Argument from Culture

It's an attempt to undermine the legitimacy and primacy of Scripture for Christian living, while claiming to honor the Scripture for what “it really says.”

This argument states that since Christ (or Peter, or John, or Paul, etc.) addressed people bound by a certain place, time, and culture, the message’s proscriptions and prescriptions are likewise bound by a certain place, time, and culture.  Scripture does not utter statements once and for all authoritative; rather, it records statements held to be authoritative once upon a time. 

 

There is an argument, not exactly new, that has been making its way through the church today. The argument from culture, let’s call it the argumentam ad culturam, is an attempt to undermine the legitimacy and primacy of Scripture for Christian living, while claiming to honor the Scripture for what “it really says.” It is the basic hermeneutical assumption of the culturalists.

This argument states that since Christ (or Peter, or John, or Paul, etc.) addressed people bound by a certain place, time, and culture, the message’s proscriptions and prescriptions are likewise bound by a certain place, time, and culture.  Scripture does not utter statements once and for all authoritative; rather, it records statements held to be authoritative once upon a time. Following proper and sometimes extensive adjustments, some authority may still hold for us (e.g., support orphans and widows); largely, however, that authority is now gone with the wind–as are the place, time, and culture in which they were uttered.

In full, the argument is as follows:

  1. Since the Bible is bound by place, time, and culture, its commandments are bound by place, time, and culture
  2. We are bound by place, time, and culture
  3. Our place, time, and culture are not the Bible’s
  4. Therefore, we are not bound by the Bible’s commandments

As stated, this argument is valid (no logical errors).  If there’s something wrong with it, the problem is in one of its premises.

There’s nothing wrong with (2) and (3).  If there’s a problem with the conclusion (4), and the argument is valid, there’s only one place left to look: premise (1).

The since part of premise (1) is correct. Christians can and should read Scripture in context. Understand the audience in Rome to whom Paul wrote; know the Pharisees Christ condemned, and why their religious obligations were superfluous to requirements; see the various cultures presented in the book of Acts.

The then part of premise (1) is not correct. Though they preached to various people in different cultures, their message cannot be “culturized,” that is, their content cannot be explained entirely in terms of their culture and, in this way, accepted or rejected insofar as the culture of the audience is accepted or rejected.

The problem with argumentum ad culturum is those who use it miss the scriptural context they try to gloss. For them, misapprehension of the scripture hinges on a failure to understand a preposition.  That is, they are blind to the difference between making an argument to a culture and arguing from one. Christ, Paul, and others took the former route. Progressive Christians take the latter.

Test Case: Homosexuality

Exhibit A for this hermeneutic, of course, is homosexual unions, and unrepentant homosexuality in the church as a whole.

There are three oft-used passages by the progressive crowd we shall look at: Matthew 19:3-9Romans 1:24-27, and 1 Timothy 1:9-11.

These passages have been used by the new homosexual movement to show that Christ, Paul, etc., used arguments speaking to a specific culture and should be left in that culture, considering this culture is more wise, knowledgeable, and progressive. But, upon further inspection of the text, did Paul and Christ intend for their words to be strictly followed in that culture, only to be cast aside in this?

Consider the first text:

Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’

They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.’ – Matthew 19:3-9

Read More