How should our Constitution be interpreted? The Pew Research Center found that “About half of the public (49%) say the decisions of the Supreme Court should be based on its understanding of what the Constitution “means in current times,” while roughly as many (46%) say decisions should be based on what the Constitution “meant as it was originally written” (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/31/americans-divided-on-how-the-supreme-court-should-interpret-the-constitution/).
There are incredible similarities in the debate over how the Constitution should be interpreted and how the Bible should be interpreted. Many say that the Bible should be interpreted in light of current social paradigms. So when the Bible condemns women preachers (1 Timothy 2) or other sinful behavior, those commands can be reinterpreted since the culture has vastly changed. Others, like myself, maintain that we should interpret the Bible as it was originally written. Whatever it meant is what it means.
There are two important truths which lead us to understand the Bible means what it meant: 1) the eternal nature of God; and 2) the nature of inspiration. God is eternal (Isaiah 57:15). He stands outside of space-time existence. Hence, God does not change with the changing of cultures. God has given different covenants for different eras (Hebrews 8-9), but God himself has never changed. Therefore, culture doesn’t affect him or what is intrinsically right or wrong.
Furthermore, the doctrine of inspiration also leads us to interpret the Bible with the understanding that what it meant is what it means. “All Scripture is inspired of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Scripture has its root in God. Since Scripture is directly related to God, it does not change with culture because God does not change.
The unchanging nature of God and the consequential unchanging nature of the inspired Scripture is pictured in 1 Timothy 2:12-14. The ancient Ephesian culture was accustomed to female priestesses leading temple worship. That cultural practice was rejected by God for his church. God said, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12). This command is cross-cultural. It is rooted in creation–1 Timothy 2:13. It is a consequence of sin entering the world–1 Timothy 2:14.
God’s will didn’t change with culture. God and his will exist above space-time and the cultures which inhabit that sphere. When we read the Bible, we study the text to discover what it meant so that we can know what it means. It will never mean something it never meant. It will always mean what it has meant. Let us shape our culture into the image of God, rather than try to shape God into the image of our culture. After all, that’s really what the struggle is all about.
Praise the Lord.
D. L. DeBord, M.Div.