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.

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Prayer Challenge Seventy-Nine

DEVOTIONAL: “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers…For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Philemon 4 & 7, ESV.

CHALLENGE: Praying for other believers should come to us as naturally as breathing. It is the cornerstone of a church and a Christian’s life. When we do not pray for one another we are not seeking God’s grace and mercy in all we do. Kendrick opens the chapter “Praying for Believers” with a profound and sad truth: “Perhaps some of the most commonly spoken words from one Christian to another are “I’ll be praying for you.” And yet perhaps the most commonly unspoken words are the prayers that would have been said if those promises were truly kept.”

Some believers have a vibrant prayer life, some pray when they feel like it, and others rarely pray. The same goes for churches. We take each other for granted and we take our “son-ship” as co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16-17a) for granted.

As children of God we have the privilege to come before our Father who is in heaven. We have the privilege to pray on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Why should we continuously pray for one another? Kendrick gives us several examples from the early church in Acts. “We see people coming to faith… We see sin exposed and repented of. We see teamwork. We see abundant generosity and unselfishness. We see regular demonstration of God’s power.” Can such activity if the Holy Spirit happen within our churches today? Definitely!

Make witnessing God at work be our goal as we pray for our brothers and sisters, when they succeed and they struggle.

Let us not our “I’ll be praying for you” be mere words but actual actions we take. Whether we pray with them on the spot, or we pray for them during our private prayer times. Who have you promised to pray for this past week, this past month, and forgot to do so?