Familiarizing Ourselves with Biblical Culture

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The following quote is from Peter C. Craigie in Ugarit and the Old Testament,

“The Bible in not a difficult [book] to read…It was written for the ordinary person. But the modern reader faces a problem unknown to the original readers and hearers of the biblical message: the passage of time has imposed the gulf of centuries between the modern reader and the text…It is difficult for a citizen of the 21st century simply to sit down and read all of the Bible with understanding…For the majority of modern readers, the problem created by the passage of time is aggravated still further by other difficulties, specifically those of language and culture…If through some warp in time the figures of the biblical world could enter into our modern world, they would be totally lost, and the reverse would be no less true; if we were present briefly in the biblical world, we would not be attuned to its norms and patterns of activity. Thus every modern reader of the Bible…faces a problem, that of bridging the gaps that separate the ancient world from the modern. If not attempt is made to bridge those gaps, then the lack of familiarity which biblical language and culture will contribute to a failure to understand the biblical message.

I really appreciate what Craigie has to say on this issue. While not all of us will be able to be scholars or world-renowned archaeologists, I think we do need to attempt to understand that the majority of people who have ever lived have not shared our world view. I think it is important to remember that even just 150 years ago in the U.S. people were still riding horses, using outhouses, and talking to each other in person. We live as though all people live like we do and that is not the case.

This becomes particularly difficult when those we wish to model our morality and lifestyle, no, even identity from, belong to a world long past with cultures and norms we will never even hear about much less understand. The trick is helping people familiarize themselves with the culture of the Bible, A) Without saying we are exactly the same as they were and B) Without spending countless hours droning on and on about the Hittites. That is a difficult task but it is one that needs to occur in some way shape or form.

0 Responses

  1. I agree completely. I teach a sunday school class, and I do include some biblical culture in my lessons, but I was not aware of how important it could be, until I read your post.

    Excellent blog you have here pastor.

  2. An excellent post, Matt. That IS one of the more important parts of a teaching ministry: figuring out how to teach essential background without getting bogged down in something that doesn’t happen to be the message.

    My experience is that young preachers tend to get all excited about “the Hittites.” It’s easy to become so engrossed in perfectly wonderful history that the final point, teaching the message of Scripture, gets lost. I’ve always admired preachers who could quickly and without using jargon say what needed to be said by way of backgrounds, meanings in the original, etc. No attempt to flaunt knowledge, no placing a barrier between the professional and the non-specialist. Just a few simple sentences that opened up meaning.

    To do that is not easy for me at all, although it sometimes looks easy when it’s done well.

    Study and preach on.

  3. Elxge,

    Glad that was a help. Have a read of what Frank said too because he is right on target. It takes a lot of study, practice, humility, and wisdom in order to pull off what Frank wrote.

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