Thursday, November 18, 2010

How much of the Bible should I obey? Part 3

Is the Bible headed anywhere? What I mean is, how can something written before the Internet and iPhones be relevant in any way especially when it comes to topics dealing with culture and society? After all, the world and lifestyles of those in it looked infinitely different when Paul, Moses, David, John, and about sixty other dudes sat down and wrote the books that we now believe to be the Word of God. How does it still apply and better yet, how do I interpret in a way so that I can apply it correctly.

Here's something that will help tremendously. See the Bible through a lens called a redemptive-movement framework. Let me explain:


During biblical times slavery was common and slaves were treated very poorly. Then Moses came along and wrote down some commands from God that went against how society treated and viewed slaves. For example, the people of Israel were told to be a safe haven for run away and escaped slaves fleeing harsh treatment in some other country. Rules about how harshly you could punish a slave were put in place and every 6 years slaves were to be given their freedom back. (It's important to note that the form of slavery here was fundamentally different than the forced slavery of Africans in early America). Do you see the redemptive movement taking place. If we continue on down the path towards an ultimate ethic concerning slavery we reach a place where slavery is altogether eliminated and all working conditions are improved. Bosses (those in authority) treat their employees with dignity and respect. Employees work as if they are working unto the Lord and there is harmony at all levels of an organization.


View the treatment and rights of women through this same lens; follow the trajectory that Scripture sets out for them. From a society and culture that views women as property to and ultimate ethic of complementarianism: the idea that while men and women have equal value and status before God, they have distinct, God-given roles and responsibilities when it comes to the home, family, and the church.

So when trying to  determine which commands to obey and how they are to be obeyed given our context and culture, you have to allow the redemptive spirit of the text to carry forward the unrealized or frozen-in-time aspects of a biblical ethic" (taken from Slaves, Women and Homosexuality by William Webb. An odd title, but a book I strongly recommend.)

Holy Kisses

Let's take one of the commands from our list and apply this idea to see what "we should do with" this command.

"Greet one another with a holy kiss." Romans 16.16
"Greet one another with a holy kiss." 1 Corinthians 16.20
"Greet one another with a holy kiss." 2 Corinthians 13.12
"Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss." 1 Thessalonians 5.26
"Greet one another with a kiss of love." 1 Peter 5.14

At least five times the bible commands its reader to greet one another with a holy kiss. So where are all the holy kisses? I never get any. Why do we not obey or follow this command?

Let's look at it though our two steps: The cultural component and the redemptive-movement.

1. What is the cultural component of this text and what is the tran-scultural component? In New Testament times a holy kiss encouraged and demonstrated community and closeness within a body of believers. Paul and Peter were basically saying, "You guys should be tight. There should be obvious amounts of brotherly love in a room where you all are gathered. Lots of holy kissing!" So the cultural component of this text is the kiss. The physical act of kissing a brother (in a brotherly, heterosexual way) to manifest the love felt among believers. Fruit of the Spirit type love.

The transcultural component, the idea behind the text that transcends culture and time is that Christians should be known by their love for one another. Self-sacrificial love. Now it would be distasteful and a bit awkward for outsiders in our culture and society if they saw Christians kissing each other during church. The message wouldn't be communicated properly. Obeying this command in our context would have the fulfill the exact opposite purpose for which it was commanded. So, we read this text and apply it properly by giving out lots of hugs and handshakes. Greet each other warmly and affectionately. "After all, this is how people will know you are my disciples" says Jesus.

Be Careful

Now understand that this is just a singular example and there are many different criteria to follow as you are interpreting. I want you to understand the delicacy and precision one must operate as they apply text. The pastor I mentioned in part 1 took this idea and used it to argue (incorrectly) that homosexuality is a form of sexual expression that the Scriptures don't prohibit.

The trajectory that Scripture sets for homosexuality does not terminate to an ultimate ethic where it is permissible. It always has a negative assessment of this behavior. The redemptive spirit Scripture sets is directed toward how we as believers treat and understand those who commit this sin. We pursue them in love with the same grace and mercy that our Lord extended when he offered himself as a sacrifice for their iniquities.

Try one for yourself: "If a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him." I Corinthians 11.14 What do you do with this verse?

Sorry. Just realized this was a long post. Thanks for hanging in there and I hope it was helpful.


  1. Can you find in the greek/hebrew that kissing, in this case, actually refers to lips pressing upon lips? Because kissing doesn't automatically suggest lip-to-lip smooching, but if you were to "kiss the crowd" you would be making a kissing gesture without another person being there, or blowing a kiss in effect.

    Scripture doesn't exactly say, "Greet each other by turning your head to your right so that your noses don't collide when you plant a giant sloppy one right up on your brother's grill, in a totally righteous way. If your brother chooses to dip you backward as you frantically suck face, be sure to properly raise one leg forward for optimal balance." What version of "kiss" do YOU, personally, estimate scripture to suggest as a type of kiss? A holy kiss, would naturally, I suspect, mean one that's appropriate for company not to stumble about it..