Which came first?

I think one important concept that each of us has to make a decision on is the relationship between Bible and culture. It’s sort of a chicken-and-the-egg situation. Which came first? Did the Jewish culture determine the basic viewpoints behind what’s written in the Bible or did the teachings that were encapsulated in the Bible shape the Jewish culture?

This question comes into play in many discussions, but it’s at the forefront of the discussion about gender. Does the Bible say what it says about male leadership because it was produced by a patriarchal society? Or did the Jewish culture become patriarchal based on what God instructed them?

I haven’t encountered anything that moves me away from the second position. I think we see enough queens and priestesses in the ancient world to know that Jewish society could have been much more gender inclusive than it was. I believe that they didn’t move in that direction because they were so instructed by God.

Don’t really mean to make this about gender. The principle has much wider application. Is the Bible nothing more than a reflection of the culture in which it was written? Or does the Bible present inspired teachings that helped shape the culture which first received it?

I think culture shaped how the thoughts of the Bible were presented, the language that was used, the specific examples that were given… but I believe the teachings originated with God.

One thought on “Which came first?

  1. Paul Smith

    Which is easier to believe – that a group of people invented the idea of cultural separation and exclusiveness, and then read their philosophy back onto their “God”; or, that their God demanded their cultural separation and exclusiveness? To believe the first you have to explain how this man-made “God” would repeatedly and pointedly punish this group of people for repeatedly and pointedly falling back into the assimilation of the cultures (plural) in which they existed (which, on this theory, the people would have intentionally rejected because of their own interests). On the other hand, if God indeed did command separation and exclusiveness, then the punishments would be fitting, and the repeated and pointed “regressions” into cultural assimilation would be understandable as this peoples’ rejection of God’s specific commands.

    The book of Leviticus alone is replete with commands to remain separate from Canaanite and Egyptian cultures – primarily the religious practices of these cultures. It just seems to me to require a staggering amount of creativity to suggest that the Jews invented the Torah in order to explain their cultural proclivities.

    One other note – the purpose of the separation and exclusiveness was so that these other cultures could see how the Israelites were blessed, and thereby the Israelites could bless these surrounding nations through their faithfulness – they would draw these nations to God by separating themselves from the corrupt practices of the surrounding nations. Through their “counter-cultural” practices, the Israelites could demonstrate the true nature of God, and “evangelize” their neighbors. The purpose was not separation and exclusiveness per se, but separation and exclusiveness in order to draw others to God – be be a blessing to all peoples.

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