If one believes that there is a God and that He created the universe, it would seemingly follow logically that whatever God commands is moral (and whatever He commands not to do is immoral).

For those who accept the bible as containing these commands, then it seems like divine command theory would work and the bible would contain the content of ethics.

Can there be a divine command theory without accepting the bible? (In other words, assume that there's a God and he created the universe, and that his commands would constitute for us moral laws, but that there's no holy text [Bible, Quran, FSM, comic book ] that spells out veridically what we are to do).

  • I'm going to interpolate a premise for you... which I think you're trying to say ... but please tell me if I'm getting you wrong. – virmaior May 12 '16 at 1:03
  • I think that is exactly what Kant does: A divine command theory (the moral law) and the moral faith as the only real (non dogmatic) belief, with institutionalized systems of belief (churches) thought as a vehicle with hopefully leading to true faith. – Philip Klöcking May 18 '16 at 9:21


In recent scholarship, there's been a lot going on about what was called "Divine command theory" (DCT). Some of it interacts with an earlier literature about voluntarism with relation to God's will.

Recently, Robert Adams has been a major advocate of DCT whereas Mark Murphy supports a distinct view called "divine will theory." In DWT, it's God's will that determines the content of morality whereas in DCT it's God's commands that determine its contents.

In general DCT has been advocated by some Christian thinkers. C. Stephen Evans has applied Adams' account to Kierkegaard's thought. Adams is a Christian, as is Murphy. In all three, it is not necessarily the case that the commands be written in a book.

And for DWT, it's not even required that it be translated to us clearly (or perhaps at all? This of course raises its own problems).

But DCT (as distinguished from DWT) accepts the language transmission problems and makes God a type of communicator with people (Adams specifically cites Wolterstorff's Divine Discourses as reaching similar conclusions and looks at William "Bill" Alston's book on experiencing God).


All of this is just background to answer your question, I'd say there are three ways of "believing in DCT" that could involve not believing a holy book:

  1. Direct receipt of divine commands

  2. There's going to be an interaction between one's account of "inerrancy" / "progressive revelation" / "error" in relation to the holy book. For instance, you could believe the bible contains divine commands but not everything attribute to God is a command from God (or conversely you could hold that every thing in the bible is so). This is going to be a bit of sliding scale (with all the problems incumbent on picking and choosing passages within the text).

  3. There are also counterfactual believers in DCT who assert that if there were a God, divine commands would be a definitive source of moral knowledge. (I'm trying to remember who advocated this but am drawing a blank).

A learned what God wanted from nature view (i.e., natural law regarding morality) would probably not qualify as a DCT on the contemporary definition due to the lack of communication. It might qualify as a DWT depending on how that all parses out (e.g., can we perceive what God intends through creation?).

Another interesting potential variant on DCT can be found in Hegel. I'll just leave this as brief addendum but in Philosophy of Right section 270, Hegel suggests that religion captures truth, and through this, it substantiates the moral state. The rub of course is that Hegel is not a theist in a traditional understanding of the term. Instead, he thinks religion is true -- because/when it captures the nature of Spirit (representationally). That seems to provide a basis for a Divine-inspiration theory that's not anything like the others: "If, then religion constitutes the foundation which embodies the ethical realm in general, and, more specifically, the nature of the state as the divine will, it is ... only a foundation; and this where the two diverge."


Adams, Robert - Finite and Infinite Goods Oxford University Press, 1999.

Alston, William P. Perceiving God (1991)

Evans, C. Stephen - 2006 book on Kierkegaard

Evans, C. Stephen - God and Moral Obligation (2013).

  • All three ways involve a holy book in some way or another. In the first way, the receipt would be the holy book, in the second the Bible is the holy book, just we can leave out certain parts of it. And the third way, is not really a way of believing in practical DCT, for that would require belief in God. – Isaac D. Cohen May 16 '16 at 21:54
  • I'm not quite following how the three ways involve a holy book. For 1, If a voice in your head gives you a command, then you can obey it with no book whatsoever. (or writing on a wall or pictures anything -- no book necessary). For 2, yes, that involves a holy book. For 3, it's the admission that DCT would be a source (if not the only source of moral knowledge), but the belief that no such source exists. At least as I read your question, the "practical" feature was not a requirement. DCT is a technical arrangement. – virmaior May 17 '16 at 2:24

A very excellent question. Yes any one can believe in the divine command theory ,even if one doesn't believing in any sort of holy book. Laws and Rules of nature, And our own laws of ethics and morals (i.e. human code of conduct based on nature or observing nature.) e.g. looking at ants in nature and following co-operation principal etc. In my view these natural rules are the only divine commands. They were existed before the holybooks or even humans were being able to talk at all. If we follwo nature and its laws , believe in its power,there is no need to refer anything else.Natural rules are the Divine Commands . We do not follow that ,so we need to refer to books. Follow the nature and we will follow the divine.


If your premise was untrue, and in fact a holy book is a necessity for morality, then that would indicate that morality is fundamentally entwined with our language. This opens up a disturbing can of worms regarding language, reading, and several other learned concepts. While such an argument does not refute the possibility that a holy book is a necessity for morality, it does certainly provide several reasons to consider the possibility that such a book is not a necessity for morality.

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