The Bible Is Culturally Relative

What you look for, you will find.

If you want you want Jesus to be a conservative political figure you can make Him that. If you want Jesus to be concerned with the environment He can be that too. If Jesus is simply 'a way' as opposed to 'the way' you can find arguments to support those ideas.

What you look for... 




Those who claim to be Christians have all drawn lines in the sand on things which are acceptable and things which are not. In the States the spectrum of biblical interpretation is very broad, but churches easily dismiss varying beliefs with the label heretic. In turn, the 'heretic' churches slap the same label on the opposing viewpoints.

When I traveled to the Czech Republic years ago the Christians there had an entirely different perspective on the bible. I sat in pubs with the lead pastor of the Baptist church in town and drank beers (Southern Baptists just stopped reading). The church there could not understand how so many members of our church back in the States were a part of the military because they were all pacifists. Alcohol was commonplace and violence was the pariah.

I've had friends whom have traveled to Ethiopia and worked with Christians there. The Ethiopians could not believe American Christians didn't live in close proximity to their families, and church. In Ethiopia families often share a massive backyard space with multiple generations, and their church is very near their homes.

Each generation of Christians around the world have wrestled with the Bible to ascertain what it means for them. The Bible is culturally relative but few Christians will admit it, because it seems absolutely terrifying.

It seems to me though…this is a strength.

I see question marks and hear scoffs everywhere. How could making Truth less clear be a strength? How could practices that are condemnable be ok just because it’s deemed so by culture? This sounds terrible.

In the second book of Samuel the Bible reads, “And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David.”

Or take this from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ…”

For good measure let’s take one more from Corinthians, “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”

If we read these passages and say, “The Bible is not culturally relative, it is always true and we need to read it literally.” Then we put ourselves in some interesting territory very, very quickly. But of course most of us don’t read the Bible literally. We look at a passage about David’s many wives and explain it away as something that was cultural back then, but is not appropriate now. It’s not something that God is for, but rather God tolerated it in David’s time.

We read Paul’s letter to slaves and, for our own sanity, put it in a box of different time different advice. Could you imagine anyone writing those words to a person in bondage today? “I know you’re being exploited daily, but serve your masters with a sincere heart.” No absolutely not.

Then we come to the ridiculous head covering commandment given by Paul to the church in Corinth. For some reason in my mind there’s a guy with a shirt and tie who has a tape measurer standing in front of the doors leading into the building for a Sunday gathering. “Sorry ma’am your hair is disgracefully short. Sir that hair is too long; you’ll need to cut it before you can gather with us.” 

When David walked the earth a King with multiple wives and concubines was a natural part of life. Paul lays down commandments that seem completely backwards to us, but to his time and place they were not unreasonable and all of this due to cultural context.

Yet….the Bible can handle it all. What remains clear no matter what culture you read the Bible through is the metanarrative going on through millennium. God is good, He hasn’t left the building, we’ve made a mess of things, and Jesus came to put it all back together.

It’s good news, and it’s on every page.

ChurchDavid Valentine