Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The Relevance of Culture (Matthew 24:29-44)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matt. 24:35).

Many people assume the Bible is not relevant in today’s modern society because they think it was written for an ancient culture. While we answer this objection with the statement that God’s Word is eternal and transcends culture, just as God Himself is eternal and transcultural, we still must account for cultural elements in the Bible.

How do we interpret passages that have a particular cultural bent, or at least seem to? First, we need to distinguish between principles and custom. For example, if you considered all of Scripture principally, without cultural significance, Jesus’s mandate to “carry no purse, no bag, no shoes” (Luke 10:4) would leave our pastors barefoot. But not all issues are this easy. Is foot washing a custom or a principle? How about head coverings? First Corinthians 11 says a woman should have a sign of authority upon her head. Some say the principle of submission applies but not the outward sign. Others say the sign is still binding but the type of covering changes with the culture.

As you study difficult passages such as this, look for apparent points of custom. Which one can change with culture? For example, principles of modesty prevail, but local styles of dress may change. Also, be careful as you study local customs—do not force cultural norms on Christian teaching. Local customs did not always dictate Christian activities. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 11 again. Some think Paul told women to wear head coverings as a reaction against the temple prostitutes who shaved their heads. But Paul himself does not give this reason. Instead, he appeals to a creation mandate as the basis of his instruction.

Creation ordinances (or standards of nature) are indicators of transcultural principles. If the passage appeals to nature (or creation) as the basis of its rationale, it transcends culture. We find these mandates in passages that teach on male headship, marriage, and the sinfulness of homosexuality.

Finally, when you are unsure whether a passage is custom oriented or transcultural, it is better to be overly scrupulous. This does not mean you white-wash the Scriptures, ignoring the clear cultural significance (such as braided hair or carrying no purse). To avoid this, study all of Scripture thoroughly and humbly.

Read Romans 1:26–27. What is one reason Paul gives for the sinfulness of homosexuality (v. 26)? What did men abandon (v. 27)? Why does this passage call homosexuality unnatural (Read Gen. 2:15–25)? Using these verses construct an argument of why the prohibition against homosexuality is transcultural.