Cultural Context, An Invalid Argument

The following article contains descriptive material not suitable for children under the age of 15.


You’ve probably heard the argument–maybe even used it before yourself–when discussing some controversial or just-plain-unpalatable issue covered in Scripture that “You’ve got to look at cultural context. Back then it was like this—” Something like that, right?
But are the rules and regulations laid out in Scripture really only valid in certain cultures? Or, rather–does God change His mind, His plan or His requirements for human beings based on the attitude, views and common beliefs of the majority? To know the answer, we must first understand the character of God, and our relationship to Him.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1: 1,3) “And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) “So God created man in his own image…male and female…” (Genesis 1:27) “In him (God/the Word of God) was life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14)
“But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (1st Corinthians 8:6) “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” (Psalm 34:8) “God is not a man, that he should lie: neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19) “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and to day, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13: 8) “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” (Isaiah 40:8) “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.” (Psalm 119:89) “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)
“The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.” (Psalm 33:11) “Shall any teach God knowledge? Seeing he judgeth those that are high.” (Job 21:22) “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spiit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

Are you ready for the truth? Let’s look at a few cultures in History, and how God commanded His people concerning them. I should point out that most of these cultures also had a different religion from God’s people, meaning that they didn’t acknowledge God as their God, and didn’t consider themselves bound by His laws. Did God just accept that?

Sodom:
I think many of us already know the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, but let’s take a deeper look. What exactly happened with these cities?
“And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom…” (Genesis 18: 20-22) Here we see God going down to observe and discover whether the condition of the city is really as bad as He has heard. In other words, He would test these people to see the true condition of their hearts. “…but Abraham stood yet before the LORD. And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” “And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he” (the LORD) “said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.” (Genesis 18: 22, 23 & 32) If God found ten people in the city who were righteous, not following after the sinful way with hearts corrupted toward evil, He would not destroy the city.
“And there came two angels” (disguised as men) “to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night . And he pressed them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.” (Genesis 19: 1-3) Lot had been in the city long enough to understand the common practices and attitude of the people of the city. He clearly was aware that the city square was no safe place for these strangers at night. Is it possible that he could also discern that nobody would take them into a safe home for the night, unless he himself stood up to make that offer? Even if Lot thought that someone else could have taken care of these strangers, the condition of the city was bad enough that he didn’t take that risk. “But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto them, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.” (Genesis 19:4,5) Now, this word “know” in Scripture actually refers to sexual interaction (See Luke 1:34, KJV where Mary says that she has not known a man when questioning how she could have a child, and also Genesis 4:1, KJV.) This wasn’t the case of a few delinquents who had come out to harass Lot and the men, nor even to simply interrogate them, but all the men of the city had come out to sodomize (rape) these men (who, might I point out, were  actually angels).

Lot must have known that in the culture of Sodom, greeting new men in such a way was commonly acceptable practice. After all, the whole city was involved.  Lot was just a stranger there. Should he really interfere with their customs and practices? “And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came the under the shadow of my roof.” (Genesis 19: 6-8) Lot considered the behavior of the men to be evil, even to the point where he was willing to sacrifice his own daughters (whether he considered it the lesser of two evils, or didn’t realize it too was an evil practice is up for speculation) to be violated by these men instead, and declaring that the men had come into his home for protection from such evil.
“And they” (the men of the city) “said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge:” (and to Lot, they said) “now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.” (Genesis 19: 9) These men became angry at Lot, accusing him of being a judge over them (judgmental much?), which was made worse in their eyes because he was a stranger, not one of them (and obviously not fitting in to their culture). In modern English, the men might as well have said, “Lot, you’re a stranger here and not familiar with our culture. What right do you have to judge us? Get out of our way. Now we’ll have our way with you to teach you a lesson,” while still trying to get to the men inside the house. And this is where  the condition of the minds of these men become disturbingly obvious, “But the men” (the angels inside the house) “put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door. And they” (the angels) “smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.” (Genesis 19: 10 & 11) That’s crazy! The men were so mad with anger and lust that even though they had been struck blind, they still  persisted in trying to have their way. Wouldn’t one expect a sane, reasonable person stop dead in his tracts, perhaps turn and run the other way, or at least fall on his knees realizing that he has done something terrible, seeing himself in danger? But no, these men–though blinded, continued to try to reach Lot and the men inside his house until they were too exhausted to press themselves further.
Skimming through verses 12-26 reveals that Lot had other family in the city, daughters that had married men of the city. He went to their houses to try to warn them that the city was about to be destroyed, but they didn’t believe him. Lot, his wife and his daughters needed to be physically escorted out of the city by the angels. Lot’s own wife died with Sodom because–even after being removed from the city– her heart was still there and she looked back at the destruction. One glance back caused her eternal loss. “And he” (God) “overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.” (Genesis 19:25) Lot’s love for his family in the city didn’t prevent the city from being destroyed. Because his daughters and sons-in-law didn’t believe the city would be destroyed and made no effort to save themselves, they lost their lives. That the majority of the people in the city ruled that sin was acceptable and common practice and had hardened their hearts against God–making such things culturally acceptable–didn’t stop God’s judgement from being executed against the cities. On the contrary, the widespread corruption and that sin was seen as normal to the point where they hated those who contradicted them is what caused God to destroy those cities.
And lest we forget that Christ was there for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, let’s look at a comment from Jude, the brother of Christ. “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness.” “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.” “But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the spirit. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” (Jude 4, 7, 8, 17-21)

Babylon:
Daniel and his friends were prisoners in Babylon. It was the custom of the king to select prisoners from a conquered nation, young men who had great potential, to train them in the culture of Babylon and appoint them to his service. Daniel and his three friends must not have been completely obstinate about their own culture, or else they might have been cast away as useless (possibly even executed), but just how much did they comply? Where did they bend and where did they hold firm?
“And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. Now among these were the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah of Abednego. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” (Daniel 1: 5-8)

Here we see that Daniel and his friends were given Babylonian names. If they resisted these names at all, it is not recorded here, and they are mentioned by their Babylonian names in a few other parts of this book. However, it is clear that Daniel had an issue with the food that was offered him and his friends, most likely for two reasons. The first reason is that there are some foods that God specifically declared to be unclean. The other reason could be that some of these foods were first offered to Babylonian “gods”.  I suppose we can also speculate that Daniel knew that he would need a clear mind to retain wisdom in the king’s service, but the latter is purely speculation. So, Daniel risked offending the prince of the eunuchs (who loved him, by the way–see Daniel 1:10) and the king himself (which could have cost him his head), in order to refrain from partaking of forbidden and harmful food, even though in Babylonian culture the food was acceptable, and to be fed from the king’s portion might have been considered a high honor. In fact, the Babylonians couldn’t see how Daniel and his friends could be healthy without the king’s meat, and the prince of the eunuchs was afraid for his own life if he granted the boy’s request. “And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see our faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.” (Daniel 1:10)
So Daniel had to go to another man and propose a trial period in which he and his friends could abstain from the food that the king had appointed for them. “And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.” (Daniel 1: 15) Seeing that they were healthier after the trial period, Melzar “took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse”,  a vegetarian diet. “As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” “And the king communed with them…And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in his realm.” (Daniel 1: 11-13, 15-17, 19 & 20) In fact, in Daniel chapter 2 God gave Daniel a dream (This dream was first given to the king.) and wisdom that saved not only his life and the life of his friends, but that of the magicians as well, a dream which revealed the kingdoms that would rise and fall in the time leading up to the end of the world.
Nineveh:
In the history of Nineveh, the character of God is revealed in beautiful contrast to that of some of His messengers. God sought to warn these people before destroying them. “Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish…” (Jonah 1: 1-3) But, you can’t really run from God. God was determined to save these people. You can read in the book of Jonah what happened next. God sent a terrifying storm, and the sea was only calm after Jonah was thrown overboard. Jonah could have been killed for his rebellion, but instead a large fish swallowed him and spit him back up on land. “And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days journey. And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried and said, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing; let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” (Jonah 7: 1-9) Violence was part of Nineveh’s culture, and Jonah was afraid to go and hated the Ninevites, but when he went and warned them, the unexpected happened–the people repented, even the king!
“And God saw their words, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not.” (Jonah 3:10) God didn’t destroy the Ninevites that time, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” (Jonah 4:1) Jonah most likely hated the Ninevites, and was embarrassed that the judgement he had pronounced upon the people did not come to pass, “And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness and repentest thee of the evil.” (Jonah 4:2 & 3)
God’s response? “Doest thou well to be angry?” “Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night. And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4: 4, 10 & 11)
Comparing the self-righteous, hypocritical, unbelieving pharisees of his generation to the people of Nineveh, Christ proclaimed, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgement with this generation and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” (Matthew 12: 39, 41)

Noah:
Lastly, let’s look much farther back in time at the first recorded case of widespread corruption that became so unbearable that God had to destroy the world. The world was still young, but there was already a distinction between the people (followers) of God (and very few of them) and people (followers) of the ways of the world. “And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God” (God’s people/sons of Seth) “saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:1-3) What grieved God? From looking at these verses it seems that at this point what grieved him was that His people were marrying women who did not believe in nor worship Him. Without regard to the spiritual life nor character of the women, men were choosing whoever they desired because of their beauty, but that wasn’t all. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.” (Genesis 6: 5,6, 11 & 112) Sin had become common practice, culturally accepted by almost ever human being–perhaps similar to the modern acceptance of many sins as human nature. People were following the inclinations of their hearts, but those hearts were full of evil thoughts. Since everyone (or almost everyone) was behaving in an evil manner, did God accept it because of the majority? Did He overlook these things? No, rather, “the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them..” (Genesis 6:7 & 8)
“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord,” and God instructed Noah on how he could save himself, his family, and animals from the coming judgement that was pronounced upon the Earth (Genesis 6: 8, 11-22, 7: 1-4) “And Noah did according to all that the LORD commanded him.” (Genesis 6:4) Noah managed to save himself, his family and the animals only by believing and obeying God, and only because He already had faith in God and was living in a way that pleased God, even though it wasn’t the normal way of life. We can only speculate how difficult it must have been for him to accept that soon the earth would be desolate, and most of the people he knew and the friends that he had made (assuming he had friends in the world) would soon be gone, but he obeyed. “And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man…and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.” (Genesis 7: 21 & 23) We can’t say that the people weren’t warned, because it took a long time to build the ark. If Noah wasn’t preaching and trying to warn them (and understanding the character of God, we can guess that he was), the construction of ark must have been in plain sight, or at least difficult to hide. We can speculate that, until the animals came, the people must have thought  that the old man was crazy.

“But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark. And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24: 37-39) Note that this is talking about destruction, not a secret rapture. How could the people not know, when the ark was in plain sight and when a long line of animals must have attracted attention? Perhaps they didn’t know simply because they didn’t want to know, so they chose to ignore these things, or reason them away, or perhaps they really persisted in disbelieving what was occurring. Did they look the other way? It was by their own choices that they were caught off guard.

“But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide in his indignation.” (Jeremiah 10:10) “The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.” (Isaiah 14:24) God has not changed, “But now is made manifest, and by criptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” (Romans 16:26) ”

Many like to use the “cultural context” argument for some of the unpalatable or controversial writings of Paul, but are his writings in harmony with his culture? He said of his day (and how much more true today?), “Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world; according to the will of God and our father. To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Galatians 1: 3-5)
So, why aren’t we destroyed yet?
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) “For the LORD loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright.” (Psalm 11:7) “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God:and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” (Ezekiel 18: 23)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) “God commended his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being econciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Romans 5: 8-10) “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” (Acts 3: 26)

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)

“The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” “But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statues, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done, he shall live.” (Ezekiel 18: 20-22) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14: 6) “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39) “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29: 11-13)

And you can pray this prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew aright spirit within me.” (Psalm 51: 10) Remember this if you fall away, or have fallen away from God.You can also ask, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” (Psalms 51: 11 & 12)

God loves you and wants to save you, your family and your friends.

All Bible text is from the King James Version of the Bible.

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