Why We Don’t Interpret Scripture by Culture



Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. 

Jesus, I belong to you.

I lift up my heart to you.
I set my mind on you.
I fix my eyes on you.
I offer my body to you as a living sacrifice.

Jesus, we belong to you. 

Praying in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. 

Acts 15:12–21

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

“‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’—
things known from long ago.

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”


It is tempting to interpret Scripture according to the shifting tides of culture.

It has been said one can use the Bible to justify virtually anything under the sun. To an extent, I suppose this is possible in many cases. History offers ample evidence of the misappropriation of Scripture to justify such things as slavery and the oppression of women. We will do well to always remember Jesus’s encounter with Satan in the wilderness when it became apparent that Satan also read and interpreted Scripture.

The Bible must be handled with great care and extreme humility. Yes, there is a sense in which anyone can read it and understand its basic message; however, in many cases, it can be exceedingly complex and difficult to understand. The church has a long-tested and trusted understanding of the Bible. We generally refer to this as “orthodoxy.” Through the centuries, orthodoxy has met many fierce challenges. At times, it has taken centuries to resolve.

The church is in the throes of another such controversy. On the surface, the controversy seems to be about human sexuality and gender. The bigger issue at stake, however, comes with how the Bible is read, understood, and appropriated. Though it is beyond the scope of a post like this to delve into the complexities at hand, I will offer this counsel. Many new and, at times, novel readings of Scripture will emerge in support of changing what the church has always held to be orthodoxy. Some of these readings will seem plausible on the face of them. Other readings and ways of reading will feel like an exercise in biblical gymnastics to get there. Predictable appeals will be made to the analogies of the Bible and slavery and the oppression of women as though they were on point in the present scenario. Be on your guard.

This movement for change will be sincerely advanced in the name of love and inclusivity; however, it moves with the force of power according to the zeitgeist of the present age. It will become painfully untenable to disagree with the forces at work for change. The rhetoric of being on the right or wrong side of history will get loud. While you may be sympathetic or open to the voices for change, be exceedingly careful before signing on the dotted line of the petition to set aside well more than twenty centuries of the considered judgment of Scripture and teaching of the church. 

So why do I bring this up today? Because Acts 15 will undoubtedly be appealed to as setting an early precedent for departing from the established orthodoxy of the people of God. Look more closely, though, and you see James making an appeal to interpret Scripture by Scripture. Notice how he cites the prophets’ explicit words concerning the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church. Scripture cannot be interpreted by culture or whatever the church wishes to baptize and bless about culture. Scripture must be interpreted primarily by Scripture.

The church is being asked, and in places led, to place Scripture on par with and interpreted according to human reason and by human experience or by the enlightened viewpoints of our time. This cannot be allowed to stand. While reason, tradition, and experience cannot help but influence our understanding, the Word of God must remain unrivaled in its governing authority. We will remain wide open to be corrected or rebuked by Scripture and even to be proven wrong in our understanding of Scripture, but only in the clear light of Scripture. This is not about being right. Trust me, it would be far easier to just be proven wrong. This is about holy love—for God, his Word, and his people.

Here at the midpoint of the Acts of the Apostles, the young church is making a hard decision. They are departing from long-established practice. Here’s the bottom line: They are doing so because of longer established truth. They are standing firmly and squarely on the Word of God. 

(I will make some comments in today’s podcast afterward about the challenge of living in a context where the laws of the land and the standards of Scripture diverge from one another.) 


Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Amen. 


Will you take a humble and grace-filled stand on the Word of God, come what may, or are you slowly succumbing to societal pressures and finding your place on the cultural adoption curve?

Have you found a way of affirming people, even in their sin, without accepting or affirming sin? 


Today we will sing “God of Grace and God of Glory” (hymn 45) from our Seedbed hymnal, Our Great Redeemer’s Praise. Get your copy here. New shipments arriving now. Use Code: WAKEUPCALL for free shipping through the end of May (does not apply to bulk orders). 

For the Awakening,
J. D. Walt

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

6 Responses

  1. Spiritual Awakening Is Divine Interruption

    God wants to rebuild, restore, and release the rivers of living water that Jesus promised would flow from within the inner most being of His followers. Church shouldn’t make it difficult for people to seek the Lord and to freely obey and flow with God’s spirit when they gather in Christ’s name. Church should never quench, hinder, or interrupt the Holy Spirit.

    It takes great care, much courage, and extreme humility to let the Holy Spirit freely flow in a gathering of Christ-followers. It’s essential that churches move beyond formalized orthodoxy that replaces spiritual fire with mere mental ascent to doctrines and creeds. Instead, it is time to stir up and ignite the words of orthodoxy to burn in people’s heart and continually transform their life.

    Christians need to be on the right side of Christ’s living presence, not just promoting “a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” We need to align and be ever led by Christ’s active presence and by His Gospel story.

    Churches offer people religious programming but what people need is real demonstrations of the presence of the risen Jesus. Religious programming is often a cork that bottles up and shuts down the flow of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wants to interrupt our religious programming with His real presence and with His own voice. If Christ is in you, don’t keep Him bottled up. Let Him continually flow out.

    We live in a culture where many people insist that you approve of and applaud their behaviors. If you suggest what you believe is a better way than the way they have chosen, then people often accuse you of hating them. From a lifetime of Bible study, church history study, and fresh ways of relating to the living Jesus that keep my heart on fire for Him and aware of His presence, I have found a beautiful relationship with Jesus that I don’t get from any amount of religious programming. I’m so excited about relating directly to Jesus in a heart-to-heart way that I want to shout it from the housetops (even though some people accuse me of being on the wrong side of religion). There are so many much more powerful ways of relating to the risen Jesus and enjoying His presence than religious programming. Don’t miss out on the other powerful ways of experiencing Jesus, such as: Spirit-prompted testimonies, praying out loud with other people, words of knowledge, prophesying, opening your heart to the risen Jesus and to His followers, words of wisdom, open sharing, openly confessing and repenting of sin, obeying the Holy Spirit no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, and devouring the Bible daily with an open heart, etc.

    1. Amen from a (previously) PC USA brother, a group who “went there” a couple of decades ago and then codified it into praxis in the denomination’s 2011 General Assembly ordination standards, an antithetical shift into heterodoxy which negates God’s Biblical call to “be holy as I am Holy,” where “holy” means being set apart for a purpose, sacred.

      The modern Church seems hell-bent on dissolving itself into an indistinguishable secular cultus which mimics definition by deriving its meaning through challenging, erasing, and eliminating definitive Biblical absolutes, an ingenuousness that would make a chameleon blush.

      I believe church membership across the board is in dangerous decline because people see no reason to join the church as it morphs itself into a doppelganger of the world itself, no longer set aside as holy, no longer seeking to be a unique people.

      Every day when I think about this world writhing in birth pains, I hear Jesus beg, ”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Maranatha!

  2. What this generation allows, the next will accept.
    The issue is not gender or sexual preference. The problem is sin- Stolen INdendity. Humanity’s identity was stolen in the Garden, and we have been searching for it culturally and individually ever since. We’ve looked under every worldly rock for purpose, value, security, and everlasting love. But the world can’t give what it doesn’t have.
    To identify ourselves by our sexual preference is going deeper into the darkness of confusion of mistaken identity.
    They are lost (like all of us once were), looking for the elusive place of contentment, value, and freedom through gender revelation.
    Bless, they’re searching for themselves in the wrong closet.
    They will remain lost (like all of us once were) until they understand they are not their bodies and their fleshly desires. We are spiritual (created by the breath of God) beings with a soul, temporarily living in a body.
    Their sin is like all sin. If we place our identity in that sin, it keeps our spirit and soul from living in the Truth of Jesus came to give our identity back.
    It’s a sad time when a church body recognizes a desire of the flesh that separates people from the Will of God as okay.
    When we look at the state of the world and humanity, we’ll shake our heads and sadly say it’s falling apart.
    Yet, being that God’s in control, He would say it’s falling in place.

    Proverbs 19:21
    Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

    Staying 💪’n Christ
    Ephesians 6:10
    Finally, stay strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.

  3. JD, thank you for the willingness to tackle the current issues concerning orthodoxy at hand, that threaten to cause further fracturing of Christ’s body, His Church. As a committed Protestant, I’m committed to Faith alone, by Grace alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone (supremacy), to the glory of God alone, come what may.

  4. Gentile inclusion is a good example of progressive revelation- Scripture explains the unfolding of his purposes and plans.
    People who push for expanded freedoms in human relationships need to show scripturally God’s altering of his creational wisdom.
    They’ll look in vain.

    Good encouragement in this devotional to recognize the traps and to stay true to the Word.

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