Cultural Context and the Bible

by Aaron

Let me give you a little Bible reading tip: Understand that you are reading a document from the past and not our current day.

On Thanksgiving, I was with my family and one of my uncles was talking about the Bible. He referenced the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. A brief synopsis of the story: They are husband and wife. They sell their land and bring part of the money to Peter to use for ministry, but they lie and tell him  that they brought all that they got from it. God strikes them dead. They are taken out and buried.

My uncle described it that they were taken outback of the church building and buried in the church cemetery…..and that’s how he understood the story. The trouble is that in the early church, they didn’t have church buildings or church cemeteries. It was a house church movement and they wouldn’t have even been able to build churches with the opposition to Christianity.

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Yeah, the backwoods of Kentucky might have small churches with cemeteries out back, but first century Jerusalem didn’t. You can’t read Acts 5 with small town Kentucky as your setting.

If you want to understand the Bible properly, you have to understand it in the context of the culture and time that it was written. For example, Deuteronomy is written like that of a Hittite treaty. This doesn’t affect the inspiration of Scripture. It simply means that Moses was smart enough to write it in a way that would hit home with his readers in a way they understood.

Revelation is a huge compilation of Old Testament passages. Sometimes a description of Jesus will include imagery from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah all in the same sentence! It is also written during Roman oppression of Christians. John wrote Revelation in a way that would appeal to his readers, pulling from all these things.

There is a danger that comes with cultural context in Bible study because sometimes people make it more supreme than the text itself. This must never happen. But the text must be understood in the context of where and when it was written.

In the same way that if I read a news article about the invention of a new social media network, I’d never read it with a 14th century cultural understanding, since social media wasn’t a thing then.

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