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  • Writer's pictureJacob Mamachan

Context In Crisis! Redeeming The Context Of Scriptures - PART 1

Majority of the church seems to be oblivious to the practical realities of Textual Criticism, Biblical Languages, Second Temple Period Literature, Dead Sea Scrolls, and many other aspects of the Christian thought that have become essential to biblical interpretation.

Biblical Scholarship and the global church do not appear to be fully integrated in this aspect.

Being in the dark regarding scholarly perspectives – whether good or bad – has led many to treat the church with contempt and some have even deemed Church “boring”.

The church, which is His body, holy and revered, glorious and divine, has become – boring?! This sort of estimation by the unskilled or rather unspiritual who are large in number (statistically speaking) need to be exposed to healthy scholarly methods of interpretation. The current church scenario would change if pastors do the hard work of embracing concepts that have been reserved only for scholars and take the effort to teach their congregation. Unfortunately, this is not the case in most churches.

Context is critical for sound biblical exegesis. I realize that not every person can easily access good biblical resources, but that being the case the first step is to recognize there is a context at all. This in the least allows for caution on the part of the interpreter to be sensitive to these vital issues. The second step would be to plan for acquiring good resources and trusting God to guide you through the process and necessary finances.

This blog is my effort in the most basic sense to equip those who find themselves at the lower spectrums of biblical interpretation. By “context”, I mean the world of the biblical writers. This is a principle that has been consistently followed by good biblical exegetes over the years. Recent scholarship has contributed much to this discussion of context, which has allowed for better reading of the scriptures. I am referring particularly to the discoveries at Ugarit and also deeper analysis of the second temple literature that addresses these issues accurately.

Few points to ponder –

  1. Worldview differences – Worldview elementally can be defined as the lens through which one would perceive the world. We pride ourselves in being part of a modern world and are surrounded by computers, mobile phones, fast cars, advancements in space travel, hyper loops, 5G networks and the list is endless. Our biblical authors are far removed from the age of our world. They are pre-scientific, pre-modern and pre-technology from our context. They observed the world through different eyes and we should be humble enough to do the hard work of studying their world and interpreting scriptures in their context.

  2. Cultural disconnects – Many may be able to relate to cross cultural concepts as it is the current trend. We understand that when we migrate to another country the food, clothing, and mannerisms can be distinct, and painstakingly study them to blend well and especially to not offend anyone. We need to extend the same courtesy to the biblical writers and texts. We must be sensitive to their diet and clothing, economic and financial structure, scientific knowledge, lifestyles and languages so that we interpret well and correctly the Word of God.

  3. Language Barriers – This is another concern when it comes to biblical interpretation. I am not advocating for perfection in this matter, but a higher degree of accuracy and sensitivity which would benefit the body of Christ. Language is challenging and especially the dynamics of one to which a person has had no former exposure. For example, the simple definition of Agape, in my limited knowledge of the Greek language or languages in general was based off sermons where preachers would say it meant only God’s love (or, sacrificial love). They would then move on to differentiate Agape from Phileo, teaching that the latter meant friendship-love and the former God’s love. This shallow interpretation is where Christian ministries have adopted the word Agape as part of their church names. Now on further analysis and a simple survey of the use of this word across the New Testament and the Septuagint (or even a concordance!), would reflect that the word has not been used strictly for God’s love – unconditional and/or sacrificial love. The word has a broader usage and sometimes also with negative connotations. Such observations would prompt us to be careful when studying the scriptures. We need to identify how words, phrases, metaphors, idioms, hyperboles and other literary tools have been employed by the ancient writers.

Following are few verses where the Greek word ἀγάπη (Agape) or its cognate ἀγαπάω (Agapao) are used so we could understand its varied usage – John. 3:19 (to love darkness), 2 Peter. 1:17 (unselfish love), Judges. 14:16 & Deut. 21:15 (love between two people), God’s love 1 John. 2:5 (God’s love, commonly quoted and preached upon).

The above is only a glimpse into the significance of the study of contexts to enable one to be faithful to the written Word. I hope this has shed some light and increased awareness in these vital topics. The next post will lay out few more examples that will further expound on these matters. God bless you!


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