Cultural or supra-cultural?

Another consideration for new Bible readers is the question of cultural vs supra-cultural; that is, readers need to see that some commands have an application that was limited to a specific situation while others seem to be expected of all believers. Most people see Paul’s commands about women wearing veils as a cultural command, while seeing the command to remember Jesus via the Lord’s Supper as supra-cultural.

When presenting some of these ideas at a retreat last year, I presented the following list to the participants:

_____ The church should meet on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7)
_____ The church should meet every day (Acts 2:46)
_____ We ought to love our enemies (Luke 6:35)
_____ We must give to everyone who asks of us (Luke 6:30)
_____ We should raise our hands when praying (1 Timothy 2:8)
_____ Women should not teach men (1 Timothy 2:12)
_____ Women should not use fancy clothes (1 Peter 3:3)
_____ Men must not have long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14)
_____ Women shouldn’t wear pants (Deuteronomy 22:5)
_____ Our clothes are to be made of one type of fabric (Leviticus 19:19)
_____ We are to anoint the sick with oil (James 5:14)
_____ A Christian shouldn’t get a tattoo (Leviticus 19:28)
_____ A Christian shouldn’t shave his beard (Leviticus 19:27)
_____ We must submit to church leaders (Hebreos 13:17)
_____ The church should have elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3)
_____ The church is expected to maintain a list of widows (1 Timothy 5)
_____ The church must care for widows and orphans (James 1:27)
_____ An offering should be taken each Sunday (1 Corinthians 16:2)
_____ Sunday offerings are to be sent to Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:3)
_____ We should take the Lord’s Supper in memory of Jesus (Luke 22:19-20)
_____ We are to wash one another’s feet (John 13:14)
_____ Christians should drink wine and not just water (1 Timothy 5:23)
_____ We are to avoid eating blood (Acts 15:29)
_____ Christians should love their neighbor as theirselves (James 2:8)
_____ Christians are to look for Paul’s books and take them to him (2 Timothy 4:13)
_____ We are to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)
_____ Women should cover their heads when praying (1 Corinthians 11:10)
_____ Men should not have anything on their heads when praying (1 Corinthians 11:7)
_____ Christians shouldn’t marry (1 Corinthians 7:27)
_____ Christians must not take oaths (Matthew 5:34)
_____ A Christians is to pay taxes (Romans 13:7)
_____ We are to work with our hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11)
_____ We should greet one another with a kiss (1 Corinthians 16:20)
_____ Christians are to pray in the name of Jesus (John 16:23-24)
_____ When talking about the future, a Christian must say, “Lord willing…” (James 4:15)

I asked them to decide which of these instructions were of limited application and which were eternal commands for all believers everywhere. I wasn’t too concerned about how they answered each question, though I did point out to them that it was unlikely that any two of them had exactly the same answers. (The retreat was discussing how to handle differences in the church) I then encouraged them to define how they decided which instructions (and examples) were applicable to us and which weren’t.

As I’ve noted before, it’s not helpful to tell someone to look for commands in the Bible and follow them; even less so with examples and inferences! All Bible readers need to understand that some commands are of limited application, while some are meant for all of us. Part of our task when reading and interpreting the Bible is to know how to differentiate.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.