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Distinguishing Culturally Relative
from Normative Teachings



腓哥登及史圖額著(Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart孔祥烱譯



We would suggest the following guidelines ... for distinguishing between items that are culturally relative, on the one hand, and those that transcend their original setting, on the other hand, and have normativeness for all Christians of all times. We do not contend for these guidelines as “once for all given to the saints,” but they do reflect our current thinking, and we would encourage further discussion and interaction (Many of these have been worked out in conjunction with our New Testament colleague, David M. Scholer).


1. One should first distinguish between the central core of the message of the Bible and what is dependent upon or peripheral to it. This is not to argue for a canon within the canon (i.e., to elevate certain parts of the New Testament as normative for other parts); it is to safeguard the gospel from being turned into law through culture or religious custom, on the one hand, and to keep the gospel itself from changing to reflect every conceivable cultural expression, on the other hand.

[1] 首先要分清聖經的核心教訓和邊緣教訓或非獨立教訓這並不是主張正典內有正典(即提升新約某部分成為其他部分的規範);而是要維護福音,一方面使它不會基於文化和宗教習俗變成律法另一方面保持福音不會因反映各種文化表現而改變。

Thus the fallenness of all mankind, redemption from that fallenness as God’s gracious activity through Christ’s death and resurrection, the consummation of that redemptive work by the return of Christ, etc., are clearly part of that central core. But the holy kiss, women’s head coverings, and charismatic ministries and gifts seem to be more peripheral.


2. Similarly, one should be prepared to distinguish between what the New Testament itself sees as inherently moral and what is not. Those items that are inherently moral are therefore absolute and abide for every culture; those that are not inherently moral are therefore cultural expressions and may change from culture to culture.

[2] 同樣,我們要什麼是新約看固有的道德教訓,什麼不是。固有的道德教訓是絕對的,也是文化要遵守的那些固有的道德教訓就是文化的表現,可能因不同文化而改變。

Paul’s sin lists, for example, never contain cultural items. Some of the sins may indeed be more prevalent in one culture than another, but there are never situations in which they may be considered Christian attitudes or actions. Thus adultery, idolatry, drunkenness, homosexual activity, thievery, greed, etc. (1 Cor. 6:9-10) are always wrong. This does not mean that Christians have not from time to time been guilty of any of these. But they are not viable moral choices. Paul, by inspiration of the Spirit, says, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, ...

例如,保羅的罪的目錄不包含文化項目。一些罪可能在一個文化比另一個文化更為普遍,但從沒有任何情況下被僅僅基督徒的態度或行動。因此姦淫、拜偶像、醉同性戀行為、偷竊貪婪等(林前6:9-10永遠是錯的。這並不基督徒不會間中犯這些罪它們不是可實行的道德選擇。保羅在聖靈的默示下說:「你們中間也有人從前是這樣.但如今... 已經洗淨...

On the other hand, footwashing, exchanging the holy kiss, eating marketplace idol food, women having a head covering when praying or prophesying, Paul’s personal preference for celibacy, or a woman’s teaching in the church are not inherently moral matters. They become so only by their use or abuse in given contexts, when such use or abuse involves disobedience or lack of love.


3. One must make special note of items where the New Testament itself has a uniform and consistent witness and where it reflects differences. The following are examples of matters on which the New Testament bears uniform witness: love as the Christian’s basic ethical response, a non-retaliation personal ethic, the wrongness of strife, hatred, murder, stealing, homosexuality, drunkenness, and sexual immorality of all kinds.

[3] 我們必須特別注意的項目,就是新約聖經哪裡有統一的和一致的教訓,哪裡有不同的地方。下面的例子是新約統一的教訓:愛是基督徒基本的道德反應非報復性的個人道德、錯誤事包括鬥爭、仇恨謀殺偷竊同性戀、醉酒及各種性不道德。

On the other hand, the New Testament does not appear to be uniform on such matters as women’s ministries in the church (see Rom. 16:1-2, where Phoebe is a “deacon” in Cenchrea; Rom. 16:7, where Junia—not Junias, which is an unknown masculine name—is named among the apostles; Rom. 16:3, where Priscilla is Paul’s fellow worker—the same word used of Apollos in 1 Cor. 3:9; Phil. 4:2-3; and 1 Cor. 11:5 over against 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:12), the political evaluation of Rome (see Rom. 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 over against Rev. chapters 13-18), the retention of one’s wealth (Luke 12:33; 18:22 over against 1 Tim. 6:17-19), or eating food offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:23-29 over against Acts 15:29; Rev. 2:14, 20). By the way, if any of these suggestions caused an emotional reaction on your part, you might ask yourself why.

另一方面,下面一些例子中,新約似乎沒有統一的教訓婦女在教會的工作(見羅16:1-2其中非比是堅革哩教會的「執16:7猶尼亞是一個使徒,名字很可能是女16:3,百基拉是保羅的同工,「同工」個詞也用在林前3:94:2-3稱呼阿波羅林前11:5准許女人禱告或講道,對比林前14:34-35提前2:12、對羅馬政府的評價(13:1-5和彼前2:13-14對比啟13–18章)、對財富的積存(路12:33; 18:22對比提前6:17-19、對曾祭偶像的食物林前10:23-29對比徒15:29和啟2:14,20)。順便一,如果這些建議引起你的情緒反應,可能你要問自己為什麼。

Sound exegesis may cause us to see greater uniformity than appears to be the case now. For example, in the matter of food offered to idols, one can make a good exegetical case for the Greek word in Acts and Revelation to refer to going to the temples to eat such food. In this case the attitude would be consistent with Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22. However, precisely because these other matters appear to be more cultural than moral, one should not be disturbed by a lack of uniformity. Likewise, one should not pursue exegesis only as a means of finding uniformity, even at the cost of common sense or the plain meaning of the text.


4. It is important to be able to distinguish within the New Testament itself between principle and specific application. It is possible for a New Testament writer to support a relative application by an absolute principle and in so doing not make the application absolute. Thus in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 for example, Paul appeals to the divine order of creation (v. 3) and establishes the principle that one should do nothing to distract from the glory of God (especially by breaking convention) when the community is at worship (vv. 7, 10). The specific application; however, seems to be relative, since Paul repeatedly appeals to “custom” or “nature” (vv. 6, 13-14, 16).

[4] 重要的是能夠在新約聖經原則體應用。新約聖經的作可能以絕對的原則支持相對性的應用,但沒有將應用變成絕對性。例如,在哥林多前書11:2-16引用創造的次序(林前11:3建立原則,就是任何人都不應在群體的崇拜中作任何行動分散眾人榮耀神(尤其是打破慣例的行動然而,具體的應用似乎是相對的,因為保羅一再訴諸習慣或「自然(林前11:6,1314,16)。

This leads us to suggest that one may legitimately ask at such specific applications, “Would this have been an issue for us had we never encountered it in the New Testament documents?” In Western cultures the lack of a covering on a woman’s head (especially her hair) with a full-length veil would probably create no difficulties at all. In fact, if she were literally to obey the text in most American churches, she would thereby almost certainly abuse the “spirit” of the text. But with a little thinking one can imagine some kinds of dress—both male and female—that would be so out of place as to create the same kind of disruption of worship.


5. It might also be important, as much as one is able to do this with care, to determine the cultural options open to any New Testament writer. The degree to which a New Testament writer agrees with a cultural situation in which there is only one option increases the possibility of the cultural relativity of such a position. Thus, for example, homosexuality was both affirmed and condemned by writers in antiquity, yet the New Testament takes a singular position against it. On the other hand, attitudes toward slavery as a system or toward the status and role of women were basically singular; no one denounced slavery as an evil and women were held to be basically inferior to men. The New Testament writers also do not denounce slavery as an evil; on the other hand, they generally move well beyond the attitudes toward women held by their contemporaries. But in either case, to the degree to which they reflect the prevalent cultural attitudes in these matters they are thereby reflecting the only cultural option in the world around them.

[5] 一個重要的準則就是小心確定新約聖經的作者面對的文化選擇。新約的作者贊同一種文化情況,但他只有一種選擇則這看法相對文化的可能性就增加。例如,古代有不同的者同時肯定和譴責同性戀,但新約聖經卻一致反對它。另一方面,古代奴隸制的態度,或對婦女的地位和角色看法,基本上都是一致的;沒有人譴責奴隸制罪惡,婦女基本上都被認為是低於男性。新約的作也沒有譴責奴隸制罪惡另一方面,他們對婦女的態度遠遠超出了他們同時代態度。但是,這兩個個案反映了當日流行的文化態度,結果反映了他們周圍的世界唯一的文化選擇。

6. One must keep alert to possible cultural differences between the first and twentieth centuries that are sometimes not immediately obvious. For example, to determine the role of women in the twentieth-century church, one should take into account that there were few educational opportunities for women in the first century, whereas such education is the expected norm in our society. This may affect our understanding of such texts as 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Likewise, a participatory democracy is a radically different thing from the government of which Paul speaks in Romans 13:1-7. It is expected in a participatory democracy that bad laws are to be changed and bad officials are to be ousted. That has to affect how one brings Romans 13 into twentieth-century America.

[6] 我們必須保持警覺,明白第一世紀和二十世紀可能存在的文化差異有時不明顯。例如,要決定婦女在二十世紀教會中的角色,應該考慮到第一世紀的婦女缺乏受教育的機會,教育卻是現代社會預期的規範。這可能影響我們理解提摩太前書2:9-15經文。同樣,參與式民主制度與保羅在羅馬書13:1-7所講的政府絕對不同。在參與式民主制度下,不良的法律要被改變,不良的官員被罷免。這改變應該影響我們怎樣將羅馬書13二十世紀的美國。

7. One must finally exercise Christian charity at this point. Christians need to recognize the difficulties, open the lines of communication with one another, start by trying to define some principles, and finally have love for and a willingness to ask forgiveness from those with whom they differ.

[7] 最後,我們必須實行基督徒的愛心。基督徒需要認識到困難互相打開溝通的渠道,開始時嘗一些原則下定義,最後以為結束,並願意向與你不同意見的人求寬恕。

Before we conclude this discussion, it may be helpful for us to see how these guidelines apply to two current issues: the ministry of women and homosexuality—especially since some who are arguing for women’s ministries are using some of the same arguments to support homosexuality as a valid Christian alternative.


The question of women’s role in the church as a teacher or proclaimer of the Word basically focuses on two texts: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. In both cases “silence” and “submission” are enjoined—although in neither case is the submission necessarily to her husband—and in 1 Timothy 2 she is not permitted to teach or to “have authority over” a man. Full compliance with this text in the twentieth century would seem to rule out not only a woman’s preaching and teaching in the local church, but it also would seem to forbid her writing books on biblical subjects that men might read, teaching Bible or related subjects (including religious education) in Christian colleges or Bible Institutes where men are in her classes, and teaching men in missionary situations. But those who argue against women teaching in the contemporary church seldom carry the interpretation this far. And almost always they make the matters about clothing in the preceding verse (1 Tim. 2:9) to be culturally relative.

婦女在教會的角色的問題,就是婦女能否作教師或宣講神的話,基本上集中在兩段經文:哥林多前書14:34-35和提摩太前書 2:11-12。這段經文中,婦女被命令要「沉靜和「順服」,她的丈夫在兩段都沒有命令要順服。提摩太前書2章不准許女人講道或「轄管男人。要在二十世紀完全隨從這經文,似乎不僅是禁止女人在地會講道和教導,也似乎禁止她著作以聖經主題的書(如果男人會讀的話)禁止她在男人的基督教學院或聖經學院教導聖經或相關科目(包括宗教教育),禁止她在宣教工場中教導男人。但是,那些主張禁止婦女在地會教導的人很少會這樣解釋。而且他們差不多一定將前面關乎服裝的事(提前2:9)解化上相對

On the other hand, that 1 Timothy 2:11-12 might be culturally relative can be supported first of all by exegesis of all three of the Pastoral Epistles. Certain women were troublesome in the church at Ephesus (l Tim. 5:11-15; 2 Tim. 3:6-9) and they appear to have been a major part of the cause of the false teachers’ making headway there. Since women are found teaching (Acts 18:26) and prophesying (Acts 21:8; 1 Cor. 11:5) elsewhere in the New Testament, it is altogether likely that 1 Timothy 2:11-12 speaks to a local problem. In any case, the guidelines above support the possibility that the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is culturally relative.

另一方面,提摩太前書 2:11-12可能是文化相對可以通過釋全部三教牧書信看到。在以弗所,某些婦女在教會中帶來麻煩(提前5:11-15; 提後3:6-9,她似乎是假教師獲得支持的主要原因由於婦女在新約其他地方也教導(徒18:26預言(徒21:8; 林前11:5提摩太前書 2:11-12很可能說及一個當地的問題。無論如何,上述準則支持提摩太前書 2:11-12的禁例可能是文化相對的。

The question of homosexuality, however, is considerably different. In this case the guidelines stand against its being culturally relative. The whole Bible has a consistent witness against homosexual activity as being morally wrong.


In recent years some people have argued that the homosexuality that the New Testament speaks against is that in which people abuse others and that private monogamous homosexuality between consenting adults is a different matter. They argue that on exegetical grounds it cannot be proved that such homosexuality is forbidden. It is also argued that culturally these are twentieth-century options not available in the first century. Therefore, they would argue that some of our guidelines (e.g., 5-6) open the possibility that the New Testament prohibitions against homosexuality are also culturally relative, and they would further argue that some of the guidelines are not true or are irrelevant.


The problem with this argument, however, is that it does not hold up exegetically or historically. The homosexuality Paul had in view in Romans 1:24-28 is clearly not of the “abusive” type; it is homosexuality of choice between men and women. Furthermore, Paul’s word homosexual in 1 Corinthians 6:9 literally means genital homosexuality between males. Since the Bible as a whole witnesses against homosexuality, and invariably includes it in moral contexts, and since it simply has not been proved that the options for homosexuality differ today from those of the first century, there seem to be no valid grounds for seeing it as a culturally-relative matter ....


These, then, are some of our hermeneutical suggestions for reading and interpreting the Epistles. Our immediate aim is for greater precision and consistency; our greater aim is to call us all to greater obedience to what we do hear and understand.






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SOURCE: Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart (1994): “Distinguishing Culturally Relative from Normative Teachings,” in Readings in Christian ethics, volume 1: Theory and Method, ed. David K. Clark and Robert V. Rakestraw (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), 202-206.

Taken from the book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 2nd ed., by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.