SEEK THE CONTEXT: Biblical Texts, Language, Cultural Background & Meaning. Context Changes Everything!

Why Should We Seek The Biblical Context?

Why Should We Seek The Biblical Context?

What is so important about seeking the Biblical context? Why devote such an effort to this task? Do we even need the original context? The truth is – yes, very much so. The effort of many hours of study and research is justified because the understanding of the Bible out of context is simply not acceptable. Taking anything that can affect us profoundly out of context is quite dangerous. When one is taken out of context on a personal level, it is highly frustrating. Just imagine, you giving a speech, say something important, but those who hear you speaking misunderstand your words, misinterpret your intent and as a result miss the whole point of your speech. Your listeners can be misled into a completely different direction without the proper knowledge of the background of your words. I wonder how often this happens with the words of the Bible because we are unaware of the background of what it says?

Besides, seeking the context really means seeking God. When speaking about the Bible, the context refers to the context of God’s words, the context of the Scriptures that express divine will. God has revealed himself to humanity through his words, through messages which were transmitted by people faithful to him. But this happened centuries ago. The words are ancient, they come through layers of culture and language. Modern listeners have to make a special effort to perceive those messages the way they were meant to impact people when they were first given. It is not an easy task because the world we live in today is a vastly different. Yet, it is imperative because only when we perceive the original meaning of the message can we see how it can be applied to our reality. So seeking the context is seeking God and the effort is hard, but quite intentional and worth it.

Seeking the context also means seeking to understand. The words by themselves are tools, they are images and symbols, the building blocks of language woven tether to produce a cohesive message. And the message has a particular meaning. This meaning may not be obvious. The meaning obvious to a modern reader may not be the one the author had in mind.  A true seeker of understanding is not after the words themselves, but after the meaning that these words seek to transmit.

The original meaning of the biblical text can be quite elusive and the biggest risk of misunderstanding has to do with misreading and misinterpreting the meaning. Sometimes people focus on the wrong keywords. Sometimes the meaning is idiomatic and it could be literal. Sometimes the meaning is connotative, situational and particular words used may evoke a strong emotional resonance in the ancient audience. Projecting the ancient words into our modern word and deriving a meaning that suits us personally in our setting the biggest pitfall of uncovering the authorial intent. If the interpreter can perceive this sensitive context through a careful study of the setting of the message that he or she may hit the bullseye. True understanding is rarely achieved without an intentional study of peculiar context that explains the words which transmit messages.

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Pinchas

I am an educator, researcher, a faculty member and an avid believer in online education. My specialties are Sacred Texts and Cultures (Second Temple period, early Judaism and nascent Christianity). I am passionate about meaning, context, and cultural transmission of ancient texts. My preoccupations with history, ancient languages and contextual interpretation often find expression in my blog posts. Every human has a pretext, every message has a context. Context changes everything! Enjoy reading.


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