Genesis 1-11, Cultural Context

Genesis is thousands of years before our present. The first major sections (chapters 1-11) has next to no information of their culture. From the passages we can gleam that they had a civilization, society, art, and metal work (Genesis 4:21-22). Apart from what the Bible tells us we know nothing of how their day-to-day life was before the flood.

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, ESV).

How is this an aspect of culture? Culture is the worldview of a people group: how they think, what they believe, and how they behave is respect to the world around them. The culture is the primeval world was filled with evil. To be honest it was not that different than later biblical periods or even compared to our age. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” Judges 21:25b. The original audience of the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy) knew all too well how rebellious people can be, even when they had the blessing of seeing God at work before their eyes. Half of the kings of Judah and all of the kings of Israel had led their people into evil.

The cultural context here is one that repeats throughout human history: sin and judgement.

When we get to Exodus we will look at the cultural context of the original audience as we study the contexts of their own stories found in Exodus through Deuteronomy.

 

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Genesis 1-11, Historical Context

The beginning of the Bible (creation) is difficult to pinpoint the exact years of the events. Finding a timeline that will lay this out is difficult to find. Most scholars (biblical or secular) label Genesis 1-11 as primeval history or pre-history. Some study Bibles and academic textbooks do not dare to place a year for this portion of the Bible.

When did God create “the heavens and the earth”? The simple answer is “in the beginning”. This will be the starting point of our biblical timeline, which will be represented by the abbreviation AC (after creation).

We will be going along with the BC-AD tradition of there being no year zero. With that in mind Genesis 1:1-2:25 occurs in the year 1 AC. Genesis 5 and 10 cover hundreds of years between major events in God’s redemptive story. When we study those chapters we will be looking at the AC timeline in more detail.

Whether Genesis was written or compiled is beside the point. At some point in history the book came about and was passed down through the generations until it reached us today. There is evidence that Genesis was edited sometime after the conquest of the Promise Land (more on this later).

Putting that aside for now, let us look at who tradition claims is the human author of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch. Moses, the lawgiver, was given the task of recording God’s message to the Israelites. Tradition holds that Genesis was part of the message that God wanted to give to His people. This also answers the questions of where (location), when (general date), to whom (original audience), and why (reason) Genesis was written.

With Moses as the author the location was Mount Sinai, the year was 1446 or 1445 BC[1], and the original audience was the twelve tribes of Israel. The reason for the composition of Genesis was to tell the Israelite their history of where they came from, how they got to be in Egypt and why Yahweh had chosen them and why He brought them out of slavery and into the Promise Land.

(The above information goes for entire book of Genesis.)

There is another reason for Genesis 1 and 2, and that is God. In fact it answers the question “Who do you worship?” or “What type of god is God?” He is different than all the gods around the Israelites, a God who does not need to do battle with monsters or slay other gods in order to create the world, this is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He speaks and it is so. Genesis 1 demonstrates the unimaginable power that Yahweh holds.

The purpose of Genesis is to begin telling the story of God and His interactions with His creation, especially humanity. A story of love and redemption that “may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7b, HCSB).


Footnotes:

[1] Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook, 2012. Page 29.

God’s Holy Word, In Context

Keeping the Bible in context is not necessarily an easy task to do, for we are thousands of years removed from when they were originally written. We will be using contexts to examine each passage of God’s Holy Word: historical, cultural, literary, theological and personal. For most of the Books of the Bible these will be looked at in umbral terms, meaning the context does not change from chapter to chapter. While other contexts will be examined passage to passage, depending how the story or section is divined.

For this study you will need a Bible commentary, a study Bible, and/or other reference material. Personally, I favour the New American Commentary for two reasons: 1. I have half the series in my personal library, and 2. it is a good balance of in depth word-study format and easy to read for laypersons. It does not matter which commentary or commentaries you use, the information we will examine should be found in most is not all series.

Last June, in the post “Keeping God’s Holy Word in Context“, we briefly looked at the contexts as layout by Dr George Guthrie in his study Read the Bible for Life, (published by LifeWay). We will look at what each type of context means, plus I will briefly explain what you can expect in regards to each context.

  1. Historical Context – This is regarding the history of the events in the passage and of its writing. This includes the timeline of events as it relates to the rest of the Bible and today; the original audience, (traditionally excepted) author, place and time of writing; and the world in and around the place in the passage. I will post several timelines in these sections: AC (After Creation), BC & AD (Before Christ & Anno Domini),  and BP (Before Present).
  2. Cultural Context –  This context is related to historical context in that it not information that we can necessarily get out of the passage itself, but we need to look at the broader picture of archeological finds and other texts from the era in which it was written. This includes things like: the social structure, practices, politics, home life, communal life, even what they believed and why.
  3. Literary Context – While each book of the Bible is found in a specific section does not mean that it is necessarily similar to the other texts in the same section. For example: the book of Lamentations is found in the section Major Prophets but it is poetic lament over the fall of Jerusalem. Similarly, a passage within a book can be a different literary genres. Each passage (or group of passages) will be examined in light of its literary genre, the genre of the book, and the section of the Bible the book is found in. Patterns, and repeated words or phrases, will also look at for they give us a hint at what is important in the passage, what the author wants to convey to the original readers/hearers.
  4. Theological Context – This one is linked to the previous context. Each passage in God’s Holy Word is filled with theological truths. Several major categories of truths are: God, creation, humanity, sin, and salvation. How the passage fits in with the “Big Picture” of the rest of the Bible and how it fits in with God’s redemptive story are essential aspects we need to discuss before we can look at the application of the passage.
  5. Personal Context – Bringing the message home is what all true Christians desire. The trick here is to examine the first four contexts before looking at ourselves. One statement that I have heard over the years is “Reading the Bible is like reading someone else’s mail”. While this is true we should never allow it to hinder us from reading and studying the Holy Scriptures that have been passed down to us for the millennia. Instead of reading the Bible through the lens of our twenty-first century culture and norms, instead of looking for what we want the passage to say, we need to prayerfully look at the passage for what the Holy Spirit wants us to see in light of the above contexts.

Remember, the Old Testament was first the Holy Bible of the pre-Christ Jewish communities in Egypt, the Levent and ancient Babylon and Persia. Along with the New Testament, the Holy Bible first belonged to the early Church. The books of the Bible were first written for them. But it is still God’s Holy Word for us today.

February Bible Reading

Reading the Holy Scriptures is an adventure, we never know what the Holy Spirit will show us today. Being convicted to change our behaviour or attitude is perhaps a reason many people, including Christians, do not want to read their Bibles regularly. Since I made my 2017 resolution to read through the Bible I have fallen behind, way behind.

As I was reading last night, a question came to mind, one that many have asked in the past: am I ready for the sake of reading the Bible? Or am I reading for the sake of desiring to get closer to God? The latter was my ultimate new year’s resolution, and one that I continue to want to strive towards. This time round I will not give up. This year I will catch up and continue. I may fall behind again and again, but I shouldn’t allow that to discourage me. God doesn’t give up on His children, why should we ever give up getting to know Him on a personal level?

For those of you who are joining me in my reading in God’s Holy Word, here is February’s reading schedule.

 

Bible Study and Research

When we want to go deeper than just merely study the Bible we want to research God’s Holy Word. There are plenty of books out there to research the Bible is various aspects. There are many resources out there, written by Christians who have gone before in the endeavour of researching the Holy Scriptures.

What types of books are out there? How can we use them?

The main resource any devout student of the Bible needs is a good Study Bible. Most, if not all, English translations have myriads of study Bibles to choose from. These range from daily devotions, chronological Bibles, age specific, careers specific, students’ Bibles, pastors’ Bibles, and topical study Bibles. (I’m not going to go through what each of these are. They are pretty self explanatory.)

Another good one is getting a good Bible Commentary Set. Many of the major Christian academic publishers offer one or more series of commentaries. These can range from easy-to-read for the non-scholars folks, to Koine Greek and Ancient Hebrew word studies. There are several sets that are finding Christ in the Old Testament. From in-depth (multiple volumes per book of the Bible) to a single volume for multiple books.

Which types do I recommend? For the Sunday school teacher or Bible study leader I recommend the less intense commentaries, you know, to get your feet wet. For students of the Bible (whether you are in Bible college, seminary or you just want to study the Word for your self) I would suggest finding a series that is in the middle range. The more non-concise commentaries I would definitely recommend for the more astute students, pastors, preachers, and anyone who is not afraid to read and in open to expanding their knowledge.

Don’t get we wrong–any commentary or resource may and can be used by the Holy Spirit to convict us of sins and misunderstandings, and open our minds to new things and concepts, a new way of looking at the same old text.

Another resource that I have found useful is a Bible Survey or Bible Backgrounds book or commentary series. These can be different textbooks, and at the same they tend to offer similar information. A Bible survey (Old Testament survey or New Testament survey) gives readers a overview of the Bible: historical context, archeological finds, geological maps, lists and, above all, they show how the entire Bible or testament is telling one big meta-narrative of God’s story intertwined with human history.

Along with Bible surveys come a related resource, Bible Atlas. If the pervious resource have maps, then why bother with an atlas? Like any other atlas, a Bible atlas focuses on the specifics of the region it depicts. What I am saying is, a world atlas focuses on the countries of the world, climates, ecosystems, etc. Whereas, a Bible atlas focuses on the Bible lands of the ancient world. These maps show routes taken by certain peoples, where events happened and a few other tid bits of information in one place.

What else is out there for students of the Bible to use?

Bible Dictionaries, Greek and Hebrew Word Studies… The list goes on.

Two more I want to highlight are Bible Handbooks, and Bible studies. A handbook is a great resource for anyone, regardless of education or church leadership. This resource is filled with concise knowledge that everyone asks. “Who is the author? When was it written? What are the main themes?” It is like having all of the introductions to the books of the Bible, found in a good study Bible, in one easy to use book. Bible handbooks can be small enough to place in a purse, handbag or computer bag.

Bible Studies are a resource most academic scholars overlook when they list off Bible resources. How can these be helpful? A Bible-based Bible study makes the group think about what they have read in the Scriptures. They are the best stepping stone for any church or circle of friends to get into God’s Holy Word.

Most of these resources are used by Bible colleges and seminaries around the world. While most church libraries have never heard of them (at least their lack of such materials points to this conclusion). I do highly recommend anyone who is serious about digging deeper into the Bible to begin a personal library or even suggest to their church library to begin a section with such useful books.

 

 

English Bible Translations

When I browse through the Bible or Christian section of a bookstore I notice the various translations, and options for many of them. Why are there so many? Which ones can I trust to be the most accurate translation? Many Bible scholars have tried to answer this in the past, and many more will do so in the future. (All you need to do is do a web search for “history of Bible translations” or look at the preface of any study Bible.)

What is the reason for so many?

One thing we have to remember is that no matter the translation (this includes the King James Version) it is still an interpretation of the original Hebrew (for Old Testament) or Greek (for New Testament). Within the English speaking world there are numerous Bible societies and Christian Bible study publishers. Each is rooted in a different Christian church denomination, and each publisher wants to translate God’s Holy Word to the best that they can.

(A sad truth is copyright fees. This mean to use another’s published translation fees are required).

Within the realm of translating the Bible there are two main camps. They are word-for-word and thought-for-thought. Some people add paraphrase as a third category, but this would be inaccurate. A paraphrase is a retelling and not a translation, so I will be leaving this one out in this post.

Below is a condensed version of the translation continuum, with thirteen of the most common ones used. (Click here to check out the meaning of the abbreviations.)

There are many reasons people have for choosing a translation to use. They range from easy to read, what their church uses, or which one they believe is “more accurate”/ “God inspired”. I will not speak out against any of these reasons. Every person has his/her own convictions in this matter.

As a lay-Bible-schalor and a recent Bible college graduate, I want to encourage any one who is serious about studying God’s Holy Word to use multiple translations. Each one will say something differently without removing the actually meaning of the story or theological concept.

The recommendation that I have been given by many of my professors is to use translations from across the continuum or spectrum. Study the Scriptures from Bibles that you do not use to memorize or are unfamiliar with. The reason for this is to gain new eyes and new understanding. Reading from a new translation will definitely get our attention on matters that may be ambiguous in another translation, or a new way of wording that the Holy Spirit can use to enlighten our minds on things of God.

What Bible translation do you use? 1) ..in your personal devotions? 2) ..in your church? Why did you choose this particular translation?

The Truth

The Bible points us to the Truth, because it contains messages of the Truth, but in itself the Bible isn’t “The Truth”. This title belongs to Christ Jesus, and to Him alone. For Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, HCSB). 

If the Bible was “The Truth” then all we would need is the Bible and not a personal relationship with Christ Jesus.

Do you follow the Bible or the Author of the Bible? It the Bible the fourth member of the Holy Trinity or is it the message from the Holy Trinity?