There have been many different cultural changes since the Bible was written. There are distinct cultures in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. The present-day culture is not the same as the culture during the time when the Bible was written. Since culture has changed, does that mean we should read the Bible differently?
The Word of God as Culture Changes
The Bible is the infallible Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Everything contained within the pages of the Bible is divinely inspired. The Bible contains different time periods with different cultures, but it never changes. The Bible does not change because God never changes (Hebrews 13:8).
Even though the Bible doesn’t change does not mean that culture hasn’t since the time the Bible was written. There are many parts of the Bible that are hard for people to understand due to cultural differences.
There are also different cultures and time periods in the Bible. Similarly, there have been cultural changes in the present-day world, which can make the Bible difficult to read at times. Despite these changes, how can a believer read the Bible as culture evolves?
The modern 21st-century culture is focused on the self. The 21st century is infiltrated with books, movies, and social media that are all focused on the self rather than others. Before a believer reads the Bible, they have to acknowledge that the culture of the day has influenced and impacted the way they come to the Bible.
Each person has their own distinct worldview, which influences their approach to the Bible. Each person also carries their own presuppositions with them as they read the Bible. In other words, people tend to read the Bible with different rose-colored glasses. As believers, the goal is to read the Bible for what it actually says — not what we want it to say.
Since modern Western culture is focused on the self, modern believers are reading the Bible with the goal of discovering passages that are relevant to them (Christopher Hall, “How Does Culture Affect the Way We Understand Scripture?”).
Rather than reading the Bible to learn more about God, the culture is promoting a self-focused reading of the Bible. In this type of hermeneutic, God is not receiving the glory due to His name. Believers should not read the Bible with a “what can I get out of this” mentality.
When a believer reads the Bible, the focus should be on learning about God and deepening their relationship with Him. The Bible does give believers guidance and help; however, the focus of the Bible is not on the self. The focus of the Bible is God and His glory.
Culture Changes Are Ongoing
Changing culture is unavoidable. The culture and philosophy of the time will change in the future. Even though culture has changed and will continue to change, there is always a better way to read the Bible. As believers, we can still read the Bible no matter what the culture presently advocates or promotes.
As established, the philosophy of the 21st-century Western world is focused on the self. Relativism permeates society today, as the key teaching of this philosophy is “whatever is true for me is the truth” and “whatever is true for you is the truth for you.”
It would be confusing to apply this philosophy to the Bible as the Bible is the absolute truth. There are no different meanings of the Bible.
Culture and Hermeneutics
Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation and biblical hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of the Bible. As culture changes, believers need to adhere to reading the Bible with the correct hermeneutics. The Bible is meant to be read with a literal hermeneutic.
This means that the Bible should be read as you would read any other book. It is historically and factually true. The information contained in its passages contains literal history that occurred in the past and some passages such as in the books of the prophets and in Revelation will occur in the future.
When an individual approaches the Bible, it is important to clear out any presuppositions he or she may have concerning the Bible. If the culture has enculturated you with the belief “God is not real,” then the presumption that “God is not real” will infiltrate your mind as you read the Bible.
This means that you will be reading the true Word of God, but your presumptions, worldview, and culture have convinced you that God is not real. Thus, it is important for all individuals to not pose any presumptions to the Bible before they read the text.
Rather, all individuals should read the Bible the same way they would read any sort of historical, non-fiction work of literature. Likewise, as the individual reads the Bible, they should understand the Bible with a literal interpretation.
This is not to say that the Bible does not have any allegories because it does. The literal interpretation of the Bible does acknowledge the existence of allegories, such as parables and metaphors.
Why Does This Matter?
It is without a doubt that the culture of the world will gradually shift to a more secular, sinful, self-focused view as the world goes on. The Bible tells us that the times will get worse and worse until the end (2 Timothy 3:1). As believers, we can still read the Bible correctly despite the changing of culture.
The Western culture in America is a post-postmodernism Christian culture. This means more people are denying the authenticity of the Bible, denying the existence of God, and has majorly become hedonistic. Even with these challenges, Christians can read the Bible the way God intended us to read its sacred pages.
The Bible is God’s Word, which means it supersedes culture. The Bible never changes, and the information provided in its pages is applicable for all people for all time. There are cultural differences in the Bible; however, through diligent study, believers will learn about the different cultural practices in the Bible and understand its teachings.
Jesus was born into the world, which had its own cultural norms during His time. Since the majority of the people during Jesus’ life would have been working in agricultural types of jobs (farmers, shepherds, etc.), many of his teachings are in reference to agricultural aspects, such as the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32).
Believers can continue to read the Bible correctly as they understand the different cultural worldviews of the time and acknowledge any presumptions taught by their own present-day worldview and culture.
Christians can read the Bible as culture changes by being faithful to God’s Word and treating it as the true Word of God. The Bible has the true words of life and death, which means it is extremely important that all people read the Bible.
Culture will try to impact the way we read the Bible; however, it is vital that Christians read the Bible with a literal hermeneutic. Culture will change, but the Bible never will.
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Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.