Culture,  Theology

Are All Cultures Equal? A Biblical Paradigm

Image signifying cultures of Egypt

There is a growing belief today that all cultures are equal and that differences between groups are cultural, but not moral. In other words, no culture can claim moral superiority over another because it is just cultural expression. Although this is a common idea, it has met resistance from some who have demonstrated that, on a pragmatic level, productivity and the standard of living are better in some cultures than in others. Although that is undoubtedly true, that in and of itself does not necessarily mean a certain culture is better than another. As Christians, I think it is important to be in the habit of using Scripture to inform any kind of comparison—including culture. Speaking from a biblical standpoint, there are cultures that are better than others. The cultures which are better are the cultures that are more closely aligned with God’s standard for living, and these cultures thereby thrive and flourish. The following points can be stated with absoluteness.

The Best Cultures Value Life

Humanity is the only part of creation that is made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-28). When the belief is that humanity is no different than animals, it leads to the deterioration of culture. On the other hand, cultures that value life take precautions against the unwarranted taking of life (murder, etc.) and also safeguard life against reckless endangerment. Cultures that value life will sacrifice to protect and preserve it. All of these steps contribute to building a cultural mindset that promotes the value of life. People know they are worth something, and this benefits the entire culture as they work to fulfill their created purpose.

The Best Cultures Value Family

The creation of the family is so important it is given its own detailed section in Scripture (Gen 2:18-25). The family is the core unit of governance and is the primary place education takes place (cf. Deut 6:6-7; Eph 6:4). Cultures that devalue family and marriage have major problems. In addition to education, Scripture teaches that father and mother have distinct roles in the family. The role of father and mother are not interchangeable. Cultures that encourage the beautiful and God-designed distinctions between man and woman reap the benefits of God’s well-defined functionality.

The Best Cultures Promote Individual Freedom

God created humans to have dominion over creation and to care for it and work it (Gen 1:26; 2:15). Work involves an inherently positive benefit; either by compensation or by the accomplishment of the task itself. Importantly, the eighth commandment (“Thou shall not steal”) forbids usurping the natural cycle of honest work and reward by taking what is not rightfully earned. In other words, the Bible teaches there are certain material possessions and rights that belong to an individual. Cultures that respect and promote individual freedoms reap the benefit of individuals contributing to society collectively.

The Best Cultures Promote Sexual Restraint

To many, the Bible presents an antiquated view of sexuality. The Bible forbids homosexuality, incest, polygamy, marriage to unbelievers, and even divorce (with two exceptions). Cultures that understand sex as a gift within the marriage bond protect the family and marriage relationship, which in turn promotes the betterment of the culture.

In summary, the best cultures follow the biblical picture—punishing iniquity and rewarding those who do good. God has revealed His expectations for humanity and culture through Scripture. So, those cultures which are more in line with God’s revelation are by nature better, and we would expect more productivity and a better standard of living as natural consequences of living as God designed. It is as simple as that.

photo credit: @KevinCase Sphinx of Ramasses II in the Temple of Ptah via photopin (license)

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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