Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sonrise Session #8: Historical Context

Historical Context: Setting, Setting… Setting!

The Bible details real events and situations involving real people physically engaged at a specific point in time. It differs from other works of non-divinely-inspired literature in that the “editor-in-chief” is a living God through whom revelation is as alive today as it was when it was first captured and conveyed by the human “reporters” on the scene long ago. (My newspaper analogy doesn’t quite cut it, friends… but it was the best I could muster this morning.)

Who was talking to whom… when, where and why?

Exegesis: Let’s let the text speak for itself.
Eisegesis (a “no-no”): Let me force myself into the text to suit my purposes.

From a sound exegetical hermeneutic, we can then determine:

a. Situation specific?
b. Timeless truth?


Role of History:

Eyewitness accounts recount the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ affirmed by secular historical records. It happened… and history affirms it!

Q. How can something so old be relevant today?

A. All of Scripture—since God inspired it—is profitable for teaching (2 Timothy 3:16). But not all words contained in Scripture have direct application to me or to you. For example, in the book of Romans, Paul is thankful for “all of you” whose faith “is being reported all over the world.” He’s not talking to me here. I wasn’t even born then (though some days I feel like I’m about that old.) Paul is writing a letter to Christians in Rome in or around 57 A.D. We need to bear this in mind as we set out to interpret and ultimately apply what follows in the text.

Q. So, was the Bible written for someone other than us?

A. Scripture has preserved the gracious revelation of a living God. Its truth is as valid and alive today as it was when it was originally inspired by God and conveyed by men. When we talk about the importance of “historical context,” we don’t suggest that we are dealing in leftovers or “yesterday’s news.” Instead, we urge a careful study and understanding of what it meant then… so that we might accurately understand—as best we humanly can—and apply it today.

Q. Who was the Bible originally written for?

A. There were many human authors who took God’s revelation and put it to pen, so to speak. In order to answer that question, we need to examine each book of the Bible and try to determine 1) who wrote it… 2) to whom… 3) when… and, to the extent that we can know, why? If we can answer these questions (and in some cases, we simply don't know), we will have a basic grasp of the setting. From there, then, we can situate the text and begin to wrestle with other aspects of interpretation, including the application of what it means to those of us living today.

Q. Did God have me in mind at all when He wrote Scripture?

A. I can't grasp the mind of God. But I believe that God knew you before you were born. And though you were not the original audience for Scripture, He has graciously overseen the preservation of these accounts for the benefit of all of mankind (if only all of mankind would listen...). God's revelation has powerful relevance to our lives today. We are, as someone has said, “looking over the shoulder” of the players of the original theater and benefiting from eyewitness and other accounts, giving us, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, precious insights into the nature and will of God.

Q. What is the role of the Holy Spirit, then?

A. I believe the Holy Spirit is our ultimate “guide.” When I was undergoing cancer treatments several years ago, Psalm 91 seemed to "follow" me, surfacing four or five times from independent sources (personal study, friends, strangers) at particularly challenging points along the journey. I believe the Holy Spirit led me to this Psalm (and inspired others to lead me to it) to encourage me. Its message of hope under the protective wing of God is one of those “timeless truths” that speaks to the trustworthiness and protective oversight of God. (Interestingly, we don't know for sure who wrote this Psalm, but it appears that God is addressing Jesus when he speaks of granting a "long life" in verse 16. And Satan quotes, as well, from Psalm 91 as he tempts Christ, obviously envisioning that this Psalm is about Jesus. So, from a personal standpoint, I can draw tremendous comfort from this Psalm, as it describes an utterly loving, trustworthy and protective God. But it would be errant for me--I believe--to lock onto verse 16, for example, and imagine that God is telling me that he I will live to be someone's great-great grandmother on the basis of a verse about Jesus. Make sense?).

Where we need to be careful, I think, is when we take Scripture and “make it our own” without any regard for what it originally meant. If I use “those who are first will be last, and those who are last will be first” in some sort of funky numerology deal to try and ensure that I win something… I’ve just gone wildly afoul of this verse’s original intent and I'm thinking that's probably not the way the Holy Spirit works.

Q. How do you tell whether or not something is directly applicable to us today or not?

A. Sometimes it’s fairly easy to discern. Like I said, I know that Paul is thankful for someone other than me as he begins his letter to the Romans. In 2008, I won’t be kicked out of my seat on Sunday morning for wearing my hair in braids (though the Pippi Longstocking routine would probably send most of my family to another row) or pearls around my neck (I’m wondering what mother of three boys has the time to accessorize, anyway?) (1 Timothy 2: 9-10). But there is an underlying fundamental—a timeless truth based upon the humble, selfless decorum of a Christ follower described elsewhere in Scripture—that suggests to me today that I should refrain from dressing to show off at church. In 50-something A.D., that was evidently braids and pearls. Today, it might be low-riders and a tube top or an October birthstone lip ring (or whatever might prove a distraction to others in church).

Other times, it’s not so easy. People have built entire systems of worship around isolated phrases or sentences in Scripture. Then, someone will come along and say, "You have taken that out of context!" At which point blood pressure starts to rise, fur starts to fly... (and you will find me looking for the nearest exit.)

OK... are we now officially off topic?

So, what about the new poll! I voted once... so that means only 8 of you made your opinion known to our vast worldwide audience (OK... that may be a bit of a stretch... we're hardly vast... but so far this week my little meter shows we've had visitors from Canada, Turkey, New Zealand, Australia, Germany and Japan... as well as folks from Delaware, Kansas, Iowa, Virginia, Chicago and Texas. Thanks for stopping by!)

So... do we like the poll? Do we like the music?

p.s. And don't let me scare you away... my meter doesn't tell me who you are... mainly just where you come from geographically... and how you found the site (from "google images," one of the blog rings, etc.) It's not "big brother"... just a helpful little analytic that lets me know whether or not the blog has a pulse...

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