At one point in The Reason For God, Timothy Keller talks about how to pick which action to choose in a tough dilemma. He gave the example of a man having borrowed tools from another guy...and said guy wants them back so he can beat his wife with them. Keeping the tools is practically stealing, but giving them back would be worse. Keller gives two options:

  • Do Least Harm: Out of the actions you have available to you, do the one that does the least overall damage and hurt.
  • Do Greatest Good: Out of the actions you have available to you, do the one that has the greatest overall benefit.

Of course, these two decision paths will select the same choice in a great majority of cases, so I'm not asking for which one the Bible says is better. Rather, I'm asking for any Biblical justification for either of these decision paths.

  • in the sample situation - has "guy" indicated to "man" that he is going to beat his wife with the tools when returned?
    – warren
    Sep 6, 2011 at 16:33
  • 1
    @warren: to further elaborate, in the scenario that Keller presents, the man knows that the guy has gone mentally insane, basically. Sep 6, 2011 at 18:02

2 Answers 2


What you're asking about is called "Situational Ethics"

Many people arguing for situational ethics use Matthew 12:1-8 as an example. Key verses from that.

Matt 12:3-6 (NIV)

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?

4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.

5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent?

6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.

In this case, it shows that in some situations, we need to apply the laws with consideration.

The idea of situational ethics is that we should do whatever results in the greatest amount of love. That idea comes from Matthew 22:35-40 where Jesus says that the second greatest command is to love your neighbor as yourself.

For more reading, Here is a long article.


When I read "Do Greatest Good", I was reminded of The Golden Rule:

Matthew 7:12

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

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