Divine command theory

Divine command theory is the belief that things are right because God commands them to be. In other words, it means that things which are considered wrong or unethical are wrong because they are forbidden by God.

It is an absolutist theory. This means that there is no debate or discussion over whether an action is right or wrong. The divine command theory defines an act or action as good or bad, depending on whether it supports God’s commands or not.

Any act that goes against what God has commanded is classed as wrong, no matter the situation or circumstance. An absolutist approach means that the decision and outcome will always be the same.


  • There is no ‘grey’ area when it comes to decision making.
  • There are set guidelines and rules to follow.
  • Emotions will not cloud judgements.


  • Situations are all different, so need a different response.
  • To be moral beings, then humans should make their own decisions and not simply follow instructions.

Explain what Christians mean by 'divine command theory'.

Divine command theory is the belief that an act is right because God commands it to be. An example of this is that killing is wrong because one of the Ten Commandments states thou shall not kill.

Moral absolutism

Moral absolutism is the belief that actions are intrinsically right or wrong. In other words, being right and wrong is a fact.

Example of moral absolutism

All rules, such as ‘stealing is wrong’ and ‘lying is wrong’, are considered to be valid no matter what the circumstances.

Moral relativism

Moral relativism is the belief that actions cannot be considered right or wrong without looking at the context surrounding the action, eg it depends on:

  • personal situations
  • social context
  • cultural context

Relativists agree that there need to be moral principles which people live by. However, they would say that these moral principles may need to be adapted in certain situations.

Example of moral relativism

Everyone knows that lying is generally considered to be wrong. But what if it was necessary to tell a lie to save someone's life? Should you absolutely not tell the lie, as it is considered immoral? Or would it be considered acceptable in the situation, because you are telling the lie to save a person’s life?