A gracEmail subscriber in South Korea asks, “To what degree do we take the Bible literally? You can take most issues and make arguments for both sides using scripture. One example is homosexuality. How do we know what is written from a certain cultural perspective? Another example is women’s role in the church. How do I know what still applies to our lives in today’s world?”
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How do we distinguish between what is merely cultural and what is universal? As an example, consider what the Bible says concerning homosexual practices. Scripture clearly forbids non-marital sexual interactivity, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Significantly, it bases these prohibitions on God’s creation plan, Jesus’ atonement, our spiritual cleansing, the Christian’s relationship to the Holy Spirit, Christ’s approaching return and the End of this Age. None of those reasons depends on temporary, local or restricted cultural considerations. Because each reason has universal application, the ethical conduct flowing from those reasons also applies to Christians any time and everywhere. Other questions, such as women’s ordination, are more complex.
Jesus wants disciples, not merely scholars. His final question is not “Do you understand me?” but “Do you love me?” There are no simple rules of interpretation which always guarantee irrefutable outcomes. There are topics about which godly scholars do not always reach the same conclusions. But it is usually not difficult to tell whether an interpreter has a godly approach — a reverence for Jesus Christ as Lord, healthy respect for Scripture as the church’s canon and norm, appreciation for salvation personally and a desire to share it with others. It is not usually hard to tell whether someone is motivated by the Holy Spirit or the spirit of this age, whether their mind is set on heavenly or earthly agendas, whether they seek most to please God or other people.
If we put prayer at the beginning of our deliberation, keep Christ at its center, and pursue godliness at its outcome, we will probably not go far wrong in our calculations. If we set our hearts to please God and to seek his face, he will make his ways known to us and not leave us in the dark. If we are obedient to the truth we understand, God will reveal more to our understanding as he is ready and as he sees that we need it. In the meantime, trusting in Jesus as our Savior and committed to him as our Lord, we are safe in God’s hands.