The Biblical Roots of Ethical Wills
"What is an ethical will?" you might ask. The tradition of making ethical wills goes back to Biblical times; this type of personal legacy statement features prominently in both the Jewish and the Christian heritage. Your Ethical Will explores some remarkable biblical ethical wills in detail; let's get a preview of some of them here.
The first Jewish ethical wills, called "Zevaoth," were spoken, rather than written, spiritual ethical wills. The Jewish tradition holds that God himself authored the first of the biblical ethical wills in Genesis 18:19, instructing Abraham to bring up his children to follow God's ways. From then on, Jewish patriarchs would, upon their deathbeds, deliver spoken ethical wills to their descendants.
Famous Hebrew ethical wills from the Bible include Isaac's blessing of Jacob in Genesis 27:27-28 and his later blessing of Esau. Due to Jacob's disguise, Isaac mistook him for Esau and gave Jacob the blessing that he intended to give Esau. So important was this ethical will that Isaac could not undo its effects upon having delivered it; so he had to settle for giving Esau a different blessing.
In Genesis 49, Jacob, too, delivered one of the most famous biblical ethical wills to his twelve sons, forecasting their future lives as founders of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The often admiring but sometimes heavily critical ethical will delivered by Jacob would continue to shape the destinies of his sons and their descendants centuries after his death.
The New Testament is also filled with biblical ethical wills; Jesus's words at the Last Supper in Chapter 22 of the Gospel of Luke made for a powerful personal legacy statement and foretold Jesus's arrest and crucifixion. When Jesus broke a loaf of bread into pieces, called it his body, and shared it among his disciples (Luke 22:19) and then proceeded to distribute wine and called it the blood he would pour (Luke 22:20), this initiated the practice of the Eucharist - sacred to millions of Christians today.
Jesus even delivered a spiritual ethical will to his disciples after his resurrection, according to Luke 24:47; he spread a message of forgiveness for sinners and hope for his disciples. His words inspired those who heard them to preserve their Christian faith; Jesus's words also influenced the creation of later biblical ethical wills.
Each of Paul's letters was an ethical will, addressed to the public, persuading the residents of various cities to adopt the Christian faith and the Christian ethics of loving one's neighbor as oneself (Galatians 5:13). Paul urged the universal doing of good deeds and emphasized Christianity's transcendence of social and national boundaries.
These biblical ethical wills and more formed the beginning of the powerful tradition of conveying a person's ethical values and principles through a personal legacy statement. Your ethical will can continue this tradition and draw upon the ethical examples of the past.