Reflection on moral guilt (see yesterday's post) leads us to discover another feature of moral obligations. Moral guilt seems to alienate people from one another. If one fails to live up to one’s obligation to uphold the laws of the land, alienation from individuals or even from a group of individuals will ensue. For example, someone who takes innocent life will experience alienation from that person’s loved ones, maybe a spouse or child. Such persons will be angry and may direct hatred toward the murderer. In addition, the murderer will be alienated from society-at-large and subsequently locked away. However, such alienation can be alleviated. Moral guilt can be removed by forgiveness from the appropriate party. Implicit in this discussion is the social nature of moral obligations.
The instantiation of moral obligations is internally related to personhood. Moral obligations only obtain between persons. In contrast, we don't have obligations to inanimate objects. If I see a piece of wood lying on the ground, I'm not necessarily obligated to refrain from taking a hammer to it and breaking it into pieces. The proponent of naturalism may reply that if the piece of wood in question were part of someone’s house, then I would be obligated not to destroy it, and thus, I would be obligated to an inanimate object. However, my obligation obtains only in virtue of that piece of wood’s relationship to a person. My obligation is not to the wood itself but to the person, namely the owner of the house to which the wood is attached.
The proponent of naturalism may respond in a second way, arguing we have moral obligations to non-persons because we have obligations to creatures in the animal kingdom. We are obligated to care for and not harm animals. My first response is a question: Are we obligated to animals in the same way we're obligated to human persons? The answer must clearly be no. Certainly there is a distinction between killing an innocent cow to eat and killing an innocent human to eat. If hungry packs of wolves were killing deer populations in a particular region of woods, would we send in the military to intervene? No. Indeed, we refer to such action as killing but refrain from using moral terms like murder. However, when we see human genocide, the world community recognizes an obligation to act.
Secondly, if our supposed obligations to animals are unlike our obligations to other persons, maybe they're not obligations at all. Given a theistic framework, our moral obligation to care for animals is not an obligation to the animals themselves but rather an obligation to the personal Creator who brought them into existence and has charged human persons to rule over and be good stewards of His created order.
The social nature of moral obligations makes sense of the first feature, moral incumbency. Imagine a teenager who is preparing to play scrabble. She opens the box containing the scrabble board and tiles and proceeds to dump the pieces on the kitchen table. However, her attention is quickly diverted by the sitcom playing on the living room television. She wanders in that direction. Now imagine that she returns to the kitchen table and discovers the following words formed by scrabble tiles: “Take out the trash.” If the teenager comes to discover the words were formed by her chance dumping of the pieces on the table, there would be no moral incumbency behind this command. However, if she discovered this was her dad’s humorous way to communicate his commands, the incumbency of her moral obligation to obey dad would press in on her. Thus, moral obligations obtain when there are at minimum two persons involved.
But one more thing must be said. Imagine this teenage girl discovered it was not dad who arranged the tiles but rather her six-year-old brother. The moral incumbency would not come into play because the younger brother is not a person with the requisite authority to make such commands. Thus, a moral obligation has incumbency when a command is issued by an appropriate authority.
Again, we turn to the naturalist for an account. How do moral obligations that arise by a chance collision of atoms obtain in the actual world? How would naturalism account for moral obligations, with their requisite social nature, in virtue of purely material and non-social processes? Impersonal forces cannot give rise to personal ones. Moreover, how could non-rational physical processes be the basis of authority for moral obligations? Thus, another feature of morality further presses in on the naturalist because given naturalism, there's no appropriate personal authority to ground moral obligations.
Given these four features of morality—immateriality, incumbency, guilt, sociability—what's the best explanation? Naturalism can't provide adequate ontological grounding for morality. Our moral obligations go much deeper than naturalism’s accounting. So, if moral obligations can't be properly grounded in a nonreligious view of the world, then we should move in the direction of a theistic worldview that offers us a much more plausible explanation.
 Robert Merrihew Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics (New York: Oxford Press, 1999), p. 239.
Persons who do not fulfill their moral obligations are subject to adverse judgment. If I choose to refrain from a morally obligatory act, I am guilty. But let's distinguish between two types of guilt. First, guilt may be thought of in terms of a subjective emotion moral agents experience when they fail to fulfill their obligations. The failure results in deep ethical pain or discomfort. Feelings such as regret, remorse, or resentment may accompany one’s moral failings.
While an account of guilty feelings may be useful, for my purposes I will only concern myself with a second sense of guilt. In this sense, guilt refers to an objective state-of-affairs. In virtue of an agent’s moral failings, he has done something wrong, and as such, deserves appropriate blame and just punishment. The guilty person in this sense may not recognize or admit guilt, but the objective fact of their guilt remains nonetheless. Guilty feelings may or may not accompany the agent’s actions, but they're not necessary in order to levy some punishment against an objectively guilty person.
Indeed, punishment is one of the things that distinguishes the rational ought from the moral ought. I may have a rational obligation to hold that 2 + 2 = 4, but if I fail to live up to it I'm not subject to punishment. However, if I fail to fulfill my moral obligation not to abuse young children, then appropriate punishment seems clearly justified. Rational wrongs require a correction of the error, while moral wrongs require the correction, or punishment, of the person.
We turn again to naturalism for an accounting of this feature of moral obligations. The naturalist may explain the existence of guilt with some kind of evolutionary account that claims it has survival value for the human species. Moral guilt compels continued cooperation among persons, and as a result, human beings are able to pass on their genes to the next generation. However, such an account only works by reducing obligations to feelings that somehow connect to patterns of action that help us survive. But remember, our primary concern is not with guilt feelings but an objective state of guilt resulting from a failure to fulfill moral obligations. Indeed, guilt feelings may not be absurd in a naturalistic world, but moral obligations that have no survival value would be absurd in such a world. Thus, moral guilt is another feature of morality that seems to resist naturalistic explanations.
In discussions of morality, we often use phrases like “John ought to do X” or “John ought not to do Y.” But what is this oughtness we refer to? What can be said of it to help us better understand the nature of morality? The oughtness of a moral obligation is what philosophers call incumbency, and as we explore the nature of moral incumbency, four observations arise that seem to resist naturalistic explanations.
First, the incumbency of moral obligations demands something from us and binds us to something. Moral obligations have an external force that presses in on us and compels us to act or refrain from acting in certain ways. We may be more acutely aware of this invisible demand when we're alone. For example, imagine I'm at a convenience store to purchase a Snickers candy bar, and the lone cashier informs me he has to use the restroom in the back of the store and subsequently departs from the cash register. Prior experience informs me this convenience store has no security cameras, and a quick observation helps me to determine no one else is in the store and no cars are in the parking lot. At this point a temptation to take the Snickers without paying for it may come rushing into my mind. However, the temptation is accompanied by a second experience, an awareness of what I ought to do. My awareness of an obligation not to take what does not belong to me presses in on me with such force that it compels right action. Therefore, I stand at the counter with my Snickers, waiting for the cashier to return.
The objector may claim that not everyone experiences this incumbency. But what follows from this? Certainly my experiences or feelings are irrelevant to the actual state-of-affairs. My claim is not that the experience of moral incumbency is universally felt, but that one’s incumbency to moral obligations obtains in the actual world.
Second, moral obligations are unconditional imperatives. They're incumbent upon us whether we desire them or not, agree to them or not, or recognize them or not. There's no opting out of our moral obligations. We simply must obey. And no one thinks you are excused if you choose not to fulfill them. Indeed, we're justified in considering such a person to be morally reprehensible or deficient and deserving of punishment. This is why fathers who don't desire and consequently refrain from paying child support are called “dead-beat dads” and sent to jail.
Third, this incumbency applies not only to one’s actions but to the underlying motives as well. I may have an obligation to help a little old lady across the street, but my obligation reaches deeper than just the action itself. I also have an obligation to be properly motivated in doing so. If I help the old lady across the street because I believe we ought to take care of weaker individuals in society or because I believe she has dignity and value in virtue of her being a human being, I am properly motivated. However, if I'm motivated by a desire to get some money from her in the end, I would be considered morally repugnant. Thus, moral obligations make demands not only on the observable action but on the unobservable motive as well.
Finally, moral obligations place demands on us prior to any action. It is neither necessary nor sufficient for one to be in the midst of action to experience the incumbency of obligations. We may simply reflect on a given behavior and experience the demands of our moral obligation. I reflect for a brief moment on the act of child abuse, and I am immediately aware that I ought to refrain from such behavior.
So what is the naturalist to make of moral incumbency? It would seem such a feature of moral obligations do not fit a naturalistic view of reality. Moral obligations have an invisible external force that makes demands not only on our actions but on our motives as well, and those demands come into play prior to any action. At the same time, such obligations may be counterproductive to our good. If naturalism is true, it would be very difficult to account for the fact of moral incumbency.
 I will expand on the notion of deserved punishment in tomorrow's post.
 Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), p. 166.
I’ve always found the argument from objective morality to God’s existence compelling. When we push deeper into our explanations of the nature of morality, I just don’t see how naturalism provides any kind of satisfactory account. In particular, four features of or related to our moral obligations seem irreducible to naturalistic explanations:
So for the next four days, I want to explore these features in order to strengthen our argument from morality to God.
Let's begin our discussion with the following question: “What is the ontological status of a moral obligation?” What constitutes a moral obligation? First, it seems moral obligations are immaterial substances. More specifically, a moral obligation is a relation of being obligated to perform or refrain from a particular action. Moral obligations are only instantiated between persons, and thus, they are a relation between two persons. More on this in part four, as we discuss the social nature of moral obligations.
But certainly an obligation is not a physical feature of the world. You do not trip over moral obligations in the hallway or bump into them on the street. They have no weight, and they do not extend into space. Yet we know them to be real. We feel their force everyday.
However, naturalism requires that we confine our moral discussion to physical properties. Indeed, moral obligations would have to reduce to some kind of physical property. But physical properties do not constitute anything about moral obligations, let alone morality in general. Moral obligations seem, on almost any reading, to be about something other than physical or material reality. A naturalistic view cannot provide an ontology of immaterial substances and thus does not have the resources to account for moral obligations.
 Dallas Willard, “Naturalism’s Incapacity to Capture the Good Will” in Philosophia Christi 4, (2002): 9.
In I Corinthians 15, Paul lists six specific individuals or groups who are reported to have been eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus. But are these reports credible? A brief assessment of each account seems to provide good reasons to think that these reports are reliable.
Paul’s first eyewitness is the apostle Peter. Interestingly, the Gospels do not give a detailed account of Jesus’ appearance to Peter. In light of this fact, are there other reasons to trust its historicity? From the earlier examination of I Corinthians 15:3ff and Paul’s visit with Peter in Galatians 1:18, one can be assured that Paul received a first-hand account of Peter’s testimony, which he vouches for in I Corinthians 15. In addition, Luke confirms the appearance to Peter in Luke 24:33-34: “And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, ‘The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.’” Thus, as William Lane Craig observes, “even the most skeptical [New Testament] critics agree that Peter saw something that he called an appearance of Jesus alive from the dead.”
Secondly, Paul records that Jesus appeared to the Twelve. Considered the most reliable appearance account by scholars, it is confirmed in the Gospels by Luke 24:36-42 and John 20:19-20. The agreement in these independent records attests to their historical reliability. As a result, this event is well-attested to by early Christian tradition, Paul’s confirmation of the report after having spent time with the Twelve, and both Luke and John’s records in the Gospel material.
Thirdly, and quite remarkably, Paul records the fact that Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once. Nowhere else in the New Testament is this occurrence mentioned, but this fact casts no doubt upon its reliability. Indeed, it seems incomprehensible that Paul could have invented this material with the majority of eyewitnesses alive to confirm or deny the accuracy of his account. Immediately following his mention of the 500 eyewitnesses, Paul says that “most of [them] remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.” As C. H. Dodd comments, “There can hardly be any purpose in mentioning the fact that most of the 500 are still alive, unless Paul is saying, in effect, ‘the witnesses are there to be questioned.’”
The next eyewitness account on Paul’s list comes from James, the younger brother of Jesus. This appearance is notable for the fact that during the lifetime of Jesus, James and his brothers did not believe in Jesus (see Mark 3:21, 31-35; John 7:1-10). However, after the resurrection event they are found in the upper room in Acts 1:14. Later, one discovers that James has become a prominent leader in the early church (Acts 12:17) and then appears to be the primary leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 21:18). Ultimately, James was martyred for his faith. Given the history of James, an important question arises: what was it that transformed James from being an unbeliever who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, to giving up his life because of his faith in Jesus as the Messiah? The most reasonable explanation is that James saw the risen Jesus.
The fifth appearance is to “all the apostles.” This group, although wider than the Twelve (otherwise, this is simply a duplication of Paul’s reference to the Twelve in verse 5), was probably a limited circle of individuals who had been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry (see Acts 1:21-22; John 15:27). Craig states that “the facticity of this appearance is guaranteed by Paul’s personal contact with the apostles themselves.”
Lastly, Paul includes his own eyewitness account of the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. As with the James account, one is confronted with the question of Paul’s transformation. What was it that changed Paul from a devout rabbi who persecuted Christians to their death, to a devout Christian who went to his death for his faith in Jesus? Paul gives us the only adequate explanation: “and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
The data found in I Corinthians 15 provides overwhelming eyewitness evidence of the post-mortem appearances of Jesus. Paul’s detailed account gives a “diversity of witnesses in a variety of places over a forty-day period,” suggesting that these “earliest accounts of the resurrection were not fictitious.” Robert Funk, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, a group of radical liberal scholars, argues against a supernatural Jesus who rose from the dead. According to Funk, such a conclusion is mythical: “We want to liberate Jesus. The only Jesus most people know is the mythic one. They don’t want the real Jesus, they want the one they can worship. The cultic Jesus.” As the Jesus Seminar has concluded, real resurrections do not occur, and therefore, the “real” Jesus never rose bodily from the dead. However, after an examination of the eyewitness evidence, the best explanation is the historical fact of the resurrection. Indeed, the only Jesus that is “real” is a Jesus that was crucified as an ordinary criminal, died on a Roman cross, and three days later was resurrected bodily from the grave. Only this Jesus, the historical Jesus, is one worthy of being worshipped.
 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 281.
 C.H. Dodd, More New Testament Studies (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1968), 128.
In I Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul records a list of witnesses to Jesus’ post-mortem appearances:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
In this passage, Paul provides a chronologically ordered, yet non-exhaustive, list of Jesus’ appearances. Other New Testament passages (Matt. 28:9-10; John 20:11-18) record eyewitness accounts of various women who saw Jesus. However, Paul most likely excludes them “because women were not qualified to be legal witnesses, and therefore their presence in the list would be worthless, or even counter-productive.” Nonetheless, the importance of this one biblical text cannot be overstated. This particular listing presents crucial eyewitness evidence of a risen Jesus that is historically reliable and corroborated in other non-Pauline sources.
Several significant conclusions can be drawn regarding Paul’s testimony that point to its authority and historical reliability. First, there is almost no question among scholars that Paul wrote I Corinthians. Even in the most skeptical scholarly circles, this conclusion is almost unquestioned.
Second, in I Corinthians 15:3ff, Paul records an early creed that pre-dates the writing of the epistle. According to Gary Habermas, an eminent scholar on the historicity of the resurrection, “numerous evidences indicate that this report is much earlier than the date of the book in which it appears.” One is justified in this conclusion on the basis of several reasons. First, “the technical terms delivered and received traditionally indicate the imparting of oral tradition (cf. I Cor. 11:2).” In this custom, also referred to as “traditioning,” the “Jewish teachers would pass on their teachings to their students, who would in turn pass them on to their own students.” Thus, Paul is recording material that he had previously received from others.
Furthermore, there is good reason to think that Paul received this material from Peter approximately three years after Paul’s conversion. In Galatians 1:18-20, Paul records his visit to Peter and James, both of whom are listed as eyewitnesses in I Corinthians 15. In this account, Paul uses the Greek word historeo, signifying that his visit was of an investigative nature. What was the primary subject of Paul’s inquiry? “The immediate context suggests that the chief topic of conversation concerned the nature of the gospel (Gal. 1:11-16), which included reference to Jesus’ resurrection (I Cor. 15:1-4).” For this reason, most scholars ascribe an early date to this creed and agree that Paul received the material from two to eight years after the crucifixion of Jesus, between A.D. 32-38.
This brief examination of I Corinthians 15:3ff is quite significant. Habermas summarizes the value of this data: “In the pre-Pauline formula of I Corinthians 15:3ff. alone we have an extraordinarily early tradition, arising within a very short time after the events themselves, reported by an apostle, who could very well have received it from other apostles who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry.”
Therefore, the majority of scholars conclude that the material contained in I Corinthians 15:3ff supports the historicity and authority of Paul’s testimony. As German historian Hans von Campenhausen states, “This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text.” Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide adds that this creed “may be considered as a statement of eyewitnesses.” As a result, this passage is an invaluable report of early eyewitness testimony to the actual appearances of a physically resurrected Jesus.
 Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), 147.
 William Lane Craig, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1981), 88.
 Clarence Tucker Craig, “Introduction and Exegesis of I Corinthians,” Interpreter’s Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1953), 10:13.
 See Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996); with Antony G.N. Flew, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, ed. Terry Miethe (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987).
 Gary R. Habermas, “The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus,” In Defense of Miracles, ed. R. Douglas Geivett & Gary R. Habermas (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1997), 264.
 J.P. Moreland and Gary R. Habermas, Immortality: The Other Side of Death (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), 67.
 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993), 484.
BACKGROUND & CONTEXT: Philippi was a prosperous Roman colony and the Philippians were Roman citizens, a fact in which they took pride (Acts 16:21). Most likely, there weren’t very many Jews, which would account for the absence of Old Testament citations. With such heavy Roman influence, the Philippian church would have to battle the influences of power and prestige and a hierarchical approach to leadership.
Paul’s reason for writing this letter is to thank the Philippian church for their partnership in the gospel (1:3-11), particularly for their gift to him (1:5; 4:10-19), and to update them on his current circumstances (1:12-26). This epistle can almost be viewed as a missionary support and update newsletter. In addition, Paul uses the letter to encourage them to further partnership in the cause of the gospel.
Just prior to chapter two, Paul says that when he receives an update on their progress he is looking forward to hearing how they are “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). Chapter 2 consists of Paul unpacking this idea of “standing firm in one spirit” or unity. Unity is achieved through humility (2:1-4) of which Christ is our model (2:5-11). In addition, unity is achieved through their work in the cause of the gospel, as they “appear as lights in the world” by holding out “the word of life” (2:15-16). Thus Paul is sending Timothy and Epaphroditus to partner with them.
REFLECTIONS: There were two insights, particularly regarding leadership and community, that arose in this passage. First, we see Paul’s continued emphasis on unity within the body. In this particular passage, Paul points us to Jesus as our example. Jesus was not concerned with status, power, or prestige, as he “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6). Rather, he “emptied Himself” and “humbled Himself to the point of death” (v. 7-8). For the Roman-influenced Philippians, this message was absolutely radical. It was also necessary for them to understand in order to achieve unity.
Secondly, we discover that there is nothing that unifies the body like partnership in the gospel cause. In Philippians, the word gospel is used 9 different times. Paul informs the church that they are a light in this world (2:15) because they hold out the “word of life” (2:16), the gospel. Paul has poured out his life for this cause (2:17) and wants them to share in his joy (2:18). Fellowship events, potlucks, small groups, and other avenues are helpful things for building unity in the body, but nothing brings unity like partnering in the cause of the gospel. Even as a youth pastor, I saw how true this was. Fellowship events were helpful in building unity in the group, but nothing brought unity like a mission trip where we were immersed in the work of the gospel cause.