Jesus tells us both that "you should also wash one another's feet" and "do this in remembrance of me", yet most churches practice the latter and not the former. On what ground do we choose which of these practices to follow?
In 1 Cor. 14, women are told to keep silent in the church, while in 1 Cor. 11, we see women praying and prophesying in church. How do we handle injunctions apparently clashing with descriptions?
In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemas "Unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." This is always universalized. The Rich Young Ruler, however, is told that unless a man gives away his wealth to the poor and takes up his cross and follows Jesus, he cannot be Jesus's disciple. Do we universalize that? Should we? On what ground?
There are injunctions that, on the face of it, seem to clash rather embarrassingly. Some adjacently, for example, "Answer not a fool according to his folly" followed in the next verse "Answer a fool according to his folly" in Proverbs 26.
In the sermon on the mount, we are told to keep your prayers short (Matthew 6:7-8); on the other hand, in Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable with the intent that we always pray and not give up.
Or questions of cultural flexibility, e.g., "Greet one another with a holy kiss". Is that universally mandated? For some of us, if we tried it, it would not be holy. JB Phillips translates this "Give a hearty handshake all around"--is that a stretch?
On the other hand, if you are ministering to a tribe in Papua New Guinea that has never seen bread or wine, do you go instead for yams and goat's milk? Or of a tribe that has never seen sheep, and you come to "behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world"; if that tribe sacrificed pigs, should it be rendered "behold the swine of God?"
How do we establish which Old Testament laws should be continued? None? All? None but those explicitly reaffirmed? All but those explicitly abrogated?
I ask these questions with little interest in the specific exegesis of each instance, but rather to draw attention to the principles we use in interpreting these texts. Specifically, then, what criteria do we employ to determine whether an apparent demand is to be applied universally or to a specific circumstance?