Bible Basics

Historical / Cultural Context: How to Study the Bible

February 20, 2024 Jacqueline Williams Adewole Season 2 Episode 9
Historical / Cultural Context: How to Study the Bible
Bible Basics
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Bible Basics
Historical / Cultural Context: How to Study the Bible
Feb 20, 2024 Season 2 Episode 9
Jacqueline Williams Adewole

Embark on a journey as we unravel the historical threads woven into the fabric of the Bible. This  episode promises to deepen your understanding of Scripture by shining a light on the contexts that shaped it. From the loss felt during King Uzziah's death to the resilient hope expressed by Jeremiah to the struggling exiles, we explore the profound influence history has on our reading of these ancient texts. Prepare to have your perspective on the Bible transformed, as we explore the political, cultural, and emotional landscapes that bear witness to the living Word of God.


 RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE 

  1. Halleys Bible Handbook 
  2. biblestudytools.com
  3. blueletterbible.org
  4. biblegateway.com
  5. Museum of the Bible 

EPISODE SOURCE REFERENCES: 

  1. Basic Bible Interpretation, Dr. Roy Zuck 
  2. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg & Robert L. Hubbard Jr. 
  3. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart 

Thank you for tuning in!
Bible Basics is now streaming on Youtube. Please subscribe now!

Feel free to contact us at info@bible-basics.org. We would love to hear from you!

Note: All scripture references are from the NIV translation unless otherwise indicated.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Embark on a journey as we unravel the historical threads woven into the fabric of the Bible. This  episode promises to deepen your understanding of Scripture by shining a light on the contexts that shaped it. From the loss felt during King Uzziah's death to the resilient hope expressed by Jeremiah to the struggling exiles, we explore the profound influence history has on our reading of these ancient texts. Prepare to have your perspective on the Bible transformed, as we explore the political, cultural, and emotional landscapes that bear witness to the living Word of God.


 RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE 

  1. Halleys Bible Handbook 
  2. biblestudytools.com
  3. blueletterbible.org
  4. biblegateway.com
  5. Museum of the Bible 

EPISODE SOURCE REFERENCES: 

  1. Basic Bible Interpretation, Dr. Roy Zuck 
  2. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg & Robert L. Hubbard Jr. 
  3. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart 

Thank you for tuning in!
Bible Basics is now streaming on Youtube. Please subscribe now!

Feel free to contact us at info@bible-basics.org. We would love to hear from you!

Note: All scripture references are from the NIV translation unless otherwise indicated.

Jacqui:

Welcome back dear listeners, have you ever felt like you're missing the full picture when reading or studying the Bible, like there's a backstory waiting to be revealed? Well, you're not alone. Today, on the Bible Basics Podcast, we're pulling back the curtains on the historical context to shed light on the background, stories and cultural nuances that bring Scripture to life. Join us as we embark on a captivating look at historical and cultural context to equip us to open ourselves to a deeper encounter with the living Word of God. Well, welcome everyone.

Jacqui:

I'm your host, Jacqui Adewole, and this is the Bible Basics Podcast, where, weekly, we break down the Bible into understandable, bite-sized chunks. Before we plunge into the specifics, let's pause for a moment and reflect on why historical context holds such significance in our exploration of the Bible. Consider this scenario you pick up a used book and stumble upon a letter nestled within its pages, a heart felt message from a mother to her daughter. As you read, you realize there's no information about the circumstances surrounding the letter. Would you fully grasp its meaning and significance? It's unlikely. Similarly, understanding the historical context of biblical passages enriches our comprehension and appreciation of God's Word. Just like with the letter we discovered, the biblical writers and their original recipients shared a cultural background and lived within the same historical timeframe. Consequently, they are often implicit assumptions and shared knowledge woven throughout the text, leaving certain references unexplained. Some allusions may require clarification because they relate to experiences known only to the writer and recipient. Without this contextual information, both you and any other reader may struggle to decipher those references.

Jacqui:

So what exactly do we mean by historical context? Put simply, when we refer to historical context, we're talking about the backdrop against which the books of the Bible were written. This includes the culture, the prevailing circumstances and the setting in which the texts were composed. Our aim is to uncover answers to fundamental historical questions who wrote the book? When did they write it? What motivated the author, what themes and messages did they seek to convey and, crucially, who were the intended recipients of the text? To truly grasp the essence of the text, it's imperative to understand the perspectives of both the author and the original audience. This approach allows us to appreciate the context in which the words were crafted and to interpret them more accurately in light of their historical surroundings.

Jacqui:

So now let's explore why delving into historical context is crucial, regardless of what aspect of the Bible you're studying. Consider Dr Martin Luther King Jr's iconic. I have a Dream speech. Imagine dissecting it without understanding of its occasion the historic March on Washington in 1963, or the political climate, civil rights, legislation, status and the nation's fraught history of racial relations at the time. Dr King's background as a Baptist preacher and activist also adds layers of meaning to his words, shaping our interpretation of the speech.

Jacqui:

Now let's examine Isaiah 6:1, a passage familiar to many. "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. This scripture recounts God's call to Isaiah to become a prophet, culminating in his famous response here I am, send me. Yet how often do we overlook the significance of the opening reference to King Uzziah's death? I confess I used to skip over it too, but understanding the context is essential. We must put ourselves in the shoes of Isaiah's audience, the Judean people. King Uzziah had reigned for 52 years, a period marked by prosperity and restoration for Judah. However, his fame and strength led him to be proud, and this led to his downfall and death due to leprosy. It left a void in leadership, signifying a pivotal moment in Judah's history. Just as we remember where we were during significant events like 9-11, the people of Judah would have keenly felt the impact of King Uzziah's passing. Recognizing this upheaval allows us to grasp the emotional climate in which Isaiah received his vision and better understand the mindset of his audience. In both these examples, historical context provides invaluable insights enhancing our understanding and appreciation of the messages conveyed. It underscores the importance of situating biblical passages within their broader historical framework to fully grasp their significance.

Jacqui:

Let's explore several examples of Bible passages where understanding historical and cultural context significantly impacts meaning. Let's look at a timeline. Jeremiah 29:11 is a beloved verse, often quoted for its promise of hope and prosperity. However, knowing that Jeremiah spoke these words to Jews facing a 70-year exile under Babylonian rule adds depth to the message. The people were enduring hardship and uncertainty, making God's promise of a hopeful future all the more poignant. Then there are political aspects of context. In Daniel 5: 7, 16, King Belshazzar offers Daniel the third highest position in government, revealing insights into the political hierarchy at the time. Why wasn't Daniel offered the second highest position? Well, as it turns out, king Belshazzar, though titled as King, was actually the second in command under his father, .

Jacqui:

Now let's look at genealogy. Why was Edom at such odds against Judah throughout its history and we see examples of this in Numbers 20: 17-20, 1 Kings, 11: 14-25, 2 Chronicles 20: 22, or 2 Chronicles 21: 8. This conflict, this ongoing conflict, may be puzzling unless we remember the conflict between the twins Jacob and Esau. That conflict extended to their descendants. The nation Judah descended from Jacob, Edom, or the Edomites descended from Esau. This also shares light on why the prophet Obadiah four times referred to the mountains of Edom as the mountains of Esau.

Jacqui:

Here's another one from a religious perspective. Why did God bring on Egypt the particular ten plagues in Exodus 7-12? Scholarly research shows that each one of these plagues targeted specific Egyptian gods and goddesses. They challenged the authority of these deities and showcased God's supremacy. For instance, the plague of frogs directly challenged the significance of the frog as a sacred animal in Egypt, representing resurrection and fertility. In the Egyptian religion, the frog was the representation or the image of the goddess.

Jacqui:

Heqt. Architectures, also an aspect of cultural context. And Mark 2: 1-12, how could four men let a paralyzed man down through a roof? Well, most houses in the Western world are built with slanted roofs, but in biblical times roofs were flat and often were made of tiles or slabs of clay. Therefore, it would be no problem for the men to stand on the roof, remove some of the tiles and then let the man down. Let's look at something from an economic perspective. In Matthew 20: 1-6, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard gained depth when we realized that a denarius that's what they were paid was equated to a full day's wage. This highlights the economic dynamics that were at play. And let's end with a geographic fact. In Luke 10, 30, why did Jesus speak of a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when Jericho is located northeast of Jerusalem? Well, the elevation drop in the 17 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho is more than 3,000 feet. Obviously, going from Jerusalem to Jericho, then, was going down in elevation.

Jacqui:

These examples illustrate the multifaceted ways in which historical and cultural context enriches our understanding of biblical passages. They underscore the importance of situating scripture within its broader historical framework. Now, while most of us may not boast expertise in history, biblical scholarship or ancient languages like Hebrew and Greek, we have access to a wealth of tools and resources that are curated by these experts to aid in our exploration of historical and cultural context. These resources are readily available through various means, including free websites, apps and news bookstores. Let's delve into some essential resources to enrich your Bible study journey.

Jacqui:

The first thing on my list is a Bible translation. Start with acquiring a few reliable Bible translations. I recommend having at least one literal translation, such as the New King James Version, NKJV or the ESV English Standard Version, along with a dynamic translation like the NIV New International Version or the NLT New Living Translation. These translations offer varying approaches to rendering the original text into contemporary language, providing valuable perspectives for study. Next on my list I have Bible dictionaries. These indispensable resources contain definitions of key words found in scripture and they are usually based on a specific translation. Then there are commentaries. I encourage you to invest in reputable commentaries for in-depth analysis and interpretation of biblical passages, drawing from scholarly research and theological insights. Commentaries shed light on complex themes and concepts, enhancing your understanding of scripture.

Jacqui:

I took a class a few years ago that required me to obtain a Halley's Bible Handbook that spelled H-A-L-L-E-Y, apostrophe S. It's become one of my most used tools. It provides comprehensive overviews of biblical books and it definitely serves as a valuable companion for study and reference. Then there are concordances. These contain an alphabetical index of words used in the Bible and the main references where the word occurs. A good concordance also includes Hebrew and Greek dictionaries in the back, allowing you to easily look up the meaning of the original word behind every word in the Bible.

Jacqui:

Timelines and Maps. Visual aids such as timelines and maps offer contextual insights into biblical events and locations, enriching your understanding of historical narratives. Many study Bibles include these features the maps and timelines. Additionally, these study Bibles include book overviews that address key questions about authorship, audience and historical context. Now I encourage you to take advantage of online platforms that offer free access to Bibles, commentaries, dictionaries and other study tools. Websites like BibleStudyToolscom, Blue LetterB ible. org and BibleGateway. com are invaluable resources for biblical research and study. Those will be listed in the show notes. Additionally, consider exploring the free version of the Logos Bible Study App for a curated library of study materials, and don't sleep on checking out used bookstores and thrift stores for valuable tools and references.

Jacqui:

Lastly, for those in or visiting the Washington DC area, I highly recommend a visit to the Bible Museum. With five floors of interactive exhibits, the museum offers immersive experiences that deepen understanding of the Bible's cultural and historical context. From dramatic displays of key biblical narratives to recreations of first century Nazareth, the museum provides a glimpse into the sights, sounds and daily life of ancient biblical times, enriching your study journey with tangible encounters with the world of the Bible. As we draw our exploration of historical context to a close, let's consider the transformative impact it can have on our approach to Bible study. It's incumbent upon us to step into the sandals of the authors and their original audience, shedding our 21st century lenses in favor of understanding the world through their eyes.

Jacqui:

As my favorite Bible teacher and mentor, juanita Smith, would say Jacqui, take off your 21st century glasses and put on your 8th century BC ones. Striving to comprehend the Bible's messages from the perspectives of its original authors and listeners, and recognizing the historical and cultural gaps between their world and ours, equips us to grasp the intended meaning of the text. By embracing the richness of its historical backdrop, we open ourselves to a deeper encounter with the living Word of God. Thank you for joining me on this exhilarating exploration of the historical context. For those of you listening on YouTube, go ahead and like, subscribe and leave us a comment.

Introduction
WHAT IS HISTORICAL CONTEXT?
Why look at historical context?
EXAMPLES OF HISTORICAL CONTEXT
RESOURCES / TOOLS
CONCLUSION