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Understanding the context of the bible

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Understanding the context of the bible

Introduction

Although the bible is a superb story-book, full of exciting tales well told, But it is more than just a collection of stories. Tthere is one big story told by the whole collection of individual stories. The centre of it is God, and all what he did in this world and for human race.[1] The bible was written by people in order to be understood by people, but there are some hindrances that makes difficult for it to be understood in its original meaning,[2] this is a demands when you interpret it you must consider the importance of historical, geographical and cultural context for effective preaching? Because if you miss God’s meaning you are no longer had? God’s word because you have to know what it says, understands what it mean, for this reason it must be interpreted in order to get a meaning, because this creates a gap in our understanding the original meaning of scriptures. The only way to get everything right on it is to consider its historical, geographical and cultural context.[3]

So in this essay we will look the land of the bible geographical constitute the arena in which God chose uniquely to speak and act?[4] Because God’s revelation touches specific times and places. Geographically account begins in the so-called Ancient Near East or the present-day Middle East.[5] This essay will explain the importance of understanding the geographical context of the bible for effective preaching, because the purpose of preaching is for people to get the meaning of the bible. It is very much important to understand the bible passage in its historical context looking to the author’s views. And place of writing also the reason for writing who were the readers political economic social religious legal ethically all will help in understanding the meaning of the passage, particular purpose and occasion.

Culture is what people believe what they say, what they do, wear, eat make or practice with different customs would that cultural practice have the same significance today if not is there a timeless principle that could be practised today but in a different way? Geographical it is very important to consider that the bible was written in a different land in this way it will be easy to interpret it correctly. In stressing the necessity of determining the original meaning of the bible, John Chrysostom, also called the “Golden Mouth” He maintained that the bible is the infallible word of God and his exegesis was both spiritual and practical.[6]

The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament are clear infallible revelation of God’s will and His salvation. The Bible is the Word of God, and alone is the standard which all teaching and experience must be tested (2Tim. 3:15, 17; Ps. 119:105; Prov. 30:5, 6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17; 2Thess. 3:14; Heb. 4:12).

1. Historical meaning

The historical context provides us with the author, date, original audience, purpose, theme, and other important information about historical or background setting of the book, Scripture is an authentic, reliable record of history and God’s acts in history. It provides the normative theological interpretation of those acts. The supernatural acts re¬≠vealed in Scripture are historically true. For example, chapters 1-11 of Genesis are a factual account of historical events. The Antioch exegetes pose historical questions. They say the word in a passage of scripture must be understood and interpreted historically, that is, in terms of their ordinary meaning.[7]

According to Augustine in Alexandrian and Antioch and methods, this means that to him each biblical text has literal (that is, historical) and figurative (that, is Spiritual) meaning. The most important thing, in short, in hermeneutical skill depends upon (1) one’s knowing the bible’s use of language properly and precisely, as well as distinguishing and representing to oneself the historical circumstances of a biblical discourse; (2) one’s being able to speak today of these matters in such a way as the changed times and circumstances of our fellow human demand.[8]

1.1Interpret the bible in view of historical

It is important that each and every verse or passage of scripture to be interpreted in its historical, in historical setting we consider firstly the author

Walter Kaiser, JR says “Interpreters often can understand authors better than they understand themselves. The promise that this saying appears to hold is that there is a stratum of thought, an “inner form of the work” (Dilthey), which in the creative process bypassed the author’s consciousness, but is now left for the interpreter to uncover.[9] But for Schleiermacher, his technical and psychological interpretation (Ernesti’s subtilitas explicandi) involved the additional step of personally assimilating the subject by determining or attempting to reconstruct the mental process of the author-an altogether impossible task.

We notice three divisions of the bible as well as in the New Testament is that in each case there are a number of distant of development in the formation of the Scriptures. There is original historical event in which the revelation is attested to or spoken of, then a period oral tradition, a period of fragmentary accounts, and finally books and collections of books as we have them today. Thus the meaning of a text always goes beyond what its author intended, and the true sense is an unending process which is never exhausted or captured by an infinite line of interpreters! So, as we read the bible, we need to keep asking ourselves; what did the author intend to convey by this?

What is he actually asserting? What will his original hearers have understood him to have meant? As we attempt to transport ourselves back into the authors mind and times, and to listen to his words as if we were among his first readers, we shall need particularly to consider the situation, the style and the language in which [10]

1.1.1 The date of writing

If we are to understand the text it is important to know the times in which he wrote. On the other side to know something of the conditions in which these books were written is to better understand the text itself.[11] A list of significant biblical dates to provide a framework for the flow of biblical History, The Patriarchal Era (1800-1290), Exodus and the Period of the Judges (1290-1050), Early Israelite Monarchy (1050-750), Assyrian Dominance (750-640 BC), The Rise of Babylon and Exile (640-538), the Persian Period and Return (538-323), the Greek Wars/Maccabean Period (323-63), the Rise of Rome (63-3)Chart of the reigns of kings of the United Monarchy and the Divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah to the fall of Jerusalem (1050 – 586 BC), colours coded to show good and bad kings, as well as those deposed or assassinated.[12]

1.1.2 Place of writing

Its context in scripture is the place where it is found. So each text must be understood both its historical and its scriptural background. Like the first testimony to the revelation of God was often given long before the written document this where Jacob called the place where God appear to him “Bethel”[13] Gen28:17)

1.1.3 Reason for writing

Who wrote it and to whom? In what circumstances, for what reason it is the situation in which it was written.

1.1.4 Readers

Although it was given to those who lived in an ancient Near Eastern/Mediterra¬≠nean context, the Bible transcends its cultural backgrounds to serve as God’s Word for all cultural, racial, and situational contexts in all ages.[14]

1.1.5 Political

The bible gives relatively little direction on specific political and legal models. As a result Christianity is (or should be) politically non-partisan in the sense that no particular political system or philosophy can be truly defined as “biblical” or “Christian”. The bible’s focus is on the ethical and spiritual relationships which inform the individuals of any given society.[15] Therefore individual Christians are free to choose and endorse political and legal systems (or parts of) which promote justice and good governance, so that people everywhere have their God-given dignity respected. As part of these two key political outcomes should be of special interest to Christians:

First, (1 Tim 2) calls Christians to pray for (and support) government which allows people to hear the good news about Jesus Christ: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.

Second, while love of neighbour is a universal command (Matt 22:37-40; Luke 10:25-37; Rom 13:8-10) the bible has particular concern for the needy and marginalized. Neglect of these groups is frequently a reason for God’s judgment upon the ancient nation of Israel. For instance the prophet Zechariah delivered this message of condemnation: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another… [11] But they refused to listen… [12] Therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 7:9 -12)

1.1.6 Social

What are the various reconstructions of the specific context to which your text is addressed or in which it has been written? (The “story behind the text”) What alternate reconstructions have been suggested? E.g., the different theories about Paul’s opponents in Galatians[16] or, the identification of large parts of Deuteronomy with the scroll found in the Temple as described in 2 Kings. (Note: Reconstructing a specific context is more difficult for the Pentateuch than for a prophetic book like Jeremiahor a letter of Paul where the specific situation is clearer.)

1.1.7 Religious

Like circumcision of the Jewish nation (Gen 34:14-17, 22) and the term uncircumcised for the Gentiles Galm2:7-8; Col3:11. These are the historical religion of the bible that needs to be understood and interpreted in their context, so that the message of the bible will give a meaning to people.[17]

1.1.8 Legal

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…” (Exodus 21:23-25)John 19:10-11″Do you refuse to speak to me? Pilate said. Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you? Jesus answered; you would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”The “eye for an eye” principle can be seen as a legal application of “the golden rule” (Matt 7:12): “Do to others what you would have them do to you”. Both principles assume that we humans are equal and should treat each other in an equal and fair manner.

If we harm another fellow human we at the same time admit that – according to the spirit of these principles – that others (i.e. the state governed by law) can do the If a woman has intercourse before marriage (Deut 22:20-21).Same to us.”For the Lord is a God of retribution; he will repay in full.” Jer 51:56)

1.1.9 Ethical

Many of the major problems in our time have to do with morals. In public life we have witnessed a breakdown of ethical standards. What is right? What is wrong? If the Bible gives an accurate description of Moses’ views, then by “modern standards” some of his commands might amount to calls for murder, war crimes or slavery. For instance, according to Numbers 31:15-18, he called for the massacre of boys and the enslavement of female children to Israelite veterans of the Midian war (“kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

But all the little girls among the women, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for you”).

It is important to note, however, that such ethical dilemmas can be cited without an adequate understanding of the historical context. In contrast, believers in the accuracy of the Bible can use assumptions to discourage exploration. But religion’s opponents can also discourage further exploration by making debatable assumptions about a text, classifying the intent of the text as immoral, and thereby dismissing the text as unreliable. In the above example some readers may infer an implied equality between slavery under Mosaic Law and “slavery” as understood in the New World.

The political context of rights (individual v the state) doesn’t appear to capture the bible’s emphasis on responsibility. Despite these limitations, human rights have proven an extremely useful way to protect the dignity, freedom and equality of individuals. Equality is sometimes controversial but the bible underlines the inherent equality of all people in several ways: Every person is made in the image of God.[18] (Gen 1:27) All are sinners and equally in need of redemption (Rom 3:19-26, esp. “there is no distinction”) Hierarchies based on social rank, ethnic background and gender are counter to the gospel (Gal 3:28; James 2:1-10) In fact, God frequently favour’s people who are regarded as lesser in the eyes of people: But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16:7)

2. Geographical

The bible was written in a different land, it is impossible to understand the meaning of the bible without some knowledge of its geographical setting, and the story of the bible touches specific times and places. Geographically, the account begins in the so-called Ancient Near East or present-day Middle East. It includes the area known today as Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.[19] It is important to understand that the whole bible takes place in a rough rectangle of land five hundred miles from north to south and one thousand miles from east to west. Yet the very mention of geography especially bible geography, is enough to switch some people off.

Some people who have no taste for geography if the bible gives a list o Kings of Israel and Judah in their chronological order. May ask rather impatiently why God did not reveal himself in a rather remote geographical context, so that we have to struggle to understand the context, so that we have to struggle before we can grasp the revelation?[20] God want to deal with us in our situation of time and place, as he dealt with the biblical characters in theirs. To understand his ways, we must understand this, we must know something of both where and when it all happened that’s the importance of understanding and interpreting the bible in its geographical context, we must be able to visualise it.

Consider the land of the bible including terrain, topography, weather, transportation, distance, cities, and agriculture, the land of the bible was highly with mountains, desert and seas, rivers, plains and coastline, Luke 10:30-37Jesus story of a good Samaritan this road made travellers to be vulnerable to robbers they could easily hide in the rocky place we see the valuable geographical context for the meaning of the story, preaching or giving the meaning of the passage it needs an understanding of the context in which the authors was writing on.

Geographical context

Consider the land of the bible including terrain, topography, weather, transportation, distance, cities, and agriculture, the land of the bible was highly with mountains, desert and seas, rivers, plains and coastline, Luke 10:30-37) Jesus story of a good Samaritan this road made travellers to be vulnerable to robbers they could easily hide in the rocky place we see the valuable geographical context for the meaning of the story, preaching or giving the meaning of the passage it needs an understanding of the context in which the authors was writing on.

3. Cultural settings

It is very important that the bible to be interpretation including its cultural institutions and terms, and to make them into normative teaching on a par with any other in- junction of Scripture. Consider the culture in which author lived in order to understand what he meant. Culture is valuable only if the culture is in the passage. For instance Jesus conversation with the woman in the well is culturally significant because the bible says Jews had no dealings with Samaritans John 4:9) Contrast of ancient tribal cultures’ concern with community and communal ways of thinking with modern individualism, and its implications for understanding Scripture. A paper dealing with the Israelite appropriation of metaphors, symbols, and conceptual categories from the “pool” of ancient Middle Eastern culture, noting both the similarities and differences, and the implications both for understanding the OT, as well as for addressing the modern conflict of science and religion, to further complicate things, the original authors, while writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote in their own personal style using illustrations relating to their particular culture and history. Distinguishing between Scripture that is cultural relative and that which is relative for all times can sometimes be very difficult.[21] There’s not enough space here to deal with it adequately, but generally, to find the timeless principles, look to the Bible’s core message (those messages that stay consistent across many cultures), the inherently moral or immoral items, and the items that are expressly accepted or forbidden (those which the Scriptures merely acknowledge).

Guidelines for determining whether a passage is culturally bound or applicable today: What was the purpose of the cultural practice or teaching?

Would that cultural practice have the same significance today but in a different way? Assume every teaching or practice of scripture is applicable today unless-but Mark 2:18-21 every cultural practice and tradition must be measured against the teaching of God’s word. Culture is what people believe say do wear eat make practice and how they think or process information[22]. Since God revelation was given in particular cultural setting and the social customs which from the background of some biblical instruction are entirely foreign to those of our day. Are we then rejecting the teachings because are culturally dated? It is better to accept the biblical instruction itself as permanently binding, but to translate it into contemporary cultural terms.

John Stott mentions one of the more difficult examples which caused a tension between the permanently valid and culturally dated concerns the status, behaviour and dress of women. More especially when Paul addresses the church in Corinth the veiling of women, head covering when prophesying, here Stott says we must find other social customs which express a woman’s acceptance of the authority which God has given to man.[23] Consider the culture in which the author lived in order to understand what he meant. Culture is valuable only if the culture is in the passage. For instance Jesus conversation with the woman in the well is culturally significant because the bible says Jews had no dealings with Samaritans John 4:9).Contrast of ancient tribal cultures’ concern with community and communal ways of thinking with modern individualism, and its implications for understanding Scripture.

Conclusion

This essay describes the bible as superb story-book, full of exciting tales well told. It shows it as more than just a collection of stories but what is centred one big story which told by the whole collection of individual stories. The centre of it is God, and all what he did in this world and for human race.Since God revelation was given in particular cultural setting and the social customs which from the background of some biblical instruction are entirely foreign to those of our day

Bibliography

Burden, J.J., E.E, Deist., Biblical Studies (Honours) Biblical exposition (South Africa: University of Pretoria, 1992)

Kaiser. Walter Jr., Toward An Exegetical Theology (Michigan: Baker book house, 1987)

Stott, R.W John., Understanding The Bible (London: Scripture union, 1973)

Schroeder, David., Learning to Know the Bible (Pennsylvania: Faith and life press, 1967)

Towns, R.L Elmer., Bible Answers for almost all your questions (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 2003)

William, H.Green., General Introduction to the Old Testament (Michigan: Baker book House, 1980)

Gorder, P.R., The Old Testament Present (Michigan: Radio Bible Class 1982)

Kaiser, Otto., Introduction to the Old Testament (Great Britain: , 1973)

Drane,John., Introduction the Old Testament (England: Lion Publishing, 1987)

Dyer, Charles., Eugene, Merrill., Old Testament Survey (Nashville: Word Publishing,2001)

Purkiser, W.T Exploing The Old Testament (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1940)

John Macquarrie., James Childress., A New Dictionary of Christian Ethics(London:SCM,1993)

Harris, Marvin., Cultural Anthropology (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers,1987)

[1] Alexandra,Pat,.David Alexandra .,Zondervan Handbook To The Bible(Michigan: Lion publishing,1999),p.18

[2] Burden, Deist., Biblical Studies (Honours) Biblical Exposition,p.3

[3] Burden, Deist., Biblical Studies(Honours) Biblical exposition ,p.4

[4] Stott., Understanding The Bible (London: Scripture union,1973 ),p.35

[5] Stott., Understanding The Bible (London: Scripture union,1973 ),p.37

[6] Burden, Deist., Biblical Studies(Honours) Biblical exposition (South Africa: University of Pretoria,1992),p.4

[7] Burden., & Deist., Biblical studies (Honours) Biblical exposition,p.3

[8] Walter,C.Kaiser Jr., Toward An Exegetical Theology (Michigan: Baker book house,1987) ,p.27

[9] Kaiser Jr., Toward An Exegetical Theology,p.35

[10] John, R.W, Stott., Understanding The Bible,p.225

[11] David, Schroeder., Learning To Know The Bible (Pennsylvania: Faith and life press, 1967),p.84

[12] American Academy of Religion,1955

[13] David, Schroeder., Learning To Know The Bible,p.39

[15]John,Macquarrie., James Childress., A New Dictionary of Christian Ethics(London:SCM,1993),p.484

[16]William, Hendriksen., Galatians Ephesians(Edinbuburgh:The banner of truth,1999),P.22

[17] Elmer, R. L. Towns., Bible Answers for almost all your questions (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, inc,2003),p.8

[18] Dyer, Charles., Eugene, Merrill., Old Testament Survey (Nashville: Word Publishing,2001) ,p.7

[19] David, Schroeder., Learning To Know The Bible (Pennsylvania: Faith and life press, 1967),p.17

[20] John, R.W, Stott., Understanding The Bible,p.33

[21] Harris, Marvin., Cultural Anthropolog ( New York: Harper & Row,Publishers,1987),P.46

[22] Harris, Marvin., Cultural Anthropology,P.47

[23] John, R.W, Stott., Understanding The Bible (London: Scripture union,1973 ),p,229


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