Article VIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics states:
We affirm that the Bible contains teachings and mandates which apply to all cultural and situational contexts and other mandates which the Bible itself shows apply only to particular situations.
We deny that the distinction between the universal and particular mandates of Scripture can be determined by cultural and situational factors. We further deny that universal mandates may ever be treated as culturally or situationally relative.
I wish to make two observations on the subject; one regarding an ambiguity in the denial clause of the article and another with respect to a modern disregard for this article (at least the denial clause of this article).
When I first read article VIII, it was in the context of an article entitled “The Impact of Postmodern Thinking on Evangelical Hermeneutics"1. Immediately, I observed ambiguity in the ‘deny clause’ of the article. Specifically, when the clause states that the normativity of passage cannot be determined by “cultural and situational factors”, my immediate thought was: Is this referring to cultural and situational factors of the present day or of the context of the work we are studying (or perhaps both)?
For example, when we say that “cultural and situational factors” are not the way we are going to determine whether or not a text is normative, if we are referring to modern cultural and situational factors, this would look like affirming the worship of the true and living God alone despite the cultural tendency away from absolute truths. If, however, we are referring to the cultural and situational factors of the text’s context, this would look like not disregarding Paul’s teaching on the role of women in the Church because he is “bound by rabbinical error”2.
I think the denial clause encompasses all cultural and situational factors of all times. In other words, it is affirming that the normativity of a command in Scripture must be determined from the text of Scripture and not from any external influences. To be clear, Robertson Mcquilkin and Bradford Mullen clarify the boundary between using culture context to help understand meaning and to determine normativity:
Thus to search out the historical and cultural context of a passage is legitimate for understanding the meaning God intended to communicate. But it is not legitimate to use that extraBiblical contextual information to alter the meaning or disallow the authority of that teaching for contemporary thought and behavior.3
So do protestant evangelicals abide by article VIII? Often times, they do not. For example, John MacArthur’s treatment of 1 Corinthians 11:7-164 argues that women wearing head-coverings is not normative based on “contextual and situation factors” of Corinth at the time Paul was writing to them5. 1 Corinthians 16:20 is another example where we use “contextual and situation factors” to discern the “distinction between the universal and particular mandates”5.
I’m simply observing that the way we interpret and apply Scripture is not consistent with article VIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (or, if we do adhere to article VIII, we will find ourselves at odds with most evangelicals today).