Christian Cyclopedia

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In gen. usage the term applies to the moral feeling, the urge to do the right thing and avoid the wrong. Figuratively the word is used loosely to denote man's intuition of right and wrong; or the sensitiveness of individuals or groups to moral right or wrong. In gen. literature the term has a usage far from standard or uniform.

The NT uses a standard word for conscience, syneidesis; despite variations in NT authorship, a unified pattern of meaning emerges. Twice (1 Ptr 2:19; Ro 13:5) the term seems to imply in gen. man's moral conscience toward God, the realization that God is concerned for the goodness of man's actions. But in most cases the word is given a more specialized meaning. Peter, the writer to the Hebrews, and particularly Paul often refer to “the good conscience.” By this they imply the awareness, satisfying in feeling, of the rectitude of one's conduct and intimate that conscience involves or presupposes recognition of a standard. Conversely the writer to the Hebrews and Paul speak of a bad conscience, i. e., one aware of a moral lapse and offense against an acknowledged standard. This process of recognizing a standard and comparing action with it is explicit and central in Paul's use of the term in the epistles to the Corinthians (1 Co 10:25–29; 2 Co 1:12; 5:11). There Paul describes the results of this process of judgment as imperfect and unhappy where the standard of judgment is faulty. He speaks of a “weak” conscience (1 Co 8:10, 12) as one that is not feeble or sluggish in its activity, but hampered by a faulty norm. Interesting is the word “seared” (1 Ti 4:2), which some have imagined to mean “calloused” or “insensitive”; more consistently it implies “branded” in the sense of permanently harmed. Paul speaks of conscience serving as a witness (Ro 2:15: 9:1), i. e., to the recognition of moral responsibility.

In Luth. literature much has been made of the “terrors of conscience” (contrition*), induced by the indictment of the law of God, as the indispensable prerequisite and preparation for the Gospel. The Biblical concept appears to be more limited to the intellectual and emotional reflex accompanying particularly such actions as are consciously contrary to standard. The NT emphasizes man as living with a sense of responsibility toward God, who sets the standard. In the cure of souls, the Christian is interested in removing the tensions of an evil conscience with the guarantee of a good conscience, i. e., forgiveness in Christ Jesus, and in equipping the individual with that vitality for living which fosters the good conscience, i. e., the life of the Spirit through Jesus Christ. RRC

See also Anthropology; Baptist Churches, 1, 2.

E. W. A. Koehler, “Conscience,” CTM, XIII (May 1942), 337–364; C. A. Pierce, Conscience in the New Testament (London, [1955]); C. Scaer, A Treatise on Conscience (Boston, 1927); J. Stelzenberger, Syneidesis im Neuen Testament (Paderborn, 1961) and Syneidesis, Conscientia, Gewissen (Paderborn, 1963): A. Gräbner, “Die Lehre vom Gewissen,” 1894 Proceedings of the Nebraska District, LCMS, pp. 9 to 77.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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