When I pick Chris up from the group home one of the first things he does is reach for my phone because on it I have a play list of children’s songs, and as we run errands we listen to those songs. They are from a variety of sources including songs from ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Mary Poppins’, and also Barney, Dora the Explorer, Mickey Mouse, and Christian songs from ‘The Donut Man’ and others.
One day as he was holding my phone listening to Mickey Mouse and looking at the album cover showing Mickey and his friends, he made this statement: “Look dad, Mickey has ears like you!”
I understood him to be making a joke, saying my ears were big and round like Mickey’s, but he could have meant Mickey Mouse has ears like any person’s ears. I replied “He does, does he? Mickey has ears like me?” And he replied with a laugh saying, “Yep, uh huh” and laughed, and I laughed with him. I think he was making a joke, but then again…
History, cultural, or God’s command?
Both Paul and Peter tell us “All scripture is given by inspiration of God”* and “..holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (*II Timothy 3:16, II Peter 1:21)
All scripture was inspired by God, but it doesn’t mean all scripture is the command of God. When David went on his rooftop and saw Bathsheba taking a bath*, that is for our information, not a command to do the same. Some is history, some is cultural, some things are for us to live by. *II Samuel 11
Discerning which is which isn’t always clear, as when Chris said Mickey Mouse has ears like me – was he saying he has ears like everyone, or my ears are big and round like Mickey Mouse’s ears? His laughter suggests the second, but without putting his comment in that surrounding context you might never know.
So when Paul says: “…I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good deeds, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness…”, is that command or culture? We have to understand the context to be able to determine if that was a command or just the culture of the day. I Timothy 2:9-15
In the last several years I’ve been asked the question about women wearing braided hair many, many times, and always from west African’s. The history of it is that several years ago one or more women claimed to have been given a view of hell, and reported they saw women who were in hell simply because they had braided their hair, causing great concern is still being taught to this day.
How do we rightly divide the Word between command and culture?
The foundational understanding is that Christ lives in us – that we are now the temples of God. Paul said “From henceforth I know no man according to man’s standards, for if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation*.” And he told the Galatians “There is now neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.* And, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, only a new creation.* ” II Corinthians 5:16-17, Galatians 3:28, 6:15-16
That means in terms of what Christ did for us, we are all equal, male and female, from the highest of society to the lowest, we are all equal because we’ve been saved by the same blood of Jesus and we are new creations in Him.
Therefore there is nothing we can do that can improve on or add to Christ in us. We can’t wear particular clothing or wear hair a certain way to improve upon Christ in us. We can’t give enough money to improve or add to Christ in us. The Father gave us His Son who now lives in us by the Father’s Spirit; What can we ever do that could improve upon or add to that? Nothing. So just live.
But these spiritual truths must be applied within various cultures, which means culturally there may be limits to those freedoms and equalities.
Paul told the Romans* and Corinthians* ‘an idol is nothing’ but ‘not every person has this knowledge’, so he said to be considerate of others who are of a weaker faith by not eating food first offered to idols, or have chosen to worship on one day rather than another, or be a vegetarian – not to use our freedom to hurt our brethren for whom Christ also died and rose. Romans 14, I Corinthians 8:4, 7; II Corinthians 10:23-33
So it is he tells the wives in Ephesus not to braid their hair nor wear precious stones, because the custom of the day for women of stature in Roman culture was to braid their hair, and often add braided wigs on top, interlaced with jewels. Sometimes they sewed jewels into their clothing, as is done even today. (The book, “Caesar’s Wives’ by Annelise Freisenbruch is a good history including cultural use of braided hair/jewels)
Paul was telling the women in Ephesus in I Timothy 2:9-15 to not flaunt their wealth as was the custom of the day, but rather demonstrate their ‘spiritual wealth’ so to speak in their hearts and lives unto the Lord.
Note: People claim to have all sorts of experiences and claim to have seen all sorts of things, but even if those experiences are genuine, people who are immature of age or character, or ungrounded in the Word, or filled with religious tradition, relate to genuine experiences in the Spirit through the tainted glasses of their age, culture, and religious training. And that’s if they are honest!
That’s how you get a 4 year old boy saying he saw all people in heaven with wings, or a little girl painting a handsome and romanticized picture of Jesus claiming that is what He looks like – and the little boy agreeing with her. They are kids so they see things through the filter and immaturity of childhood. (The closest I’ve seen to what Jesus looks like is the reverse image on the Shroud of Turin. He isn’t handsome, but is very average looking and has a weathered look about Him.)
Veil and silence?
In I Corinthians 11:1-16 Paul deals with the women in Corinth who are experiencing freedom in Christ to the flaunting of the local culture, meaning they were removing their veils because in Christ they have freedom.
In that day a veil was the equivalent of a wedding ring. It would be like every married woman when attending (house) church, to take their wedding bands off when they came through the door. That would dishonor themselves, their husbands, God, the angels in charge of their marriage and home, the people gathered, and the local custom! Paul said to put the veils back on ladies, though you have the freedom to not wear them.
Three times in that passage he refers to it being a custom, and for them to judge it themselves*. He also tells the wives they may pray and prophesy in the meetings as long as they are properly clothed.* People often forget this fact when they read 3 chapters later and the subject has changed to order and taking turns in the (home) meetings, when he tells the wives if they have questions, for the sake of the flow of the meeting to ask their husbands at home. Some take that to mean women can’t speak in meetings - wrong – look at context and culture and history!
We know from Acts 18 that 3 cultures - Roman, Greek, Jewish- were suddenly gathering together in the house of a Roman named Justus, and that led to confusion, thus Paul’s instructions about order and taking turns and politeness when a guest in someone’s home. *I Corinthians 11: 5-6, 13, 16; 14:26-40
He wouldn’t tell them to pray and prophesy in chapter 11 and then tell them they can’t talk in chapter 14 – context and culture is everything. That is the same for the passage in I Timothy 2:14-15 when he tells the women not to flaunt their wealth by braiding their hair and wearing a lot of jewelry, and then tells them not to usurp authority over their husbands: Teaching, speaking, and prophesying in agreement with the spouse in marital harmony is fine, but they were abusing freedom in Christ at the expense of local culture, marital peace, and order, and it was hurting them and the spread of the gospel.
Okay! I didn’t get to the cutting of the hem, that and more next week,