Culture and Bible Commands – Carl O. Cooper

There are some commands in the Bible that, to quote the late Howard Winters, “that are easy to understand, but hard to apply.”  One such scripture is the statement by Jesus in Matthew 19:9 where he says:  “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (NKJV).

In our modern culture where divorce is considered a commonly acceptable practice by the majority of the population, even members of the church have a hard time applying this verse to people and situations they encounter.  There is a natural tendency to soften this verse or explain it away to sidestep and avoid the consequences of this command.

The two most common ways that men use to try to nullify these words are to either claim that this is regulated by the culture and the laws of the land, or to try to spin a different meaning from the words by claiming, “They have a new meaning because of the tenses of the Greek words.”  They say the phrase, “commits adultery,” is said to be punctiliar rather than linear action, a onetime action and not continuing.  With that explanation it is said to be a sin, but once you repent of it, it is not necessary to do anything else because you have been forgiven for the action and you do not have to separate.  That explanation solves a lot of hard, difficult “messes” that people have created for themselves by their divorces.  The only problem with this explanation is that there is a very simple way to show that claiming this explanation is not valid.  Suppose we slightly change the words in the sentence to say, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries a man commits adultery.”  Doesn’t this clearly tell you what this phrase means?  There are no questions to be asked about tenses of the words, and no questions about this action and what needs to be done.  Don’t look for this explanation to be respected permanently.  With our culture changing and the acceptance of homosexual activity as normal, soon the example I just gave will no longer be enough to satisfy this explanation.  Culture makes a difference in how the Bible is interpreted, even in the church.

Another scripture that is more and more diluted by the culture of our time is Genesis 3:16.  To the woman He said:  “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”  Once again, the culture of our times has influenced women to demand equality in all things with the men.  This includes equality in authority in the family and even within the church in some locations.  Even though the scriptures teach different roles for men and women in the home and in the church and even in life in general, these concepts and laws are “easy to understand, but hard to apply.”

1 Timothy 2:11-14 is an explanation of a difference in the roles of women and men.  “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”  Is there any clearer way to tell us why a woman is to “learn in silence (quietness) with all submission,” and why she is “not to teach or have authority over men” but to be in silence?  It is because “Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman fell into transgression.”  But, here again, the culture of our day is making men and women everywhere want to explain this verse out of the Bible.

First, there is a tendency to restrict this instruction to only within a church assembly.  But this passage is much broader than that.  The context is not just restricted to an assembly of the church.  Look at the context starting with verse 8:  “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere…”  Now, it is obvious that this is talking about anywhere men and women are gathered together and a public prayer is given.  The word “everywhere” is pretty broad and there is nothing in the context that restricts this to “an assembly of the church.”  In fact, it is just the opposite.

The very next verse says this:  “In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel.”  Now, my question is this.  If the context is restricted to a church assembly, can a woman dress in immodest apparel everywhere else?  I think the answer to that is clear, don’t you?  The word “everywhere” is broad and inclusive, as it should be.  Just like the role of women as defined in Genesis 3:16 is broad and all-inclusive, so is the application of it in life.  This prohibition on women does not depend on the culture of our times to define it and it is broad and inclusive enough to flow continuously from woman to woman, from generation to generation, and from culture to culture, forever.  I like what Barnes has to say in his commentary on these verses:

The direction in 1 Timothy 2:9-12, therefore, is to be understood particularly of the proper deportment of females in the duties of public worship.  At the same time, the principles laid down are doubtless such as were intended to apply to them in the other situations in life, for if modest apparel is appropriate in the sanctuary, it is appropriate everywhere.  If what is here prohibited in dress is wrong there, it would be difficult to show that it is right elsewhere.  (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament)

And while we are looking at these verses, how does the culture of our day define “modest apparel”?  Even the young women in the church are “driven” to become like the images they constantly see portrayed on TV and in magazines and the movies.  This advertising is provocative and tempting and the culture of the world around us promotes and endorses it.  The way women dress absolutely catches the eyes of men.  This is the obvious and simple reasoning behind the clothes some women wear, and yet it is usually denied to give respectability to any immodest dress that culture promotes.  Is this “easy to understand?”  Yes, but “hard to apply.”

The last thing I want to mention is the list of sins mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:  “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived.  Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”  The culture of our day is driving sin.  Here is a list of sins that will prevent a person from being saved if they are engaging in these activities.  There is not a shadow of doubt that this behavior described here is sin.

By now, most have heard of the NC Amendment One that was voted on May 8, 2012.  This amendment is not make our laws in NC clear that “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”  The culture of today has been carefully manipulated for a long time now to bring us to the point where we are today.  All of the children within our public schools have been fed a diet of “tolerance” for homosexual behavior for many years now.  This amounts to a public “brain washing” of the general population.  The only relief that any children have had for this is where a church or a parent has taken the time to give them the proper explanation at home or at church.

For many people, the Bible verses condemning homosexual behavior are “easy to understand, but hard to apply.”  Already laws are on the books to make it a criminal act to discriminate against this behavior in the work place.  Laws are also in place to allow full disclosure of this behavior within the military services and civil service jobs.  The media of all types glorify this behavior and make it “politically incorrect” to speak out against it.  Even this amendment won’t change much of this cultural acceptance of homosexual lifestyles by the general population.  There is likely to soon come a day when laws will appear making it unlawful for a church to discriminate against it and to speak publicly about it as a sin.

“Easy to understand, but hard to apply.”  Many things are.  But there is only one answer:  don’t give up!  It would be easy to hide our heads in the sand like an ostrich in fear of conflict and confrontation with the evils of sin.  But I am reminded of what the Bible says in Revelation 21:8:  “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Not only do we have an obligation to those caught up in these sins to tell them and teach them that this behavior will lead to eternal punishment and condemnation, but to cowardly avoid this responsibility is not respected by God either.  Sometimes it would do us good to remember the story of King David’s men.  In 2 Samuel 23:15-16 the Bible tells us:  “And David said with longing, ‘Oh, that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!’  So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David.  Nevertheless he would not drink it, but poured it out to the Lord.”  God so respected what these men did and the bravery they demonstrated in the army of the Lord that he recorded these events in the Bible as an example for us to honor as well.  Can we cowardly avoid telling the world about the consequences of sin?  And let us be very careful that we do not allow our own thoughts to be contaminated by the culture of our day.

The Bible also says in Romans 1:32:  “…who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”  To approve of sin is also a sin.  We must not allow ourselves to be influenced by the pressures of the culture of the day.

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