt with by God. Only then will they be in a position to want to do what God wills and be able to do it ('The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so' (Romans 8:7)). However, this raises questions concerning the relationship between morality and God. If what is 'good' is good only because God wills it is it not possible that one day God might say that what was previously known as 'bad' is now 'good'? Some might say that this would not happen because we would know God was making something 'bad' good but this means we have an independent criteria by which we can assess God's morality. If this is the case then we know what is right and wrong without God's intervention - so why bother with God (for more on this see The Euthyphro Dilemma)?- - - Stephen Richards


Plato(,427-347 BCE)  presented this matter in the dialogue titled the Euthyphro.                     The Euthyphro Dilemma

Many people claim that morality is impossible without the belief in a supernatural entity (god),, from which our sense of right and wrong ultimately derives. And yet, Plato put a huge hole in this argument, back in the 4th century BCE. Think about this excerpt from Plato’s Euthyphro (Socrates is speaking):

"Consider this: is what is pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? (Euthyphro, 10a)"

Euthyphro’s dilemma, as it has come to be known, is this:

Horn 1 - If the good is such because God says it is, then morality is arbitrary (e.g., God condoning all sorts of immoral acts in the Old Testament, including: Genesis 34:13-29, Exodus 17:13, 32:27, Leviticus 26:29, Numbers 16:27-33, 21:3, 21:35, 31:17-18,Deuteronomy 2:33-34, 3:6, Joshua 6:21-27, Judges 3:29, etc., etc.).

Horn 2 - If the good is absolute, and God cannot do evil, then we don’t need the middle Man to figure out what is good and what is not (e.g., we know that killing innocent children and women, ethnic cleansing, etc. are wrong, period).

Notice that this is not an argument against the existence of God, only about gods’ irrelevance to morality. Yet, if one cannot avoid either horn of the dilemma, it is difficult to see what the point of religion ultimately is... by Massimo Pigliucci, at

In DIVINE COMMAND THEORY the GOOD is whatever the "god" commands. This means whatever and whenever and wherever.   How does anyone know what GOD COMMANDS?  God tells them.

How?     Directly or indirectly through some intermediary like a person or a written work.

Can the deity continue to issue commands after previous recordings?

Yes, the deity can update and change commands as the deity wishes.

There are many problems with this theory.

The religions of the West have rejected DIVINE COMMAND THEORY and instead hold for Natural Law Theory.


People claim that GOD has COMMANDED them to do X

Therefore doing X is a morally good act.

X can be ANY ACT AT ALL.

ANY ACT AT ALL can be good if GOD COMMANDS it!!!

In DIVINE COMMAND THEORY there is NO GOOD or BAD by itself at all. There is only what GOD COMMANDS





No one who accepts DIVINE COMMAND THEORY can question the commands of the deity or make a statement such as "I do not believe God would command the things you stated here at all." because a person who accepts the DIVINE COMMAND THEORY accepts NO ACT as being GOOD or BAD except according to what the deity commands.


All that matters is that the "god" commands it.

Scriptures can record what some people at some time thought god commanded them to do. Some people can follow what is written in those scriptures. That is not DIVINE COMMAND THEORY.  Why not? Because for those who believe in a deity or a god then GOD lives forever. GOD is alive. GOD keeps issuing COMMANDS.

People hear the DIVINE COMMAND in 1205 1and 1776 and 1848 and on May 10, 2003 and on December 23, 2005 and so on and they follow it thinking the command makes the act that is commanded the morally correct thing to do.

DIVINE COMMAND THEORY has so many problems that there are very few people on earth that use it and they tend to be fanatics, and mentally unstable people. No organized religion actually supports DIVINE COMMAND THEORY because of all the problems with it and the threat it poses to organized religions. Judaism and Christianity and Islam support NATURAL LAW THEORY and not DIVINE COMMAND.


1. Is there a god or any deity?

2. Who knows what the commands of the deity are?  Can anyone claim to have heard the command and respond to it?

3. The commands may need to be interpreted, but by whom?

4. If there are a few who claim to be designated by the deity or who are designated by some group to be the official recipients of the divine commands are humans prepared to follow the commands of these designated recipients as if they were the commands of the deity?

5. If the deity commands or the designated recipients of the deity's commands do command that every human sacrifice the second born child on its third birthday on an altar would that make human sacrifice a morally GOOD act?

See below for examples of persons who claim to have heard a deity or devil issue a command: GOD MADE ME DO IT

So there are several and severe problems with the Divine Command Theory.  They account for the reasons why no major organized religion would use this theory as the basis for morality.

Familiarize yourself with:



For Christians the major ethicians were Augustine and Aquinas. For Augustine the end of human life is happiness. True happiness is achieved through the love of God.  One has a duty to love one's self and others for the love of God.  For the Love of God one has a duty to obey the will of God.

For Aquinas human striving is for happiness and the good and that the ultimate good is God.


Here is a simple version of the arguments and a counter argument based on the absurdity of accepting whatever a deity would command as being good just because it was so commanded:

Argument for the Divine Command theory -

1.  God created the universe and everything in it, including human
2.  If God created human beings, then God has an absolute claim on our
3.  If God has an absolute claim on our obedience, then we should
    always obey God's commands.
4.  Therefore, the Divine Command theory is true.

Argument against the Divine Command theory -

1.  If the Divine Command theory is true, then we should always obey
    God's commands, no matter what they are.
2.  If we should always obey God's commands, no matter what they
    are, then we should do so even if God were to command us to
    commit atrocities, such as to create as much pain among innocent
    children as possible.
3.  It is absurd to think that we should create as much pain among
    innocent children as possible, even if God were to command us to
    do so.
4.  Therefore, the Divine Command theory is not true.

So there are several and severe problems with the Divine Command Theory.  Here is another theory that in one of its forms involves belief in the existence of a deity, god.

Suggested related reading: Is God Good By Definition? (1992)  Graham Oppy 

God Made Me Do It

Stories & Articles compiled by Nicole Nohs (Nassau Community College, 2012), Based on the book God Made Me Do It: True stories of the worst advice the Lord has ever given his followers by Marc Hartzman  Sourcebooks Inc. , 2010

Excerpts at this location:

March 2002 the mayor of a small Florida town bans Satan

September 1993 San Fernando Valley, CA.... God tells man to rob banks

May 2008 in Wisconsin...God told me if i prayed hard enough she would come back to life...,2933,354849,00.html

May 2009 in Minnesota. Bank practicing Christianity

August 1993 in Texas, 20 naked people emerge from a car that struck a tree

September 2001 in Cinncinati...God told man to steal

San Antoni, TX...God tells man to ram another vehicle at 100mph

Various dates...God told me to kill and eat people

June 2008...God told me to kick her in the face

June 2005...God will remove judges from the supreme court

October 2005...God tells president to end tyranny in Iraq

June 2009...God told me to invade Iraq

December 2007...God told me to run for president

April 2000..."I'm leaving it in the Lords hands"

February 2009...God has brought an Africa American woman back from the dead

January 2008, God told me to get Laura Bush to back me in running for president

May 1937, near Stooping Oak,TN...God told me to fast,9171,757781,00.htm

August 2007 in Los Angelos...God tells reality show contestant thatshe will be in the finals...

January 2002, Boca Raton,FL...God writes messages in the sky

January 2008, God told me to resign

More cases of God's bad advice found and compiled by Nicole Nohs...

January 2008 in Texas...God made me kill my girlfriend

2011 Midtown Manahnttan Murder ordered by God

July 2012, It was God's plan to kill Teyvon Martin

July 2007 in Houston,TX...God made me kill for the ultimate sin

November 2009, Nassau County, Long Island, NY...God made me hate gay people...

August 2011, God made me cheat...

 April 2012, God told me to quit Fox news

August 2001, Palm City,FL...God told me to kill my son...

June 2011, Lubbock,TX...God told me to kill my son...

March 2004, Texas...God told me to kill my 3 sons...

January 2012...God told me to kill my pastor...

February 2009, Virginia Beach,VA...God told me to kill..

November 2006...God told me to kill my daughter...

January 2008, God told me to eat my girlfriend...

 July 2012, God told me to shed some blood...

 March 2012, England...God told me to saw off my managers head...

 June 2012, Effingham,CO...God told me to kill my father...

November 2011, God told me to run for president...

 Unknown date, England...God told me to smoke pot...

October 2012, Sacremento,CA...God told me to steal...

July 2012, God told me to cut my genitals...

June 2012, Spokane,WA...God told me to set my apartment on fire...

June 2012, God told me to send her threatening letters...

October 2009, Lexington, KY...God told me to steal the car...

November 2012, Fort Pierce...God told me to drive 100mph in a 30mph zone...

December 2004, God told me to kill my parents

July 2012, Lexington,KY...God told me to kill dog

November 2011, Enfield,Conn...God told me to molest boy

 Lastly, a few stories about the horrible deeds the Devil caused people to do...

 March 2009, Arlington,VA...Devil made me steal...

October 2008, Devil made me do drugs...

2019 Callahan County TX  Cody Edmund Dixon

case of someone who killed their entire family, including a nine-year old child because god allegedly told him to.

 2019 POLK COUNTY, Fla. -- 35-year-old Stanley Mossburg admitted to killing at least three people because God "needs them for the war."


 more to come if God wishes.....


 Next is another theory of the good that in one of its forms involves belief in the existence of a deity or god.

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© Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

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