Commentary Let Her Lead Theology

Interlude: When is a Teaching Cultural or Transcultural?

It seems like a good time to address the question, “How do we know if a command applies to all Christians for all time or just to the original situation?”

You’ll see shades of this in my post on 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Watch out for that in the next day or so.

First things first: 1 Timothy is a personal letter from Paul to his protégé Timothy. Paul’s goal is to encourage Timothy to combat false teaching and preach the true gospel. He also wants to help this young minister work through some tough situations. Chapter 2 tells us about a few of them.

Because of the personal nature of the letter, we should hesitate to see any specific instructions as binding for all cultures in all times simply because it’s in the New Testament.

Beyond this, here are a few principles that can help us know if this section (or any Bible passage) is culture-bound (limited to the original audience) or transcultural (meaning a text is applicable to all cultures for all time). New Testament scholar Grant Osborne helps us out here. I’ll summarize a few points from his article, “Hermeneutics and Women in the Church,” quoting him to begin each point:[1]

  1. “Teaching that transcends the cultural biases of the author and his readers will be normative.” In other words, if a teaching stands in opposition to the wider culture, it’s likely transcultural. In 1 Timothy 2, the restriction on women reflects the cultural norms of the day. So, we’ll need to look at the context to ask ourselves why this restriction is put in place.
  2. “If a command is wholly tied to a cultural situation that is not timeless in itself, it will probably be a temporary application rather than eternal norm.” I’ll make the case in my post that Timothy was dealing with a specific, cultural situation (false teaching in Ephesus) and a disruptive woman causing problems in the church. His specific situation isn’t the same as every minister’s, so it’s likely that Paul’s command is also specific to Timothy.
  3. “Those commands that have proven detrimental to the cause of Christ in later cultures must be reinterpreted.” This doesn’t mean we neglect a command because the present culture opposes it! But it does means we must look closer at the abstract principle embedded within the practice of the original culture.

Related to number three, in his book Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, William Webb (see note 1) talks a lot about the “ladder of abstraction.” By that, he means every text expresses itself in the original culture in concrete terms. But the further away we are from that situation and culture, we need to “move up” the ladder of abstraction to find the abstract principle that’s behind the concrete expression.

Let’s take a neutral example: “Greet each other with a holy kiss” (2 Cor 13:12). Kissing as a greeting, even for men, was common in ancient Middle Eastern cultures. In fact, it’s still common today in parts of the world.

The concrete expression of kissing is rooted in the abstract principle of being welcoming to each other. Thus every community of faith must answer for themselves, “How can we concretely express a warm welcome to each other?”

I’d argue that to literally obey 1 Corinthians 13:12 (that is, kiss the people who walk into your church) would actually mean you violate the text. If you actually greeted people with a kiss, no one would feel welcome and they would not stick around for the worship service! Why? It’s repulsive in our Western culture today. (Not to mention Covid-19.)

Now that’s a silly example we’d all agree on. But I hope it gives you some insight into how culture influences biblical application. Not to mention why application isn’t as simple as your Bible app devo makes it out to be.


[1] Grant R. Osborne, “Hermeneutics and Women in the Church,” JETS 20 (1977), 339-340. You should know that Osborne taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, an Evangelical Free Church seminary, a conservative denomination. The “Free Church,” as it’s been called, is devoted to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Osborne could hardly be labeled as a “liberal scholar” who’s unfaithful to the Bible. See also William J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2001), 161ff. If you are interested in the issue of gender roles in Scripture, Webb is a must-read.

Life Ministry

The One Thing That Grows Trust

Trusting people is hard for me. What about you? It’s not mainly because I believe people are so sinful they aren’t worthy of being trusted. That’s can be true sometimes. No, it has more to do with me. I don’t want to trust them. Trust means I need to be close, vulnerable, intimate. It’s easier to keep my distance.

What’s the solution?


As friendship increases, so does trust. I’ll represent this reality with a mind-blowing, universe-altering, life-trajectory-changing graphic.


Revolutionary, right?

Actually, it is.

Have you ever heard someone talk—in any context—and, as you listen from afar, you sense a deep distrust of them arising inside of you? You can’t put your finger on it, but you just assume the worst about them. You’re sure that if the Human Fund were taking donations, this person would not be a recipient.

But if you’re honest, this distrust is cultivated by coddling the darkness within you.

Time goes on. You get to know them. Maybe you’re forced to at an awkward work event or social function. Or, perhaps, by the grace of God, you initiate a conversation with them. (Just to gather evidence on their horrible humanity.)

Almost as quickly as you distrusted them (for absolutely no reason) you begin thinking, Shoot, you’re actually a stinkin’ great human. I think I might be able to trust you. Heck, I want to be your friend.

Am I the only one? (I didn’t think so.)

What happened here? Our hearts are melted as we begin to see them differently as a unique creation, made in the image of God, full of dignity and worth, equipped with gifts, passions, and a calling. In this, we took the first step toward friendship. And as we move closer still, we begin to let our guard down and became vulnerable. A friendship blooms and with it, so does trust.

It’s easier to keep our distance. But distance makes all it’s too easy to believe the worst and build up straw-men when conflict and crisis come. Intangibles like vision, mission, values, or strategy—as important as they are—aren’t big enough to put the pieces back together.

But friendship can. And it will. I’m learning that.


My Top 10 Posts of 2011

Top ten lists. That is what the last week of December is for, right? I should probably get in on the action before it’s too late. Without further adieu, here are the top ten posts from this small corner of the blogosphere. Thank you all for reading. I am truly humbled.

10. Your Words Have the Power of Life and Death
9. The Result of a Depraved Mind: Practicing and Approving of Evil Deeds
8. Gospel-Centered Devotions
7. I Want to Love Jesus, Not Just Know Stuff About Him
6. Long Snapping Amazement
5. Happy Anniversary to My Wife
4. Biggest Out of Context Pet Peeve: Matthew 18:20
3. The Rob Bell Saga
2. Thoughts on Erwin McManus’s Talk at the Global Leadership Summit
1. Should We Rejoice Over Osama Bin Laden’s Death?

If you read this blog often, what was your favorite post of 2011?

Life Theology

Your mom wants to subscribe to my blog.

Happy Mother’s Day, fellow bloggers and readers. I hope today was as good for you as it was for my wife and me. What better way to finish the weekend than by subscribing to the blog?  If you already subscribe, perhaps you can invite your mom–or someone else–to do the same?  After all, it’s free.

What are you waiting for?


Now for the couple that has it all…

My good friend Vern sent me an article from the Omaha World Herald that ran yesterday morning.  The article is about divorce insurance that’s going up for sale in Dayton, Ohio. Here’s a depressing snippet:

WedLock policyholders buy units of coverage. Each unit costs $15.99 per month and provides a cash payoff of $1,250 if the policyholder divorces. A spouse who, for example, buys 10 units stands to collect $12,500 in the event of a divorce.

The policy does not mature for four years.

After four years, the units increase in value by $250 per year.

Could there be a bigger abomination to God’s glorious design for marriage?  Thankfully, not everyone in Dayton is going for the madness. The article reports: “Greg Schutte, director of Dayton-based Marriage Works Ohio, said couples would be better off using the money on things that would strengthen their relationship, such as couples counseling or regular dates.”

God’s original design for marriage is covenant love. This means that, literally, people stay with each other until death parts them. (Make sure to read this caveat: There are circumstances that do allow for divorce — like sexual immorality of any kind and physical abuse, yet reconciliation should be the first option, and divorce should be the last option.)

Divorce is a kind of death — that’s why people are selling insurance for it.  But it is a man-made death and not one that God approves of. Jesus said, “So [husband and wife] are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6).

Imagine planning for the biggest day of your life on any Saturday afternoon. You have a busy day planned. You speak to the caterer, then head off to the church to look at decorations, and pay a visit to the florist. Wait! You have an appointment with the insurance agent! The divorce insurance agent. What a grand way to begin your marriage.

Marriage is a covenant, a promise, a vow to be faithful to work through problems, hurts, and personal sin.  According to the article, 32% of marriages end before eight years. Know what happens next? Those people go and get married again, expecting it to be easier the second or third time around. Instead, they do the hardest years over again.

Most of us have problems in every relationship we are in — whether with our spouse, a neighbor, a parent, or a friend. Interpersonal conflict is everywhere. And what is the common denominator in all of your relationships? You. You have problems because of you. You are your own worst enemy. So stop blaming your wife or your husband. Stop running from your marriage(s). That is not going to solve your love problems. It’s only going to create death. And the death of divorce will only bring other kinds of death in ways you cannot fathom.

Read the whole article from the Omaha World Herald.