“The Bible is the record of how God reveals himself to us in human history.“
Students are familiar with the word “history.” In fact, we’ve encountered this subject in our homes to schools, and to Google. Basically, we’ve learned history from books written by people. History is about people and people lived in a real place associating and communicating with each other. The Bible is no different. Louis Berkhof rightly said that “The word of God originated in a historical way, and therefore, can be understood only in the light of history” (Berkhof, 13). The Bible the record of how God reveals himself to us in human history. God uses actual people to write what needs to be written. So, what we have today is the written history called the Bible. The question is what are the things should be considered in studying historical background of the Bible? There are four brief suggestions that might help your tour in your Bible study.
“A valid Biblical interpretation requires a solid understanding of what the author had originally meant before we try to understand what it means to us.”
- The key people
First consider the author. Who wrote the book you are studying? Second, look for the original reader/s of the book. Was reader a group of people, or an individual? A valid Biblical interpretation requires a solid understanding of what the author had originally meant before we try to understand what it means to us. Lastly, look for other ancient speakers or written sources. Occasionally, the authors quoted other written or spoken sources. For instance, Paul says “one of Cretans’ prophets said, ‘Cretans are liars, evil, beast, lazy and gluttons (Titus 1:12) is a quotation from Epimendes of Crete. Paul wasn’t promoting this Philosopher. Rather, he uses him as reference that even their own philosopher affirmed the bad attitudes of Cretans (see. NET & ESV footnotes on Titus 1:12).
“The Bible was first communicated to the specific culture then and there before it is communicated to us here and now.”
2. The social and cultural context
It answers the question: what kind of the societal norms or culture they had at that time? The Biblical authors lives in society and communicated with them. They’ve lived with people that had both intellectual and religious cultures. Know this, the Bible was first communicated to the specific culture then and there before it is communicated to us here and now. The Greco-Roman culture, for instance, had influenced the entire New Testament. We’re required to know their cultural and political situation as well as the religious background. For example, Paul was a classical Jewish who is trained under Gamaliel. His life and education in Greco-Roman culture and his knowledge of many cultures are reflected in his writings (Acts 22:3; 25).
- The Geographical context
It answers the question: where was the author when he wrote the book? Where did the event in the story happen? What cities or places were the author explicitly mentioned in his book? Was Jesus teaching in Jerusalem or outside the city? Knowing these questions will help you see who were the people involved in the story. It’d also help you understand the reasons why Paul, James, Peter, John and Jude mentioned some doctrinal issues and problems that the Christians were facing in a particular place. For example, in the manner issue of speaking in tongues in Corinth which Paul mentions in 1 Corinthian 13-14 is better be understood in geographical and historical context. Historically, there’s an ancient Greek practice of “ecstatic tongue” called the “Oracle of Delphi” located 100 km from Corinth. Plutarch, a Roman historian, describe the oracle of Delphi as divination that sought divine inspiration that will able her to speak in an ecstatic manner A second person, prophet, then would interpret. (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, Page 872).
Now, you’ve learned the most basic element on how to study the Historical Bible Background with examples. Go, try it for yourself. Get your Bible with a piece of paper and Bible background tools available you have, and start your journey.