A lot has been said in recent years about culture and how it changes over time. There are many reasons for this change, but I’m now to the age that I watch TV shows and movies I grew up with and I cringe at the sexist and racist attitudes that I didn’t catch as a kid in the 80s.
Part of that is me growing up and having life experiences, and part of that is that these kind of things are (thankfully) no longer culturally acceptable. This is a change that has taken place just in the last three decades. Now imagine a timespan of thousands of years. That would give time for some significant changes.
Understanding the Historical Context of the Bible
That is a common critique about the Bible. How could that book filled with stories about dead men speak to our situation today? That is a challenge I face weekly for the 18-24 minutes I get in the pulpit to preach during our weekend services.
The single most important question I ask is how can I prove the point that this is relevant to our world today? I am not trying to convince myself, but I want to be able to clearly articulate a point based on scripture that will help people see the profound value in our sacred scripture that I hold near and dear to my heart.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. What does the Bible say about family relationships? Again, there were some significant cultural differences between then and now.
The roles of men and women and children were nothing like what they are in our modern times. There are plenty of reasons for this difference, but most are because of how much work there was to do just to survive. Today, couples argue over doing dishes or going to the grocery.
In those days, if someone who was supposed to take care of the sheep or plant a garden didn’t do it in a timely fashion, someone was going to die a slow, painful death. There was no time to define roles or make sure no one’s feelings were hurt. The work had to get done and that was how life was. All of the roles were required to make sure families were safe and secure. No one had time to sit around and think about what anyone felt about it; it was do it or die.
The reason today we can spend so much time talking about concepts like love and respect and communication is because we have time to talk about them. For the most part, we worry about things like this because we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from like people did in times gone past. We have no right to look down on people who were doing what they could to survive by reading our modern sensitivities into cultures and worlds we don’t understand.
The Bible is Timeless
But it is in understanding these differences that we find some real power in the story of Jesus. He took time to bless children, even scolding the disciples when they tried to shoo the children away. He touched sick people and cared about people who had no food. These are things that would have not even have been considered in Jesus’ world, yet He did it. Jesus set an example of radical hospitality and welcome because He knew the value of these things. He lived in a culture much more strict than ours yet He was so radical that He still pushes our limits and challenges our comfort zone 2000 years later.
This is the timeless nature of the Bible. Yes, it comes from a culture very different from ours but there is a truth given in those words that still breaks through to us today. Those who criticize the Bible and question its relevancy are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Are there some scriptures that I don’t particularly like? Of course – there are plenty of them. But to forgo the grace and mercy that Jesus teaches because I am challenged by some other verses is to downplay the value of the Bible.
The Bible is the book people want to have read to them on their deathbed, it is the book soldiers carry with them on the battlefield, and it is the place people have been turning to for comfort and reassurance for thousands of years. It is too valuable for our modern world to think we can just tear it up and forget about it.
If someone has put questions about the Bible in your mind, I advise you to offset those questions by actually reading it for yourself. Start with the Gospel of Luke. You’re welcome.