Contexts of the Bible
WHAT PARTS OF THE BIBLE INTIMIDATE YOU?
context is the most important thing to keep your eye on when you’re studying a passage
Too many of the errors seen in the history of doctrine are due to disregard for contexts.
We are attempting to understand documents that were written by people who cannot explain them to us, and to people in a different age and society from any other. Simply stated, there is a communication problem.
Have you ever learned a foreign language? If so, you know that learning the words is not enough. You have to learn the mind-set, the culture, the worldview of those who speak it if you really want to understand what they are saying
HISTORICAL CONTEXT refers to where a biblical event fits into world history
On the one hand, there’s the historical context of the event, what’s actually happening; but then there also is the historical context of the book in which it appears
SOCIAL CONTEXT refers to where a biblical event fits into a specific culture
This is actually, if you will, entering into a time machine and transporting yourself back into the setting of the events that we have in Scripture
LITERARY CONTEXT refers to where a biblical concept fits into genre
Essentially, literary context means first that words only have meaning in sentences, and second that biblical sentences for the most part have full and clear meaning only in relation to preceding and succeeding sentences.
The literary context is what most people mean when they talk about reading something in its context.
DANGERS OF CONTEXTS
1) Ignoring the Customs Gap
In speaking through real persons, in a variety of circumstances, over a 1,500-year period, God’s Word was expressed in the vocabulary and thought patterns of those persons and conditioned by the culture of those times and circumstances.
2) Overlooking the Time Gap
One of the major reasons the Bible is difficult to understand is that it is an ancient book. The first five Old Testament books were written by Moses around 1400 B.C. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, was written by the Apostle John around A.D. 90. So some of the books were written about 3,400 years ago and the latest one was written about 1,900 years ago.
3) Dismissing the Language Gap
The Middle East, Egypt, and the southern Mediterranean nations of present-day Europe were the places where Bible people lived and traveled.
The languages in which the Bible is written—Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek—have peculiarities unknown in the English language.
God’s word to us was first of all God’s word to them. If they were going to hear it, it could only have come through events and in language they could have understood. Our problem is that we are so far removed from them in time, and sometimes in thought. This is the major reason one needs to learn to interpret the Bible
In whatever place and whatever age people read the Bible, we instinctively draw from our own cultural context to make sense of what we’re reading.
And this is not the modern world by any means in the way in which society lives, the way in which people conduct themselves, the expectations that they have—all these things are very different than the way we live today
TIPS FOR HISTORICAL CONTEXTS
Tip #1: Know the Reader’s Limits
TIPS FOR HISTORICAL CONTEXTS
What we don’t have is direct access to the event. What we have is a portrayal of the event. In fact, what we often have with the events that are portrayed in Scripture—in fact, what we do have—is the selective portrayal of those events. We don’t have everything that happened. We don’t have access to a videotape of what took place. What we have is an account, a remembered account of what has taken place, when we’re dealing with events.
Tip #2: Know the Author’s Bias
The writer has a certain kind of lens that he uses to look at the events that he’s looking back on
Tip #3: Know the Event’s Location
The key historical context for the material that we’re studying is, first of all, the location of the book in which the events appear
TOOLS: Introduction to the Bible, Study Bible, Comprehensive Commentary
TIPS FOR SOCIAL CONTEXTS
Tip #1: Try to picture the social setting
The more important question of historical context, however, has to do with the occasion and purpose of each biblical book and/or its various parts.
To appreciate what is going on in Scripture, we have to reconstruct the cultural context in areas of communication, transportation, trade, agriculture, occupations, religion, perceptions of time, and so on.
You will not have to proceed very far in your Bible study before you realize that you are encountering social and language features which are strange to you.
In one sense, the Bible is like a world epic: It covers the sweep of history from the very beginning of creation to the end of history when our universe is radically transformed.
Tip #2: Try to picture the social thinking
the value of studying social context is kind of getting yourself reoriented to the kind of thinking and the kind of way—the way things were.
Tools: Bible Dictionary, Archeological Study Bible, Extra-Biblical Sources
TIPS FOR LITERARY CONTEXTS
The literary context is what most people mean when they talk about reading something in its context
TIP #1: Ask, “What kind of literature is this?”
TIP #2: Ask, “what kind of literature is this?”
But to have an awareness of what the genre is able to do, and how it generates expectations for us, can help us and help orient us to what’s happening literarily in a text
We can’t read the Song of Solomon with the same cold logic that we bring to Romans. We won’t get the point of the parables through the same exhaustive word studies that might unlock truths in Galatians.
TIP #2: Ask, “What’s happening in this passage?”
They help us to understand not only what the text is saying but how it goes about saying it.