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Principle vs. Custom (Renewing your Mind Broadcast)

On October 14th, Ligonier Ministries broadcasted “Principle vs. Custom” by R.C. Sproul. In this video, Sproul spent the entire 30 minutes speaking about the topic of head covering.  You can watch the broadcast below. If you’re can’t see the video click here to watch it on their site.

Here’s a description of this video from their website:

Looking at various customs described throughout Scripture, how are we to understand the application of them in our modern setting? Is there deeper meaning rooted in these teachings, or are they simply cultural issues? Dr. Sproul helps us recognize the difference between temporal local customs and universal principles in the Bible as he wraps-up this study of biblical interpretation.

From the teaching series Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul.


Jamie Carter

Wow … that video is older than I am. No wonder that guy looked so young and slim compared to his appearance in the Truth Project.

Let’s use his logic for yet another verse of scripture: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”

Is this a custom or principle? That’s quite a conundrum. If you disobey a principle, you’re doing violence to the text – the very word of God! If you disobey a custom, well, it was a custom and it is customary to follow customs. But if you can’t tell, you’d better obey it anyway because God wouldn’t punish you for being too scrupulous, but he might punish you for being too loose.

What about this verse, a few chapters earlier in the same book: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.”

How are women to pray and prophesy without speaking? How would one know a silent prayer was finished? Would most churches be able to round up enough men to teach the children? Will only sons be allowed to answer questions?

Much of the Bible is, in fact, cultural. These guys that had questions, they were asking them because of their cultural differences … they didn’t ask questions about their cultural similarities.

One thing about Creation – when “God saw that it was good” he was referring to the state of pre-fall humanity. That was gone as soon as they had both eaten the fruit. Then and only then, was Eve given her name from Adam and God told her “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” The pre-existing dynamic between Adam and the woman was never stated – reading more into it than scripture states is a dangerous distinction. There are many things the Bible doesn’t say that we can’t say it says – like what exactly Jesus was writing in the sand or the most acceptable type of head covering.

Jeremy Gardiner

Jamie, both R.C. Sproul and myself would take the passage you quoted in 1 Cor 14 to timeless and non-cultural (though I suspect we have different interpretations on the meaning). The previous part of the verse shows that it was the practice of all churches, not just one church.

“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.” (1 Cor 14:33-34 ESV)

Even if that first part were not there (as some translations place it differently), he’s speaking about how to order our church gatherings, not speaking about particular situation.

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