The questions raised by the Corinthians don’t always seem especially relevant to people nowadays. In our culture, do we still sacrifice meat to idols? Do we stress over how to give money to charity? Surely we’re not still hung up on sex in the way the Corinthians were? Because many of the New Testament letters deal with specific questions that are inevitably related to their context and times, there can be a tendency for people to shrug their shoulders and ignore what is written as no longer relevant to them. Similarly, because many modern questions involve aspects of technology that were not even invented when the Bible was written, there is often a tendency for people to believe the Bible must inevitably be irrelevant nowadays, for it cannot possibly speak about those issues. Questions such as the ethics of IVF or embryonic cloning, GM crops, transgender issues, organ transplants, computer hacking and so on are not specifically mentioned in the Bible; because of this, many people feel that they must work out their own stances on such issues with no reference to the Bible.
I often wonder what Paul’s letters to churches would look like if he were writing in the 21st century. How would he ‘get down to the questions asked of him’ in a modern context? Our ‘Talking Point’ series is perhaps a little taster, as we seek to relate the Bible to these modern issues, severing the disconnect that many people feel exists between the Bible and modern issues.
It is perhaps pointless to speculate about what Paul would write nowadays, but I am by no means convinced either that the issues we read about in the Bible are irrelevant today (when you get to the heart of the issues, the sinfulness of the human heart is exposed, and that hasn’t changed since the Fall!) or that the Bible has nothing to say on ‘modern-day issues.’ Article VI of the ’39 Articles of Religion’ (the historically defining statements of doctrines of the Church of England with respect to the controversies of the English Reformation) says ‘Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.’ In other words, all we need to know concerning life and salvation can be found in the Bible. That may well not be all we’d like to know, for we’re curious, thinking, intrigued people. But all we need to know to live as God wants us to live can be explored in the Bible. Our problem is not necessarily not understanding the Bible, but our failure to obey it. Ps 119 talks of the need to meditate on God’s word and allow it to permeate our whole lives; Ps 119:32 says ‘I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.’ As we seek God and allow His Spirit to breathe on His word, I believe He will broaden our understanding and give us wisdom beyond our intelligence and our years; for us to truly have this broad understanding, however, we must also seek to obey (to run in the path of God’s commands.) As Mary reminded the servants at the wedding at Cana, ‘Do whatever He tells you.’ (John 2:5)