Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the Christian life is trying to distinguish the difference between what is culture and God’s absolutes when reading God’s Word. Absolutes are God’s principles that are unchangeable. For example, God’s moral law: Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, etc. These are non-negotiables. These cannot be changed in any society.
On the other hand, culture can and does change over time from one society to another. Webster’s Dictionary has many definitions of culture, such as the customary beliefs, social forms and material traits of a racial, religious or social group.
Culture can also be defined as all the ways of life, including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called the way of life for an entire society. As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals and art.
Now, one can ask the question: Is the Bible culturally conditioned and thus only relative to that culture in what it asserts? Or does the divine message in a particular culture transcend this culture and speak to all human beings? What happens if one’s cultural experience becomes the basis and litmus test for our interpretation of Scripture?
I believe that although the Bible was written a long time ago in cultures very different from ours, the truth it contains is as relevant to us now as it was to those it was first addressed.
The Bible is God’s Word. It tells how sin entered this world and God’s plan to save human beings from sin. This story is told through different people’s experiences in their cultural context. When reading the Scriptures, one should prayerfully seek to understand and distinguish what culture is and the principles in the text. One should approach the text using the Spirit of Prophecy writings, Bible Commentaries, and other resources to achieve this goal. One should then hold on to those principles and apply them in different situations and cultural contexts. God’s principles never change. They transcend time and culture.
In Acts 17:26, Paul states that God has made us all of one blood. While we may be culturally diverse, biblically speaking, a common bond unites all people, despite their cultural differences, because God is the Creator of all humanity. Our sinfulness and need for salvation is not limited to one culture. We all need the salvation offered to us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I am convinced that when God spoke to specific generations, He saw that future generations reading the Word of God would understand that those truths go beyond the local and limited circumstances during which the Bible texts were written. A Bible passage one should live by is Micah 6: 8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you… to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? The prophet clearly states the basic principles regardless of our culture, language, or time on this earth. To be just, to love and have mercy and to walk humbly with God.
Dr Emmanuel Osei is the President of the South England Conference