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timeless or temporary?

Recently, during Sunday Q&A, a couple of questioners asked how to tell the difference between what in the Bible was cultural and so temporary, and what is divine revelation and so timeless. It’s a question Christ-followers ought always be prepared to answer.

The Bible recounts practices that were cultural and so temporary: animal sacrifice, head-coverings, polygamy, religious warfare, etc. The Bible also claims to record divine revelations: creation, divine mercy via Jesus, the fatherhood of God, kingdom of heaven, etc.
How do we discern what was temporary and what is timeless?

Females covering their heads was customary throughout much of human history, and still the norm in large areas of the globe. I was surprised to discover the Old Testament teaches nothing about female head-covering, only referencing it and only infrequently. In the New Testament it is taught only once, and only to one 1st century church located in a Las Vegas-like culture. Perhaps in
1stCentury Corinth, head-covering was a way for women to stake-out some self-respect. Except for that lone teaching by the apostle Paul, head-covering is not taught in the Bible—not in the Law of Moses, not by Jesus. So, Christianity has concluded it’s a cultural thing.

Christianity challenges people to read the Bible for all it’s worth. To help figure out what in the Bible is timeless and what is temporary, ask three questions.

One, is the teaching clear?

The Bible is packed with histories and perspectives. All are helpful but not all apply to all people everywhere. God revealed Himself to Moses via a burning bush. But the Bible does not teach that God is encountered only via a burning bush. Saul became a follower of Jesus after being blinded by an intense light. The Bible doesn’t teach one must be struck blind to become a Christian.

Two, is the teaching repeated?

The apostle Paul once referred to baptism for the dead. We’re not clear what he was talking about, and it’s mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. Jesus commanded His followers be baptized, but said nothing about baptism for the dead. So Christians do not teach or practice baptism for the dead.

Three, is the teaching validated in the New Testament?

Kosher diet is taught extensively in the Law of Moses, referenced throughout the Old Testament, even mentioned in the New Testament. However,
Jesus dismissed kosher eating. Adopting Jesus’ teaching, the New Testament church dismissed any need to conform with Jewish teaching and custom.

You can identify the timeless truths of Scripture. Read the Bible every day. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s perspective. Meditate on what you read—think about it hard and long. Talk about what you read with other Christ-followers.

Thanks to the presence of God the Holy Spirit, the church is a self-correcting organism. We cannot go too far wrong for too long if we keep going back to God’s Word and humbly seek the wisdom of God’s people. ~

Dan Nygaard