My best friend and I were talking recently and he said to me during a discussion about God that, "the bible was written for people who lived a long time ago and its word does not pertain to us today." He was referring to our conversation about the man as head of the household and him needing to lead as head of the household. His spouse is very liberal and a feminist and he was telling me in so many words that the word of God saying that men were the head of household is no longer pertinent today because times have changed. I know this thinking is wrong but how might I explain that the God of Adam is still the same today and that you can't just pick and choose what you follow from the Bible as a Christian?
In a recent “Ask Roger” response I answered your question about the husband being the head of the household (Ephesians 6:21-33). I will now respond to the other issue you brought up: “Is the Bible old-fashioned and out of date?”
My answer is, “No, the Bible is not old fashioned nor out of date—although it may appear that way if not properly interpreted and understood.”
Let me share several principles in handling the Bible properly. Bible verses must be brought closely into focus. Several lenses—properly focused—can help make this happen. We must examine such things as the history, culture, language and other Bible passages all of which form the background and context of a particular Bible teaching.
Let’s begin by focusing the Historical Lens. Consider again Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 5:21-33, regarding husbands and wives. Paul taught that husbands and wives are to submit to each other (verse 21). He then instructed women to submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord Jesus and to respect their husbands. He then instructed husbands to sacrifice their lives for their wives like Jesus Christ sacrificed His life for His church.
The Historical Lens puts this passage in a first-century-Roman-world setting. Women were treated poorly in the Roman world (as they still are in many cultures). Wives had no security in marriage. Their husbands could divorce them on a whim. They could be turned out from the home absolutely destitute. Women had little or no legal status. It was common for a man to have a wife, as well as several other mistresses. His legal wife was to raise his family and to pass on the family name legitimately. The other women were for sex.
Focusing the history lens we discover that Paul’s teachings were revolutionary for his times! Paul was not subjugating women to be under a man’s will and volition; he was elevating them to positions of equal submission and deep-seated security and protection. A husband was not to divorce his wife nor turn her out. He was to ensure that her needs were met first—even before his own! No one in the first-century world ever thought like this! But, in a Christian marriage, love and companionship rule.
Now, let’s focus the Cultural Lens. First-century culture drastically devalued women. They were often not allowed in public—unless in the company of their husbands—and even then they were to walk behind their husbands and certainly not beside them and especially not ever, ever in front of them. In Israel they were not allowed to participate in the Jewish synagogue services. In fact, they were segregated outside the building where they peered through windows in attempts to see and hear what was happening inside. Paul’s teaching was culturally incomprehensible to the Jews and Greeks of that world. Not only were women moved by Paul into compassionate roles of love and partnership with their husbands, they were allowed total involvement in the new Christian churches.
Finally, understanding the above, let’s clearly focus the Scriptural Lens. Paul lifted women to equal footings with men in the Christian church. He declared equality in Christ in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
As we focus our lenses we see that the overriding principle for relationships between man and women is not the subjugation of women—but the liberating freedom of women from the often crushing and devaluation that occurs in most cultures.
Now, let me give several words of advice about interpreting verses from the Old Testament (the large portion of the Bible written before Jesus came to earth).
The Old Testament is replete with rules for proper behavior, many of which sound strange and ridiculous to us. The Old Testament has two categories of laws—only one of which is still applicable for today. Knowing which category a particular teaching fits into is critical for properly understanding the relevance of Old Testament teachings.
The first category consists of the Ceremonial and Constitutional Laws that governed the religion and government of Israel. Since Israel was a theocracy the ceremonial and religious laws often blended indistinguishably together. Many of these laws were deeply concerned with purity (for both health and religious reasons). Touching any dead or unclean animal rendered a person unclean. Cleaning was effected by going to a priest, confessing the sin and making an offering to the Lord. This law was enunciated in Leviticus 5:2-6: “If a person touches anything ceremonially unclean—whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the ground—even though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty.”
Of course, none of us wants to handle road kill; but, no one would consider touching dead animals in the street as sins. Horses are in the category of religiously unclean animals; but, no one today would considerer riding horses to be sins. We are not subject to the Mosaic Laws which governed the nation of Israel. (By the way, these religious laws are worth studying. Many of them are Old Testament shadows of the coming reality of Jesus Christ.)
The second Old Testament category consists of the Moral Laws that transcend all cultures. These are normative and are to be followed rigorously. For example, Leviticus 18:6-7 details moral values dealing with incest: “No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD. Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.” Incest is a breaking of a moral law which transcends all times and places.
The Ten Commandments contain an overarching set of moral laws. Leviticus 19:11-15 summarizes several of them: “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another…. Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him…. Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”
If an Old Testament teaching is a religious or constitutional law of Israel, ignore it. It is not authoritative for us today. On the other hand, if it is an eternal moral truth, you can safely obey it—without question—knowing that this moral value is for your personal good and for the good of people around you.
I hope you find these thoughts helpful as you sort out the applicable truths in the Bible for healthy living. The Bible, properly understood, is not designed to bring us into misery and bondage. God’s Word is designed to bring us into the abundant life that Jesus promised in John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I hope these thoughts help.