Reading the Bible 101 – Background

Moving into a few other considerations when reading the Bible is that of the background. The Bible and its story of redemption do not occur in a void. There is a historical dimension to everything going on. A view to the world events surrounding a passage can give great insight and deeper meaning to what the people in the passage are going through. To have Daniel in the lion’s den in one thing, But to understand his people as enslaved, and himself forced into the service of the king of Babylon and so forth shows greater depth of character then for Daniel to just being wanting to pray when the rules say not to. There are a variety of helps when it comes to the history of the Bible. Many books and resources are available to further our understanding of the times and events surrounding the accounts of Scripture. I’m not to say you must know Roman culture to know what the Bible is talking about in the Gospels. But it becomes very helpful when a denarius is mentioned to know its modern day equivalent.

There is also theological dimension to consider when reviewing the background and goings on within a given text or passage. From Matthew 2:1-12 there is a theme of worship being discussed and contrasted. I could read into the text the theme of God’s providence, in that the Magi do not fall victim to the wrath of Herod. I’d be right in that the providence of God was displayed here, but not something directly in focus here and not at the expense of missing the theme the author is attempting to place in front of us.

Last for today is to remember to look at a book of the Bible from the stand point of it being a literary work. Each book (or epistle) of the Bible has an author. Yet they all can be said to have the same author too, if reflecting on the work of the Holy Spirit. These books are thus joined in the theme of redemption, and yet occur in a variety of times, places, and dealing with all sorts of people. As a literary work there are characters to follow, understand, and learn from. Within each story, although not always mentioned, we should always account for the main character, God, to be present. Again there are great volumes of books out and available to know more about the characters of the Bible. Some have done the work for you to take all the passages of the Bible characters and assemble a fuller picture of the life of that individual within the context of his time and place in history. As a literary work we should assume there are both an ancient audience and a modern audience. The ancient is the direct context for the passage in question, but whatever timeless truth comes out of that teaching or event is what we are to understand and make application of in our modern context. For example the army of Gideon was whittled down to 300 men. That was the context of his trial and testing of his faith in God. If I wrongly deduce the timeless principle to be 300 men is the ideal size for America’s army (and if I had the power to enforce such a thing) we would be quickly overcome in our modern age. What I should get out of that story is that God is faithful even when odds are not in our favor humanly speaking.

So far we have looked at approaching a passage concerned about its place within the story of Redemption, its place within the Bible and history. We need to consider the literary style and elements of what is written, the audience and its characters. God is the main character throughout, and never forgetting that what we are reading is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

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