Bible interpretation test; universal or cultural?

Most of us probably think that we are reasonably consistent in the way we interpret the Bible. Test it out with this Cultural Hermeneutics Test from William J. Webb. Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), pages 14-16.

“Vote” for each verse: A, B, or C.
“A” means “universal and transcultural,”
“B” means “Christians don’t agree”
“C” means “Cultural and not for Christians today.”
[This is McKnight’s version; couldn’t find the link.]

Explain WHY you feel this way?

Webb’s original question: “Which of these instructions from Scripture are still in force for us today exactly as they are articulated ‘on the page’?”

[Go with your best hunch, and enjoy ;-]]

  1. ‘God. . . said to them [Adam and Eve], ‘Be fruitful and increase in Number’ ” (Gen 1:28).
  2. ‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5).
  3. ‘When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce. . . you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow” (Deut 26: 12).
  4. “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (l Cor 16:20).
  5. “Women should remain silent in the churches” (l Cor 14:34).
  6. “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (l Tim 5:23).
  7. “Set apart for the LORD. . . every firstborn male of your herds and flocks” (Deut 15:19).
  8. “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives” (Deut 22:28-29).
  9. “Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period” (Lev 18: 19).
  10. “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman” (Lev 18:22).
  11. “Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it” (Lev 18:23).
  12. “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28: 19).
  13. “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4: 13).
  14. “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” (Lev 19: 19).
  15. “Be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure” (2 Pet 1: 10).
  16. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Gen 9:6).
  17. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (In 13: 14).
  18. “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 10:5-6).
  19. “Heal the sick, raise the dead, . . . drive”out demons” (Mt 10:8).
  20. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Lk 12:33).
  21. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Ex 20:9-10).
  22. “A woman. . . should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head” (1 Cor 11:6- 7).
  23. “If a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him” (1 Cor 11: 14).
  24. “Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife” (1 Cor 7:27).
  25. “Every male among you shall be circumcised” (Gen 17: 10).
  26. “Punish him [your child] with the rod and save his soul from death” (Prov 23:14).
  27. “Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Mt 5:42).
  28. “Bless those who persecute you. . . . If your enemy is hungry, feed him” (Rom 12:14,20).
  29. “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more” (Pro v 31 :6-7).
  30. “Do not. . . put tattoo marks on yourselves” (Lev 19:28).
  31. “Praise God with tambourine and dancing. . . praise him with the clash of cymbals” (Ps 150:4-5).
  32. “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly” (Lev 19:32).
  33. “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29).
  34. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (1 Pet 2: 18).
  35. “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing” (Deut 22:5).
  36. “If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him. . . the priest shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. . . . He is to have the woman drink the water” (Num 5:12,17,26).
  37. “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer. . . . I also want women to dress modestly. . . not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (1 Tim 2:8-9).
  38. “Do not take interest of any kind from your countryman” (Lev 25:36).
  39. “Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (J as 5: 14)

For another hermeneutics test see – Scot McKnight’s Leadership Journal Intro and Test – 20 questions; quick clicks

5 thoughts on “Bible interpretation test; universal or cultural?

  1. andy gr says:

    Good question, Ben.

    By my calculation, only questions 2 and 11 do not come into the category “Christians don’t agree” – and for all I know there may be Christians who disagree on the validity of those as well!

    The more important question is: which of these am I, or are we in my community, called to obey, even if some Christians would disagree with us and we would in most cases respect their right to do so? My answer is that (I think) I am called to obey 14 of these in a direct simple way, and a number of others in a more complicated, transformed way…

  2. David Ker says:

    The answer is always D.

    D. Cultural and for Christians today.

  3. […] My answer was always D. Check out the comments on his post to see why. […]

  4. Justin Anthony Knapp says:

    Doug Chaplin has responded as well.


  5. Ben says:

    Universally applicable “as is” is one end of the spectrum; totally cultural, “for that time only” is the other end. Scot McKnight (sorry I couldn’t find the link) had the ABC choices. B probably intended to get at David’s D – somewhere between the two extremes of “keep it all” and “it was for that time only” i.e both cultural and applicable. The big debates in B or D (if you prefer) are “how much is cultural?” and “how much is totally applicable?” or “applicable in what way?”.

    The bigger question for me isn’t so much your answer to each specific reference, but WHY. What overarching principles do you use to decide which commands you will follow in total or how much you modify (re-contextualize) them – especially when it comes to many of the New Testament references. The hermeneutic criteria one uses for one passage frequently leads to problems elsewhere.

    This is no doubt why Webb has this test at the beginning of his book. You have to ask how and WHY.

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