The point of the cultural and historical context in which the biblical revelation has been given to us, brings me to the subject of accommodation. In the doctrine of Scripture this topic plays a great role. We find it already in the writings of the church fathers. The reformer John Calvin has said much about it. The church fathers, and in their footsteps John Calvin, used this concept to clarify that God who is for us incomprehensible speaks to us in a way that we can understand. God, they say, accommodates himself to our level of understanding. In the writings of the church fathers and the reformers accommodation is not related to fallibility and time- and culture-bound insights, which are no longer relevant for us, but to the fact that we as limited creatures who cannot fathom God.
In the time of the Enlightenment we see that quite another concept of accommodation comes in fashion. Semler said that the biblical writers were just children of their time. In his opinion they were, in what they wrote, not raised above their time. The way in which Semler spoke about accommodation had very much influence. You can read quite often that several of the insights you find in the Bible are just bound to the cultural horizon of the biblical writers. A famous example is the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment. It is said that the biblical writers and also our Lord himself on that point, just accommodated themselves to the religious views of their time.
Such a view however brings you in conflict with the Bible itself. The doctrine of eternal punishment surely belongs to the core of the biblical message. It is a substantial part of the dark background of Christ's work of redemption and salvation. Christ came to save sinners from the coming wrath. When the reality of coming wrath is denied, the work of Christ becomes meaningless. The biblical doctrine of atonement and reconciliation is at stake. Christ propitiated the wrath of God by dying on Calvary. His death was a sacrifice for sin. When the wrath of God is denied, our view on Christ' work is substantially altered.
The view I mentioned is not self-consistent either. How do we know that with regard to eternal punishment we can speak of accommodation and with regard to the love of God we have an insight for all ages? When we speak about accommodation in the way Semler did it, our own reason becomes the judge of the message of the Scripture. All the aspects we do not like, we declare to be time-bound.
Besides the doctrine of eternal punishment, I can use another, and I know, for many people a disputed example. I refer to the position of women in the church of Christ. In the New Testament there are several texts that speak explicitly on this point. In 1 Corinthians 14:34 we read: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law" and in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 Paul states: "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety."
Going back to the creation-order Paul inspired by the Holy Ghost points to the fact that the position of man and woman in marriage and also in the church differs from each other. Each has his task and sphere. Because man is the head of woman it is not allowed that women preach, teach, or, fulfil an office (that is always associated with ruling and governing) in the church. We are going against the witness of Scripture itself when we say that Paul (and other biblical writers) in their view on the position of women conformed themselves to time-bound cultural customs. However Paul's appeal is not to conform to the cultural-bound standards but to creation. The different position of man and woman in marriage, church and also (although the Bible is less explicit on that point) in society is based on God's creation order.
Most the biblical data on the position of women have reference to the married. Heavy stress is laid on the task of the women in the family. Confer again 1 Timothy 2:15 "Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." This is a most neglected but very important task. Through the godly upbringing of her children women can build the church. The classical example is Monica and her son Augustine. I do not mean that the task of women is restricted to her family. This is the first but not the only thing the Bible says. How useful can be the advice especially of elderly women. We read that Aquila and his wife Priscilla explained to Apollos the way of God more perfectly.
In several ways women can be used to build the church of God, but when we follow the biblical witness we are not allowed to give them a ruling position in the church. Our view on the position of men and women must not be governed by the cultural standards of our time, but by the witness of the Bible. The Biblical message originated within a certain cultural context. We must also say that the Bible has been given not only to transform our hearts and lives, but also to transform culture and society.