Accommodation, a common theological doctrine, “refers to the need for God’s revelation to be adapted (accommodated) to human capabilities of understanding and reception.” Essential Theological Terms by Justo Gonzalez.
Most Christians operate under some form of an understanding of accommodation. Even the most literal modern Christian reader will agree that when the Bible refers to the sun "coming up," it is using human terms, not divine terms, of relating to the earth's movement around the sun. Accommodation is an idea believed by early Church fathers such as Augustine, and Reformed theologians such as Calvin-- thus, it is not a new idea. But the gist of it is that God did not, for the Hebrews' (and later the Greek Christians') own sake, make them throw out their entire culture and everything they understood about government, slavery, male-female relations, etc. Instead, throughout the Scriptures God sowed seeds of a more loving, more freeing way of thinking that began to bear fruit in those cultures and continues to do so today.To understand the Scriptures as an interaction between God and humanity is to understand that God's voice must of necessity speak through the limitations of the views of the culture in which the interaction happened. That the limitations of human understanding are preserved in the Scriptures, is hardly surprising. The doctrine of accommodation is what makes it possible to understand the Bible as the result of an interaction between the inspiration of God and the writings of human beings.
Without this understanding of accommodation, modern non-Christians find it impossible to take the Bible seriously as any kind of model for modern faith and practice. The non-Christian generally sees the Bible as solely a product of its culture. They understand that the Bible comes from a variety of ancient cultures over a long period of time. They also understand that the cultures were violent, racist, patriarchal and often uncivilized by today’s standards-- and they don't see any reason to look more deeply than that. They're not looking for the voice of God speaking through and to patriarchal peoples; they aren't looking for the voice of God in the Scriptures at all. All they see is the voice of primitive humanity in ancient religious writings, steeped in ancient, barbaric cultures-- and that's that.
This understanding isn’t helped by the fact that many literalist Christian readers, in the name of “inerrancy,“ tend to forget about accommodation as well: They view the Bible as if it were a “memo from the Boss” (Metacrock’s phrase) dictated this morning and left on our desks. They tend to discount the role of humans in the writing of the Scriptures, seeing them as mere conduits for a word-for-word transmission of the message directly from God. Such a message must be viewed to be as timeless as God is; therefore, the perspective of human culture doesn’t matter. Whatever God appears to our eyes to have said to the church at Ephesus or Corinth is the same thing God is saying to us today. It is very difficult to be consistent with this idea, however; most Christians do not actually follow Paul’s command to “greet one another with a holy kiss,” but instead view it as merely a principle of showing love to another; but in many other areas, such as women not being church leaders, they believe anyone who thinks there might be a cultural element that has passed away, is rebelling in his or her heart against the “clear command of God.” This kind of thinking has led many sects of Christianity to retreat from the modern world into a sort of first-century holding-tank where practices and ideas from Bible times must become our own way of life.
Non-Christians, seeing this, are confirmed in their belief that the Scriptures are only a set of barbaric, primitive writings-- and they view with horror the idea that anyone would want to give the Bible any place of authority in their lives. Both the non-Christian and the Bible literalist, then, view with suspicion any Christian who gives the doctrine of accommodation more of a place by taking the historical-cultural context into greater account. But I find that understanding the Bible as God’s story, told through human writers within human mindsets, makes the Bible a thing of beauty and wisdom for my life. I am not stuck trying to follow first-century cultural mindsets as if they were the will of God. And I am not required to reject the Bible as having anything worthwhile to say today.
It seems to me that seeing the Bible as entirely the work of humans, or almost entirely the work of God (with humans as little more than pencils in His hand), yields pretty much the same result. Each sees only one side of the coin. They see opposite sides-- but what they each end up with is a half-coin, with only one face-- and thus with no real spending power.
I believe that the way to treat the Bible with the most respect is to try our best to understand what the original, human authors understood themselves to be saying, taking into account their human limitations. That way, we do not fall into an inadvertent re-formulation of a passage's meaning based on our own modern mindset (or our lack of understanding of shared Ancient Near East assumptions). And we can focus on the inspiration of God that still speaks to us today.
That's what "accommodation" is all about.