Yesterday I mentioned that if the Bible had been written in Ireland it would have been different. In our class discussion this sort of comment leads to questions. So I was asked, "Are you saying the Bible is not inspired?" (No, it is inspired) Which leads to a question, is the Bible as written the only way God's revelation could occur? (I believe it is not)
As I have tried to explain, God is not limited, but His revelation to us is. By deciding to speak in human language He has placed constraints on what He can say. For example, many words do not exist in ancient Hebrew and Greek which exist in English today, and vice versa. Grammar rules in Hebrew are different from German or French. Rhyming words in Hebrew do not always rhyme in English. Now some people think this sort of thing is immaterial, but anyone who ever had an assignment to write a poem knows that if the line ends in the word "light" then the following lines will be impacted as you try to end the corresponding line with "sight" or "fight" or "might" (or whatever else might rhyme). There are cases where Hebrew puns operate that way in the text.
Reading the Bible, one is struck by the differences in books. Do Ruth, Judges and Ezra convey the same appreciation for foreigners? What of war? For example, many of us are receiving messages from missionaries in Iraq. Horrible stories of ISIS troops killing the children of Christians are circulating. How many Christians are offended by this? Yet, it is Biblical (in Joshua and Judges there are countless examples of putting the enemy to the ban and killing everyone), in the sense that I often hear Christians in these parts say. So why is it in the Bible if it is so evil? Well, in part because the practice was widespread in the ancient world. The beliefs were slowly changed and by Jesus day He was saying something radically different (love your enemy, turn the other cheek, etc.). Which is God's Word? Which is the way we should live?
I think Jesus is the primary authority. I think discerning proper actions is very difficult and the Bible, while the best tool for encountering God, is NOT a guide book in the simple meaning of the word. It is not a compendium of answers to questions. There are many people reading the Bible who are coming away with different answers. Today there are Christian warriors and Christian pacifists and both claim Biblical revelation as the basis of their decision.
If we understand that revelation flows in and through existing culture, then we can hear God but understand that there is background noise. Yes He speaks, but His voice is always limited by the mode of communication (human beings and human language). Understanding the culture can help us discern the message more effectively.
If the Bible had been written in Ireland, or America or India, it would have been different. It may be helpful to reflect how that would be the case. Perhaps such reflections would help us see the cultural trappings of the Bible as we have it. Perhaps doing this would show us the assumptions which we do not share with the ancient Jew or Christian. Perhaps such reflections could help us get to the core of revelation and the encounter with God. In any case, the way the Bible is interpreted is clearly influenced by cultural factors. So in a real sense, we are already, in our preaching and teaching dong the work of transforming God's word into our words. And it seems God is involved in that process as well.