The view that perception of the world is inevitably determined by the writer's background and environment. It is held by some modern scholars that the thought‐world of the writers of the Bible is so different from that of the modern Western world that it is difficult or even impossible for us really to enter into it. All expressions of belief are relative to the particular cultural situation in which they are uttered. It is not that the evangelists or the rabbis were unintelligent—far from it—but that they had a certain perception of the universe from which they could not escape and within which they were obliged to interpret everything else. It is said therefore that in a universe thought to be populated by supernatural powers, possibly dwelling in a space between earth and heaven (1 Thess. 4: 17) human beings are subject to their influence. Hence the belief that people could be possessed by demons—whereas we might describe certain psychic disorders as, for example, schizophrenia. Similarly, it is impossible for us to understand sympathetically what the Hebrews intended with their sacrificial rites, or what, therefore, the writers of the NT intended by using the same categories. We do not know what it feels like to live in expectation of the imminent end of the world (cf. Phil. 4: 5). It follows also that orthodox doctrines, such as the Incarnation, which derive from 1st‐cent. premises, may also be questioned or reinterpreted.
Some scholars, however, hold that there is more continuity between the cultures of different ages than the relativists admit and that even in unlovely characters in the Hebrew scriptures we can recognize perennial human dilemmas that still obtain. Moreover, in each generation there are to be found those who repudiate some of the pervading beliefs: the Sadducees of the 1st cent. rejected the notion of supernatural spirits and angels (Acts 23: 8). And there are from time to time men of genius who are able to take a quantum leap out of their contemporary thought‐world and give it a new direction, as did Galileo in 1613 CE. Those who reject a thoroughgoing relativism hold that communion is possible between diverse cultures. No one has the total truth about God or Christ or human life; dialogue is possible and necessary. The 1st cent. is not our cent.; but what people of that era taught and believed is not to be dismissed as total falsehood or totally meaningless simply because it is not our language.