Are We Reading Cultural Biases Into The Bible?


Lately I have been troubled, more so than usual, about an issue that surrounds the Bible.  And my troubled spirit revolves about this question:  “What does The Bible say about                                 ?  Simply fill in the blank with any topic or issue.  My issue is not about what The Bible speaks into our hearts, but what WE speak into The Bible as we read it.

I am seeing and hearing a lot of what I call “cultural bias” into what The Bible says.  For the sake of thought, allow me to define what I mean by “cultural bias”  Cultural bias is “the tendency for people to judge concepts and interpret ideas and truths through a narrow view based on their own culture.”  In other words, we read into The Bible the influences of our culture.  One of those influences, especially for the Western Church (by this I mean mainline U.S. churches), is what we have been told it means.  Sometimes this meaning is an age-old meaning.  It is what we believe, what our parents believed, what our grandparents believed, ad infinitum.  At other times, it’s the modern, more “enlightened” view.

Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien wrote a book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.  In this book they point out 2 immediate dangers by reading the Bible with these “western eyes”.  First is making yourself the center of this search for the meaning of the Bible.  We tend to search for things we think are relevant us to and ignore the rest.  The other immediate danger they describe is, well I’ll just quote them:  “Second, and perhaps more seriously, a me-centered approach to the Bible confuses application with meaning. Simply put, I am not the focus of the Bible’s meaning; Christ is.”

While this may explain some of the issues, it does not address all of them.  Over the next few posts, I am going to look and speak into some of our “church cultural biases” into some issues.  And it may be that when we see how we have made “our” culture central in what The Bible says on these issues, there may be other, call them truths or principles of The Bible that we have read “our” interpretation into those passages to the exclusion of any other possible meanings.

I guess what I am attempting to do is to ask, “Where are we wrong when it comes to the truth of The Bible?”  And here is where you, the readers, can participate in this journey.  I am going to list some of what I see as “church culture biases” as it pertains to understanding what The Bible says.  I would like to invite you to post in the comments section other things that have been either long-hold or modern interpretations of what The Bible says about “life issues”.  So far here is my list in no particular order of importance, and please feel free to add to the list or share your insights.

  • What does the Bible really say about divorce?
  • Are those who have been divorced really excluded from church leadership?
  • Are ‘deacons’ and ‘elders’ to be considered clergy (pastors/preachers) or laity (the person in the pew)?  Who’s right?
  • Who is ‘authorized’ to administer (or serve) Holy Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist/The Mass?
  • What does The Bible really say about women as teachers, pastors, or preachers?
  • What does The Bible really say about human sexuality?
  • Does The Bible approve of slavery?  What does it really say about it?
  • Which is a more accurate term:  Christian or Disciple?
  • What does The Bible say about “the church”?
  • Does God insist on us being a “Christian” nation, and does this fulfill our mission?
  • What is the “proper” way to worship?

Well, for right now, this is all I can think of; so if you have more ideas or questions, or arguments, share below in “Comments”.  Right now I am like the cat who ate some cheese and then went to wait beside the mouse hole.  “I am waiting with baited breath!”


16 thoughts on “Are We Reading Cultural Biases Into The Bible?

  1. Hi, Pastor Randy-

    I look forward to this series and will try to follow all the comments.

    For several decades many Bible verses, that are important to me, just seemed to be ignored by a lot of Christians and Christian organizations. Since the Bible is such a long read (study, meditate) it is hard to be mindful of everything all the time. Our brains are more finite than God’s.
    Martin Luther, who said that scripture cannot be correctly interpreted without the help of the HS.

    Should be a fun topic. I am a fan of sincere, open, affirming, deep discussions on our Faith.


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  2. Reading the book you mentioned. It’s a real thought provoking read. Should be required reading at every Seminary & Bible College. We have a real bad habit of thinking the American Church has the best angle on Hermenuetics. So much to learn, so little time. Aren’t you glad God does not judge the world based on what we think is correct? Aren’t you glad for grace & mercy!

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  3. can’t wait for this – it will provoke people to look deeper than the often twisted presentation of God’s word to address the hobby horse of the speaker – I say this knowing that I have my own hobby horse and I have believed the teaching of others with their own hobby horse

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  4. Pastor Randy, part of this bias is a result of the King James only version of the Bible. While I love the beauty of this bible it is not a very accurate translation. Take the term “Lord’ for example. What an odd name to refer to our creator. Such British terminology. At any rate, the infusion of the English language to describe customs of old short-changes what is actually being said. I don’t believe there is any attempt here to deceive, but the end result is a false picture of how it actually was. Isee major problems with the description of Heaven and Hell and the Devil. I will spare you from me going into it here, but we have taken representations and have come up or conjured a scenario very unlike the early church. In fact, I don’t even believe the early church could recognize what we call the church today. That doesn’t mean they all had it right back then either, but we are so very different today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that is one of my goals. My biggest goal isn’t to get people to agree with me, but to encourage others to do what I’m doing–struggling and wrestling the the Holy Writ.

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  5. Here’s what I believe, Pastor Randy. We should let the Author of our faith read the bible to us, let the Holy Spirit speak to us and use it as the tool it is. There are multiple layers to scripture, just waiting to be unwrapped. So one day we are reading in a literal way about people wandering around lost in the desert and the next day we are reading the very same passage but suddenly, it applies perfectly to my modern situation full of cultural biases, almost as if it were written just for me personally, just for such a time as this.

    The problem of course, is not in the bible, culture, or translations, the problem is that we sometimes try to read it with modern eyes,as if it were a book of rules or an IRS manual. Even just a hundred years ago we understood the language of metaphor, poetry, parables. Today we want everything black and white, true or false. We forget there are actually some greater truths to be found in myths, poetry, song. So I am a biblical literalist, meaning the bible is the literal a word of God….. a God who often speaks to us in parables, in poetry,in riddles that allow us to discover the truth ourselves, to sort it all out. Jesus does not say, “thou shall not throw seeds on hard ground,” he tells us a parable and lets us figure out for ourselves what the kingdom of heaven might look like and and how we can go about reflecting that.

    So I believe in all the literal things the bible states clearly, no women serving as pastors, divorce is allowed but undesirable, BUT the purpose is to teach us the value of such things, to love the Lord and to understand why He may have suggested such things. We are to love the rules, to choose the rules, to reason our way to them, not to obey out of fear. And we are given the grace and the leeway to make mistakes in doing that.

    Speaking plainly here, I pulled away from from my former church’s tolerance of homosexuality because I have never met a gay person that didn’t have wounding in their spirit, often linked to child sexual abuse. I wish to love and accept people, but to condone or tolerate homosexuality in a formal way, was to betray those children who have been sexually abused, often groomed into believing that being gay is now their very identity, for life. But that’s all wrong, we are not our sexuality regardless of what it looks like. We are higher beings, our identity is in Christ. Myself, I don’t think the Lord cares about our petty sins, so much as He cares about the truth and helping us to discover it. And if we get it wrong, well, He just picks us up, forgives us, dusts us off, and we try again.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exactly IB, how many things do people believe the Bible says because someone somewhere said that’s what it means? I’m sure I will stir up some trouble, but it’s a knack I have and sometimes I just need to get people to think for themselves and learn from the Holy Spirit

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