I assume that all of us who study the Bible have a few things in common—including reverent love of God and respect for the written words that constitute our Bibles. Most of us have grown up in churches that would not shy away from being labeled “People of the Book.”
Moreover, almost everyone would get the multiple-choice question about “context” correct on an exam. We all do understand, on some level, that context is important; we could affirm its importance without a second thought.
But what do we mean when we agree that context is important, and what do we do about it?
Through the years, when studying biblical documents, it has become increasingly clear that some important concepts seem to be ignored in most Christian circles. One is the question of the genre, or type of document/book, such as historical narrative, letter, poetry, etc.
Another concept that is often apparently overlooked with regard to letters (and certain other documents) is their occasional or situational nature. By “occasional” I do not mean to imply any casual manner or approach. Far from it! I mean that there was a specific situation, or set of situations, that led to the occasion of writing the letter.
I do take (most of) the biblical writings as God-directed (in some way), and the writers as God-inspired (a factor that is also beyond explanation). These assumptions are baselines for most of us.
On the heels of the belief that God has been involved in the production of what we call “scripture,” though, must come a principle: that understanding the meaning of an ancient document in its original context comes first, prior to attempting to apply that meaning to the current day. That context includes both the historical situation in which the document was written and the self-contained literary context of the document itself.
(To be continued . . . )