Monday, March 18, 2013

Understanding the Context of the Bible

    These are some notes I took of an essay by John Monson of Wheaton College which I felt, though I don't agree with everything he says (example: he is old earth and compares the Bible with ancient myths way to much), was helpful. Also I believe that an understanding of the context which the Bible was written in will protect one from faulty interpretations. This is a continuation of this post.  
    Never before has there ever been a time when knowledge of the biblical world has ever been as easily accessible as today, due to discoveries in language, archeology and geography. Yet at the same time there has never been a time when trust in biblical texts has ever been so low, in both the academia and the church. How can this be and how can contextual studies help correct this paradox?
The paradox may be explained by the philosophy prevalent in larger academic circles, which is everything in the texts must be doubted. The Bible must be deconstructed and contextualized to fit the presuppositions of the reader. That is extreme arrogance!
     It is even worse in the church as we search for a better and more satisfying religious experience, we displace the Scripture and archaeological and linguistic information that can help understand and appreciate the Scriptures even more. That is a great irony! This could be because for the past sixteen centuries the Christian community has been forced to interpret the Bible outside of its original context. That is because, until the late nineteenth century, very few extra-biblical resources. Though more likely, a widespread ignorance and faulty hermeneutic of the text itself is the cause.  But, nonetheless, whatever the origin, the paradox still exists, the Bible has been dismissed and decontextualized in a time when evidence that confirms the biblical text has abounded like never before!

     This essay argues the case for the necessity of contextual approach to interpreting the Bible. God has revealed through time, space, and culture, we must have proper prospective of those factors for a proper interpretation of His word.

Defining Original Context and Biblical Archeology

    The Original Context of the “Biblical World”

Doors used to enter into the “Biblical World” include:
     1)literary and non-literary sources, though mostly the texts including works of Josephus and Epic of Gilgamesh.. Those are fundamental sources for insights into the ancient world.

     1)Ancient artifacts also provide a enliven understanding of the context of the Scriptures
     3)And the geography of the Holy Land.

     This trio is essential for understanding the Scripture as the original readers would have understood it.


    What is Biblical Archeology?

    The basic definition of archeology is the study of human past from material remains. Biblical archeology is similar to other divisions of archeology, while focusing on the periods and places that are related to the Bible.

    “Evangelical ” Biblical Archeology?

     Biblical archeology has been used with strong apologetic motives and also to disassemble the Bible's reliability. Both have failed. The study of B.A driven for apologetic has failed for two reasons 1) the apologists themselves don't do field work. 2) Data can be interpreted both ways.

     It is better to enter the field of B.A for the purpose of understanding the Biblical world than to set out with a Bible proving agenda. For Pete’s sake, there is more to studying the Bible than trying to prove it.


Context in the History of Biblical Interpretation

    If B.A is the primary means of how to interpret the context of the text then it is fair to ask how the Jews and early Christians would have interpreted the text before the discipline of B.A. The clue to interpreting the Bible starts with understanding the author's perspective and how he chose to communicate it. The starting question should not be “What do I think or feel about this passage?” but rather “what does it actually say?” The text does, in fact, speak of the original context, it does speak for itself.

Context as Catalyst and Constraint for Biblical Interpretation

    Context as Catalyst

    The three components of context must be taken into consideration-text, artifact, and geography.

(1)   Geography
Gath from northMegiddo pass aerial from northeast

Geography is very valuable and useful when studying the Bible, it offers a fresh and informative look into the Bible.

Regional “dynamic” (Benjamin's territory). Benjamin's territory has been for a long while, a melting pot. It has been a very historic area, with much significance. It, among other things, was the buffer between Ephraim and Judah's territory. To the original reader the mention of the territory of Benjamin would be very significant! There are also very many examples of the assistance of geographical familiarity.

              Regional perspective. Geography can help one understand a difficult passage or understand the full meaning of a passage with the help of geography. Both Testaments use the regional geography to illustrate a fact, for example.

               Summary. Geography is a untapped but useful tool in the hand of the Bible interpreter.

(2)   Archeology
Byblos, Royal Temple I Abi-shemu sarcophagus

    Archeology yields more information about the biblical world than any other source (question: What other sources are there to describe the biblical world?). Archeology can greatly increase your understanding of the Bible. It will help you understand the world which the author and original audience lived.

(3)   Extra-Biblical Literature
Extra-biblical literature can also give us insight into the Biblical world. For the New Testament we have had a wealth of resources but for the Old Testament, we have had resources available only recently through the decipherment of ancient written languages. Extra-biblical literature, like archaeology, gives one insight into the ancient in which the Bible was written in.
      Thankfully the Bible is written in such a way that it is not impossible to comprehensibly understand it without an exhaustive understanding or knowledge of ancient history. If it was then we could only start to understand it recently due to the recent advancements in archaeology. It is also very important to understand, especially if you do any more study in ancient history as it relates to the Bible, two concepts; the first is that there are more differences in the ancient myths of the cultures in the Levant and the Bible than similarities. Many Biblical historians love to compare the Bible to ancient beliefs common in the ancient middle east, though they seem to forget to emphasize the differences of the Bible with the surrounding cultures. The second fact to remember is this 
"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"
Dr. William Barrick
   Remember that one especially.