A Cultural Practice for then. . . or commanded by God for now?




At the outset of this study the tone is set by the Word unmistakably. This is not just lip service, but heart and soul commitment. Since God is the author of Scripture (IIPet. 1:21, II Tim. 3:16), we listen attentively. He is not a God of confusion and disorder, but of peace. We cannot dismantle Scripture (Jn. 10:35), for it is His Word to be taken in its truthful entirety. Jn.17: 17 We seek to keep Christ’s commands from His Word because they are our Lord’s. Jn. 15:10 As we study we hold arching over all the principle that ‘Scripture interprets Scripture,’ and that naturally so because the Author explains His book to us. What a blessing to have the touchstone of His own Spirit for us to grasp and hold the truth. I Cor. 2:13 I admit to fallibility and lack of understanding due to my not studying enough. I don’t propose this as a be-all and end-all. It is a study which welcomes comments and revisions. With the compass of ‘Scripture interprets Scripture’ I pray to keep on course for the safe harbor on understanding.

What follows is a chart summarizing in comparison the nine interrelated studies.


l)Footwashing Custom Custom

2)Laying on of Hands Custom Custom

3) Anointing with Oil Custom Custom

4)Baptism (Replacing Circ.) Circumc. Commanded———————-

5)Braiding of Hair/Apparel Custom Custom

6)Head Covering Custom Custom

7)Communion (Replacing Passover) Passover Commanded———————-

8)Husband/Wife Relationship Commanded————————————

9)Woman’s Position in the Church Commanded————————————
1) Footwashing

In OT times there was this custom. After a dusty walk it would be customary to wash one’s feet. Gen. 18:4, 19:2 Abigail shows her commendable, lowly attitude in being willing to wash the feet of others. I Sam. 25:41

In NT times in Luke 7:44 Jesus says to Simon, “I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet…” showing that the custom was still in vogue. Jesus then uses that custom on Maundy Thursday evening to give an example ὑπόδειγμα to His disciples. It was a teaching illustration. This is in Jn.13. It was not before the meal, but during it that Jesus in v. 5 rises from the meal to give the lesson with a visual aid. They call Him “Teacher and Lord ” v.13. If He as such then washes their feet ἐγὼ ἔνιψα, they also aught to. In v.16 He reminds them of the lesson of servanthood.


The word ὑπόδειγμα is used elsewhere in the sense of an example, Heb. 4:11, 8:5, II Pet. 2:6, James5:10 In the context of John 13 it is not commanded, but given as an example. The only other reference in the NT to this is a qualification of a worthy widow in I Tim. 5:10 “washed the feet of the saints” which is the idea of following the example of Jesus. Compare footwashing with the institution of communion on the very same night and notice our Lord say in that case “Do this in remembrance of Me.” I Cor. 11:24 And this is repeated in three of the Gospels.

2) Laying on of Hands

In the OT times laying on hands could be used in connection with designating the priestly office, as of the Levites in Num.8:10 or in Joshua succeeding Moses in Num. 27:18-19.In the sense of blessing we have Jacob blessing Joseph’s sons. Gen.48:14

In the NT times we also have the designation idea with the apostles laying on hands on the seven. Acts6:6 This also could have had the bestowal of power for Stephen did “wonders and signs” Acts 6:8 and Philip did”signs” 7:6-7. We know that “wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” Acts 2:43 In Acts 8:17 we have Peter and John laying their hands on and people receiving the Spirit. Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. Acts 8:18

We also have blessing coming from the laying on of hands which is not exclusively in working signs and wonders. When Ananias lays his hands on Paul and says “be filled with the Holy Spirit” Acts9:17 blessing comes more than just through the dropping off of scales. In Acts 13:3 we have Saul and Barnabas designated and sent off for His work. Blessing and designation are at the heart of the reference in I Tim.4:14 and II Tim. 1:6. It seems that the reference in I Tim.5:22 in not being hasty to lay on hands is not to pick someone too quickly for the work.

In the NT we also have healing done with the laying on of hands. Our Lord does it recorded in Lk. 13:13, 4:40, Mk. 6:5,16:18. Paul does it in healing Publius’ father. Acts 28:8 And lastly, in Acts 19:6 Paul does it on the followers of John the baptizer and they spoke in tongues.

So then this custom in the OT was also a custom in the NT that sometimes had miraculous power


attached to it. Is it commanded for us today? There is no passage telling us to lay on hands such that a miracle or otherwise occurs. We freedom to practice the custom or not.

3)Anointing with Oil

In the OTwe have anointing with oil for a designating of the priest/Aaron Lev. 21:10,8:12 and for kings: Saul in I Sam.10:1, Jehu in II Kings 9:6. In connection with washing the custom is recorded in Ez. 16:9 and in bathing with Esther 2:12. Anointing with oil is an expression of joy or gladness, Ps. 45:7, 23:5. InEcc. 9:8 we read, “let not oil be lacking on your head.” The oil on the head produces a cooling and refreshing effect certainly buttressing the idea of the oil of gladness.

In the NTwe look at James 5:14 “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Here there is a definite exhortation. This letter is written to the Jewish Christians in dispersion who were well acquainted with oil anointing. It would seem that this custom was used by the apostles in Mk. 6:13 anointing with oil ἤλειφον ἐλαίω, the same words as in James, when healing. The people though it should be remembered were not healed by the oil.

In the NT we also have the washing and designating uses employing oil. “You did not anoint my head with oil.” Lk. 7:46 An ointment was poured on the Lord’s head in preparation for His burial but well before He died. Mt.26:7 And in Jn.11:2 “Mary anointed the Lord with ointment.” In Heb. 1:9 we have also the oil of gladness. In the parable in Lk. 10:34 it is the oil ἔλαιον and wine poured over the wounds.

In James 5:15 it is the prayer of faith that will save, and not the oil demonstrating what is binding on future generations and should continue to be done. No oil is mentioned in connection with prayer in I Tim. 2:1 and Mt. 6:5-15 nor elsewhere. The context of writing to the Jewish Christians helps us to understand why James mentions oil.

So far then…

As we go through this study we differentiate between what is cultural practice and what is commanded by God. We look for principle passages, commands, didactic/teaching passages


which have import beyond the time in which they were written.

Principle- In Gen. 2:24 “Therefore a man leaves his father…become one flesh.” This is after creation. It is not Adam but a’ man ‘ indicating a continuing principle. The principle is set off also by ‘therefore’. And the concluding phrase indicates the establishment of marriage for mankind. Marriage is not a cultural development but an institution of God.

Didactic/Teaching Passage- We have our Lord’s direction in Acts. 20:35 “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” There is the correlative command in the summary of the second tale repeated over and over, “Love your neighbor as yourself. “By love serve one another.” Gal.5:13-14 Then we have the practice which sprouted from this for instance in Jerusalem of all things in common. Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-37 Or there is the application of the clear teaching in Rom. 15:26-27 of the collection for the destitute saints in Jerusalem. We differentiate between the clear teaching and the applications which may vary. The key thing is if we are told to do likewise or not in application.

Command- In baptism we have the clear command to make disciples of all nations, baptizing…Mt. 28:18-20 The method of applying water is not spelled out, only that water and the Word are to be used. If we are to do something today it will be verified in Scripture by a clear word. What we are to believer, teach and practice is verified by the analogy of Scripture as we see how this fits in with the rest of the Word.


In the OTthere was the circumcizion by which the male child entered into the covenant relationship with the Lord, and also representing those under his charge as time went by. Gen.17:10-14 There were also the ceremonial washings which had developed beyond the Law. Heb.9:10,Lk.11:38

In the NTwe have John baptizing leading into Christ’s command. Mt. 3:6,Lk. 3:3

The command in Mt. 28 is clear. It is verified in the book of Acts and in references in the epistles over and over again. Acts 2:38,16:15, 33, Rom6:3,Col.2:12, Mk.16:16

5)Braiding of Hair/Apparel


In the OTthere is the reference to superfluous adornments being ripped away in an impending judgment on Judah.Is.3:18-23 There is no broadcast condemnation.

In the NT Peter makes reference to, “outward ἔξωθεν adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of robes ἱματίων κόσμος,…” I Pet. 3:3 Paul also says, “that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire.” I Tim.2:9 Here the apostles take customs of the day and make striking comparison. Think of how the Lord’s comparison of love to man with love to God is so striking. Love to God is so superlative that in comparison our affection for people is metaphorically “hate.” Mt. 10:37,Lk.14:26 Peter in making the comparison is not saying that women cannot braid their hair today. He takes customs and redirects away from the ‘outward’ to the ‘inward,’ “but let it be the hidden person of the heart ὁ κρυπτὸς τη?ς καρδίας with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” IPet. 3:4 He makes a redirection of the centering of attention from what man can see to what God sees. Notice that what was to be ongoing “the gentle and quiet spirit πραέος καὶ ἡσυχίου πνεύματος” is what is precious in God’s sight, singling this out. The context indicates it is the inner that is to be ongoing. There is not a forbidding of braiding of hair as such to go forward in time. Even one item in the list, “outer garments” ἱματίων κόσμος, if excluded is not on the basis of extravagance necessarily, the expression not meaning worldly clothing. Paul also shows the comparison though beginning with much the same adornments, his point of comparison is how they adorn themselves κοσμει?ν ἑαυτάς. He encourages the women to adorn themselves with “good works” ἔργων ἀγαθω?ν which proceed from the heart set on God and are the fruit of the Spirit. ITim. 2:10

For instance for the good wife of Proverbs 31:10-31 we can readily recognize what is custom limited to that day, the wool and flax, the distaff and spindle. There also it is not the outward that counts but what proceeds from inside that demonstrates itself. We look to see what wool, flax, distaff and spindle would relate to today.


In the OTwe have some precedent for the custom of a veil or covering of the head. In Gen. 24:65 Rebekah shows her submission to Isaac by covering herself.


In the NTin I Cor. 11:2-16 Paul goes back and forth between enduring principle and customary practice at that time. Notice that while footwashing has another reference in the NT, there isnone for headcovering. Does silence speak louder than words? In v.2 the “traditions παραδόσεις” certainly refer back to what Paul has given so far in his teaching. The question is, how much of what follows is binding always or an application then. The word παραδόσεις has 13 uses in the NT. This plus two others indicate matters that are binding. IThess. 2:15,3:6 The other ten uses of the “giving over or handing down” we can tell by the context are not binding. When it refers to the “traditions of the elders” or in two of Paul’s uses “traditions of my fathers” Gal.1:14, “tradition of men” Col. 2:8 are the other ten.

In v.3 we have divine order or principle. This is for all men παντὸς ἀνδρὸς. We read of this in Gen. 3:16 and in Eph.5:23 that the head ofa woman is her husband.

In v.4 we have practice then as it is not taught either backwards or forwards in theWord. It is not taught elsewhere with corroborating passages.

In vv.5-7a we also see it is customary practice then for the same reasons. A veil can be a fine symbol as with Rebekah of submission. Again with the analogy of Scripture, where else is a piece of clothing prescribed?

In vv.8-9 Paul makes reference to that which cannot change.

In v. 10 he then applies this to the present situation after looking back at the divine order. The ἐξουσίαν we see in what a woman covers her head with as a sign of authority over her. I readily admit I do not know what “because of the angels” means except that the angels witness everything. But we have to base what we teach on clear passages and let the clear explain the less clear.

In vv.11-12 there is no question that we have fact and ongoing principle because this refers back again to creation.

In v. 13 we have practice enjoined in the context of worship. A headcovering is so as not to offend. V.16 also indicates the context of “among the churches.”

In vv.14-15 Paul also emphasizes the point with nature as a general rule.

In v. 16 Paul says that this is a “custom συνήθειαν” among the churches. This word is onlyused here and in Jn.18:39 where there was a custom to release a prisoner at the passover. In Jn.18 the word’s use we would say is a practice at that time and place. It seems that it is also such here. There is no command in a NT continuation or evidence of continuation. At times Paul’s words may seem strong here as if to command beyond that time a veiling. But then look at


the resultant letter from the council in Jerusalem in its strong wording, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden βάρος than these necessary things ἐπάναγκες τούτων…” Acts 15:28 And three of the four we don’t do today. The context of the letter was so as not to offend the Jewish background.The context of ICor. 11:2-16 is so as not to offend the Greeks. Corinth was a problem plagued congregation which we see from the first letter. Paul goes into fine detail to clear things up. We go into fine detail to separate principle from practice.

And just compare the first section of chapter 11 with the second section on communion.


In the OT there was the passover commanded by God. Ex.12:24 Jesus kept the last true passover on Maundy Thursday. Mt. 26:18

In the NT times John the baptizer points to Jesus as the fulfillment of the passover as the Lamb slain for sinners. Jn. l:29 We have the citations on communion’s institution in four places. Think back how communion is so ongoing compared to the ‘example’ of footwashing which took place the same evening. There is the command, “Do this in rememberance of Me…Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” I Cor. 11:24-25 There is the continuation from the three Gospel accounts with the use of communion at Corinth. There is the warning of proper use of communion ICor. 11:26-30 and not to compromise with the other side in its use. ICor. 10:16-17, 21

8)Husband/Wife Relationship

In the OTwe have the establishment of marriage. Woman was made to be a helper fit and suitable for man. Then inGen.2:24 with the use of “man” and “therefore” we see it is for all mankind. After the fall “he shall rule over you ” is stated as to the headship of man. Gen. 3:16 While both men and women are sinners and both alike have forgiveness, yet they are still different. They each have their different stations in life. No one would deny that the duty of bearing children is given to woman not to man. Man is generally stronger than woman in addition to other physical differences.


In the NT we have three sections detailing the two in their stations in life.

In IPet.3we read v. l “wives be submissive ὑποτασσόμεναι to your husbands.” In v.5 Peter cites examples from the past and in v.6 Sarah in particular. “Sarah obeyed ὑπήκουσε Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children if you do right…” Husbands are also addressed, “live considerately κατὰ γνω?σιν bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει .” Peter was married and yet he says the same as the single Paul.

In Eph.5Paul addresses both individually also. Paul uses the same word as Peter in saying “let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.” v. 24 For husbands Paul uses the word “love ἀγαπα?τε”, “Husbands, love your wives…” v.25 Paul makes an absolute analogy in teaching about the husband and wife. In verses 21-33 he tells us as Christ is head and loves the church, so the husband is head and is to love the wife. As the church is subject to the Lord, so the wife is to be subject to her husband. This analogy is ironclad in its implications. In v.33 Paul says “everyone” is to have these stations in life. Just consider v. 33 in reverse. Should a man not love his wife? Should a wife not respect her husband?

In the parallel in Col.to the Ephesians references the wording sets it off as clearly not merely a cultural thing for one time and not another. For woman’s position in Col. 3:18 “wives be subject” there is added “as is becoming in the Lord.” Just consider the stations in life in Col. 3: v. 19 husbands,v.20 children, v.21 fathers, v.22 slaves, ch.4:1 masters. Would we limit or eliminate any directions here in these verses as to duties in these various stations and say ‘don’t do this anymore for it was just a cultural thing for then?’ Now go back to v. 18 and see wives are in the same list with moral duties outlined for then and now. Wives are to be subject. Just try and reverse any others, saying husbands can be bitter, children can be disobedient. No. And the same applies to the wives in this context. It is a set of moral directions for then and now by the clear analogy of Scripture, from the cross references, and the rule of context in the immediate verses.

9)Woman’s Position in the Church

In the OTthe prophets and priests were men. There are exceptions which God made, and He has the right to do that as it is His church. There are: Deborah in Judges 4:4,Huldah inIKings22:14, Isaiah’s wife perhaps in Is. 8:3, but Miriam dealing with women in Ex. 15:20 and the false one in Neh. 6:14.The exception does not overrule the rule.


In the NTwe have fewer exceptions: Anna in Lk. 2:36, Philip’s daughters in Acts 21:9and the false in Rev. 2:20. We go as far as Scripture does in our teachings and no further. We are not dealing with business or government, as Scripture does not give us the direction.

In Titus l:5-9an elder is to be the “husband of one wife.” In v.7 the same applies to a bishop. Some will argue that this is a cultural thing. But then is anything else in the requirements for the ministry? It does not fit the context to say this one does not apply, while all the rest do.

We have the same situation in I Tim. 3:1-7when in v.2 a bishop is to be the husband of one wife. In the qualifications for deacons we have the same in v.12. In I Tim. 2:11-15the context is a pastoral letter, not just to one congregation.

In v.11 the women are to “learn in silence ἡσυχίᾳin all subjection. “The word for silent is the same as in I Pet. 3:4 with the “quiet spirit.” The word for subjection is related to the verb in Ephesians for her being subject.

In v.12 Paul says “a woman to teach I do not allow nor οὐδὲ αὐθεντει?ν to exercize authority over a man, but to be in silenceἡσυχίᾳ.”

In v.13 we read that Adam was formed first and then Eve, expressing the headship principle. This goes back to the beginning.

In v.14 we again have historical reference.

In.v.15 “she shall be saved σωθήσεται δὲ διὰ τη?ς τεκνογονίας through bearing children”, that is as she remains in her station in life, maintaining that humility which is incumbent on a disciple of Christ. And she will be saved, “if she continues in faith …ἐὰν μείνωσιν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ καὶ ἁγιασμῳ? μετὰ σωφροσύνης” Here we have the analogy of Scripture. We are saved by grace through faith. All must fit into this. The channel of the station in life is in the “διὰ through” but not as the means ofsalvation.

Lastly, we have the reference in I Cor. 14:33-37.This has the context of worship, of speaking in the public church setting. vv. 33-34, 35 have “church.” In v. 34 we have yet again the word for ‘subjection’ applied to the woman. The context is in the teaching/preaching in the public assembly. In v.37 Paul underlines this by stating it is a “command of the Lord.”

Remember also that the principle applied to Corinth was very stringent. The congregation was in confusion on tongues, divided with the party spirit, and with women evidently contributing to the confusion by usurping authority over men. Women at Corinth as elsewhere were to learn in submissiveness, and not to argue or debate in public with the male preachers and teachers. If there are those today who say that what Paul writes does not apply to us today, they must


tell us why not. There were customs among the Corinthians which we do not need to hold to today. But God’s divine order in the home and in the church is binding on all generations. It is the loving Savior whose Word tells us the Truth. Let us listen to the Word of God and not to the ideas of this sinful and changeable world, ideas which contradict and oppose our loving Lord.


As we have gone through this study we have been using hermeneutics, the principles of interpretation. These allow for a skeleton upon which we may appropriately place the proper areas of muscle and meat of God’s Word. These principles did not sprout from the need of some aged seer. They are the plain simple Word explaining itself. We observed the law of context. The analogy of Scripture came into play, that is that Scripture is in harmony with itself and will not contradict itself. The clear passage interpreted the less clear. We looked at words in their original language for insight. Times and circumstances of the writings were taken into account. There was a comparison of word usage, the same word in a different passage with the same meaning. Context could dictate that the same word may be different in different passages. The grammar came into play. And so we could see what principle, teaching and command was for then and now as opposed to custom, culture and practice for then.