Welcome to our Wednesday “Ask Beau” post. The purpose of this weekly feature is to provide you, our readers, with biblical responses to questions you have about practical issues that you face.
As always, you may submit questions for future “Ask Beau” posts by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by leaving a comment on this post.
About two weeks ago I was part of an interesting discussion at the Grace Polaris Administration Center “third-floor” offices about the topic of hermeneutics. If you weren’t aware of it, hermeneutics is the fancy-schmancy term for the study of interpretation—obviously an important topic for those who want to apply the Bible to life. I and Zac Hess, our pastoral intern, were giving some guidance to two of our youth ministry interns as they prepared to teach a lesson. As we spoke, an important hermeneutical principle arose, and I thought it wise to write about it here.
The question in today’s Ask Beau post, “Does all of the Bible apply today?” is a common question, whether or not people verbalize it. Those who read the Bible recognize that it was written a long time ago to people of different cultures than ours. Further study reveals that the believer today is under something called the “New Covenant,” which differs significantly from the “Old Covenant”—most notably by virtue of the fact that the New Covenant does not require animal sacrifices in response to sin. For these reasons and more, it is tempting for people to say, “That Scripture does not apply to us because the situation was different then.”
In light of the Bible’s testimony about itself, we must resist this temptation. Consider the words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NIV 1984; emphasis added). According to Paul, all of the Bible is applicable to us.
The proper question for the believer, then, is not, “Does this passage apply to me?” but, “How does this passage apply to me?”
Admittedly it can be tricky to answer this question. Verses like Romans 16:16 (“Greet one another with a holy kiss”) illustrate the cultural aspect of the dilemma. Obviously Paul’s exhortation built upon social customs that are not so customary today—at least not in our culture. If we can’t write off the verse as inapplicable, but there is a difference between the culture of the original recipients of the text and our culture, what do we do?
Stated simply, we seek the culturally transcendent principle that the author is teaching, and we apply that principle in our culture. If we tossed out all the Scripture that was colored by the culture of the original recipients, then we would have to toss out the entire Bible, because all of the Bible is culturally colored, as is any form of communication. Consider that language is an aspect of culture, and the Bible was not written in English. Instead, similar to the task of translation, we try to isolate the point that the author is making that would apply at all times, in all cultures, and we apply this point in our culture.
In the case of Romans 16:16, then, we might state the culturally transcendent principle this way: Greet one another warmly. In our culture that principle would not normally be embodied with a kiss, but perhaps with a handshake or a hug (or a chest bump between us guys). We don’t dismiss Paul’s instructions; we apply them in the way he might have applied them if he were a 21st-century believer.
Much, much more could be said on this topic, but I’ll end the post here and look forward to your comments.