April 19, 2021

What Emphasis Should be Placed on Biblical Culture?

In order to understand events in the Bible, it is useful to know the customs and culture of the day.  Recently, our Pastor had a sermon on win in the Bible using as a start the command for Pastors and Deacons to abstain from wine and strong drink.  To make the argument that a Christian shouldn’t drink, he took us back in time through historical accounts to prove that the wine of today is not the same as wine in Bible times.

We recently held a discussion here in regards to what you should wear going to church.  In order to really understand the Bible commands, we have to go back to the culture at the time and figure out what was going on at the time.  I’m unsure as to whether people dressed up to meet each other in house churches, but I’m fairly certain they dressed up to go to the temple.

But let’s get back to my main point– when does the Biblical setting influence our understanding and when doesn’t it?  It seems like in some cases like whether women should wear hats in church, have long hair, or be silent in church we trot out an argument that it was only something for that time period
and not for today using the premise that if Paul refers to something in isolation it was just for that time, and that if he appeals to other Scripture it’s something for all time.

Then we turn around and try to make arguments based on something that happened in that culture and say that it should happen today.  Women instructors is one of those things.  Some of the arguments for women in positions of authority revolve around whether Phoebe, Lydia and Deborah were leaders, prophets, or communicators in that day.  We take passages of Scripture and argue that because of a stance taken in the culture at the time things should be one way.

So, how can one consistantly argue that based on the culture of the day one thing is permitted, but argue at the same time something else should be ignored because it was in the culture of the day?

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6 thoughts on “What Emphasis Should be Placed on Biblical Culture?

  1. So, how can one consistantly argue that based on the culture of the day one thing is permitted, but argue at the same time something else should be ignored because it was in the culture of the day?

    It is all a matter of getting your exegesis right before your hermeneutics (say what?)

    In other words, when Paul says that women should cover their heads in Church, why does he make the injunction? What biblical principles are being employed?

    The issue of head covering is perhaps related to the fact that the only women of that day to have cropped hair uncovered in public worship would be the temple prostitutes. Paul would clearly be anxious to make sure that churches were seen as different from the Greek temple cults. This being the case, we would look for comparable particulars today, and might note that in Church one should avoid offence, simply because we are free from law. Outside of the Church, we should ensure our witness shows a distinction from the cults of this world.

    But to interpret the Bible correctly, one should ensure that one understands what was being said in the context it was said, before moving onto the comparable particulars today.


  2. Good points, Stephen. So, perhaps I’m seeing disparity where none exists. Knowing the setting of certain Biblical events has definitely opened my eyes to things one would not get reading straight from the text.

    For example, the location that Jesus was in when making the statement to Peter regarding the gates of hell not prevailing against the church near a place that was known as the gates of hell, and other allusions that we would not know unless we were familiar with the area.

    One has to wonder, though, if Paul placed great importance on looking different than the world with hair styles, coverings, and who should speak in churches, why we don’t take greater measures now to avoid such similarities. One could use the point to argue that maybe we shouldn’t have such big structures as central meeting places.

    How does one separate cultural practices that they had in that day that are ones that we should follow and ones that we need not. Obviously we don’t have temples where people are offering meat to idols, but do we have a modern day equivalent that we are oblivious to?

  3. Yes, I think we do have modern day “temples” – many of them.

    For instance, there is a small square idol in most houses that people bow down (or sit) in front of for many hours of every day. I wonder how many hours we spend in homage there!

    But perhaps more relevant to this passage, these would be some modern day cults that I think we may have:

    1. The cult of celebrity. We are fixated with the lives of celebrities, and we put people on pedestals simply because they are famous.

    2. The cult of fashion. We dress in a certain way because someone somewhere has decided that a certain colour and cut of our clothes obsoletes the model we bought last week, whilst people across the world make do with whatever they can get.

    3. The cult of mammon. This one has infected the church in the form of the prosperity gospel – an obnoxious heresy that teaches that one can measure one’s blessing from God by the amount of money one has.

    There are no doubt others. Modern day cults are not so much about polytheistic or animistic deities. But they are about the things we idolize in our lives. I think one thing we get from this passage of Paul’s is that the Church should have no truck with these – we need to teach a better way (but without sinking to condemnation of those who do not get it. If someone comes into a Church wearing the latest fashion, I think we should seek to gently teach and encourage them rather than forbid fashion!)


  4. Funny our pastor just did a sermon on modesty this week. He did not condemn but instead taught about what modest dress was in accordance with today’s fashions for both men and women. He spoke about men being immodest as well and I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that from a pastor. It was refreshing.

  5. It’s hard to talk about, especially with the amount of people that think that it’s fine to flaunt your skin. That’s great to hear that he stood up for the right side!

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