A Brief Note on Contextualizing the Bible (Especially OT)

Posted By on July 31, 2009

One of the responders accuse me of being extrabiblical in my approach to Romans 5:12. Actually, I’m being explicitly biblical, since I refuse to de-contextualize the Bible in favor of rendering interpretations that are comfortable, or that are European, American, or anything else besides the original culture in which the Bible was inspired. My approach yields something that not only gets Jesus off the hook (still unaddressed, I remind you all), but makes sense within the ancient cultural situation. Here’s the bottom line: The Bible is NOT to be interpreted through the grid of modern culture or our own cultures which are modern. It is to be interpreted in light of the context in which it was given. If anyone has any interest in getting to what the text meant when God inspired its creation, THAT is the proper method — not appealing to 16th century Europeans or anyone else outside the divinely chosen cultural context. The latter is to recreate or filter the Bible in or through our own image.

Here’s the lion’s share of my comment to him:

. . . [My] distinction [is one] made across the board in ancient near eastern cultures, of which Israel was one. You can’t have Israel being some sort of “non earthly” culture when practically everything about Israelite religion has an ancient near eastern cultural flavor or equivalent. The temple is typical Canaanite, with some Egyptian elements (the furniture); the “tent” language of the tabernacle and temple has explicit, point-for-point equivalents in Canaanite (esp. Ugaritic) culture. I could list dozens, maybe triple digit examples of this, but you are better off just getting a good archaeological reference work and reading it closely. EVERY culture in the ANE world had a distinction between common/profane and moral offense. They were all “violations” but not all categorized the same way. This is why some “fallings short” were punished and others simply required ritual washings, periods of exclusion from holy ground, etc.

And which one of these could the human conceptus commit, anyway?

All I’m doing is what others claim to do, but refuse to do when it comes to exegesis involving theology: CONTEXTUALIZING the Bible. It is what it is, inspired when it was and in the context of the culture of the time. Most biblical scholars restrict that to things like pots and clay jars. THAT is picking and choosing. I don’t select the contextualizations I like and discard the others. I aim to be consistent. Like it or not, the Bible is fixed within a cultural context, and we do injustice to it when we ignore God’s choice of timing and culture when interpreting it.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

About The Author

Comments

3 Responses to “A Brief Note on Contextualizing the Bible (Especially OT)”

  1. Jonnathan Molina says:

    I love those last paragraphs so much; I’m 100% in favor of being consistent when contextualizing the Bible and not being “choosy”. In light of all this, I’d like to know your opinion on one thing. When you wrote: “If anyone has any interest in getting to what the text meant when God inspired its creation, THAT is the proper method — not appealing to 16th century Europeans or anyone else outside the divinely chosen cultural context. The latter is to recreate or filter the Bible in or through our own image.” I wholeheartedly agreed. But I wonder this: if this is the best way to study the Bible (and I believe it is if you’re after the original intent) what are modern churches supposed to do when trying to USE that text to address strictly modern (and hence not in the context of the Bible) issues that the biblical writers would not have thought about? Are we left to our own devices, then, or is it only then that it’s ok to go outside the “divinely chosen cultural context”? Don’t know If I’m asking this clearly, but I often wonder if God intended us to use his word or just admire its concepts if that makes sense? Is there any practical use to all the OT/ANE contextualized thoughts? (I’m guessing yes but I’m wondering the how of it).

    • MSH says:

      application is distinct from, but related to, interpretation/exegesis. The latter is assisted (significantly in my view) by contextualizing the text. Once that is done (keeping our own lack of omniscience close to heart), then we apply the text to issues of today (personal and on a wider scale). There doesn’t need to be a precise 1:1 correlation (there really can’t be in many cases), but there does need to be coherence or congruence between the two.

  2. Jonnathan Molina says:

    Agreed. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up. Patience is a virtue; there is no need to re-submit your comment.