Fundamentals of Bible Study: Cultural Divide – The Biblical Writer
I apologize. I know this is a late followup to the first installment of this series. Life got in the way and in some ways is still a thorn in my side, but here we are.
The series began in Introduction to Bible Study with a brief overview of four points that will be covered overall. This portion of the series will cover ways to bridge the cultural gap between contemporary readers and the Biblical writers. This helps you get closer to understanding the context of scripture you will study.
It’s pretty obvious the Bible was written in an ancient time, but it seems that most people forget this, especially critics, most specifically when someone applies modern ideas about moral and social judgments on an ancient society. It’s imperative you understand the gap of time between you and the writer. This isn’t an endorsement of skepticism by which one can claim we are trying to say the Bible can never be understood due to its ancient origin. A statement such as this ignores our ability to understand much of the history we already accept through investigation, study and evidence.
In Fundamentals of Bible Study one must learn to understand the basic principles of the cultural divide. These things include, but are not limited to:
- The Biblical Writer
- The Ancient Daily Language
- Hyperbole – particularly important when dealing with wars and decrees to slaughter whole people groups.
- The Ancient Literary Impact
- Ancient Customs and or Societal Impact, which can fall under the History portion of this series.
The Biblical Writer
When studying scripture it is a good practice to act on the five “W’s” of investigation.
Who – Who wrote the book, or this portion of the text?
What – What was the purpose for the author writing this portion of the text? What led the author to write this, what influences, etc.?
When – When did the author write this?
Where – Where did the author write this?
Why – Why did the author write this? This can be similar if not the same as “What.” After reading through the book the “Why” could be revised to be the theme of the Book or various themes. For instance, Genesis 1 -11’s theme is the creation and early history of the whole world.
God chose human, often referred to as human agents, to work through during the construction of the Bible. Therefore it’s a good practice to learn as much as possible about the author of a particular book. These five “W’s” will help with future investigations of Biblical authorship:
Here’s an example:
The Book of Romans
Who: Paul the Apostle. This is seen in Romans 1: 1 where Paul states:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus , called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God —
It was often common practice in ancient times for authors to put their names at the beginning of letters.1 Thus Romans 1:1 is considered ample evidence of Paul’s authorship. Also there was little to no dispute in the early church about Paul’s authorship of Romans. However, some scholars will agree that Tertius may have physically penned the book under Paul’s dictation.2 Nevertheless, this is where you would use valuable resources, footnotes in study Bibles, various websites: Bible.org, BibleStudyTools.com, BlueLetterBible.com, BibleGateway.com, etc and any books in your library to help you discover information on the authorship.
What: This can be found in Romans 1:11-13 where Paul states, that he longs to see the members of the Roman church, but adds his reasons for longing to visit them. He states:
I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you so that I may obtain some front among you also…
This can also be seen at the end of Romans in 16:17-19 where he states:
…I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.
Thus it appears Paul’s reason for writing is centered on wanting to edify the Roman Christians since he has been unable to reach them in person.
When: Most modern study Bibles will give you a brief introduction to the history of the Biblical text you are about to read. For instance, Zondervan’s NIV Study Bible (and I’m not going to get into KJV vs other translations now), but at the beginning of Romans it states:
The book was probably written in the early spring of AD 57.
Generally the dates of Roman’s authorship range from sometime in A.D. 56-57.
Where: Generally agreed to have been written during his third missionary journey, possibly from Corinth.
Why: As stated in “What,” Paul wrote the letter to the Christians living in Rome. However, the overall theme is the gospel, salvation, and righteousness for all humankind from God.
Of course there are books of the Bible in which authorship is generally unknown or at times split. There may also be times when authorship is penned by one individual, but primarily the experiences and thoughts of another individual. (See Luke’s works: Luke, Acts) When this happens the Five W’s are still a good way to start. You still have historical information you can make deductions from. Let’s use:
Who: The author of Hebrews does not identify his or herself in the text of the letter. Thus you will find scholars who whole a theory of either Paul, Barnabas, James, Luke or Clement, Apollos and even Priscilla. However the letter closes with the words, “Grace be with you all” which generally leads many to believe it was penned or dictated by Paul.3 However, it could be argued that Barnabass, Priscilla or anyone who was influenced by Paul could have penned the book and used Paul’s customary ending phrase. Nevertheless, the book of Hebrews was written by a disciple of an early Apostle. Nevertheless, it has been tradition to accept Paul as the author of Hebrews. Again, you will find scholars and laymen who believe Paul wrote Hebrews for various reasons.4
What: Addressed primarily to Jewish converts as evident in Hebrews 1:1-4 which states in the beginning:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in varous ways, but in these days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things…
When: Predominantly agreed to have been written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.
Where: Unknown, but historical deduction could limit the area to anywhere between Ancient Israel and Asia Minor which still provides a cultural context.
Why: The theme is the supremacy and sovereignty as well as sufficiency of Jesus Christ as mediator and revealer of God’s grace. There is also some scholarly speculation that the letter was a response to continued temptations to revert to Judaism and or Judaizing the Gospel, or in general Jewish Christians tempted into merging with other Jewish Sects such as the one at Qumran near the Dead Sea.
Thus all in all while you may not get all the cultural bullet points of Who, What, When, Where and Why, the general idea is to help place you in a general understanding with proper perspective of the time, purposes and thoughts of the writer. However, this should not lead you into the erroneous realm of saying, “Well so and so was writing to the Jews of that time so none of this applies to the Church.” You would be in error because ” Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Keep that in mind,
Leroy “BrotherRoy” Whitaker
See Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 16:23, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Galatians 6:18, Ephesians 6:25, Phillippians 4:23, Colossians 4:18 to name a few ↩
Some of which are Hebrews’ extensive quotes from the Old testament, there is mention in scripture of Paul writing to the Jews in Gal 2:7, 9, 1 Peter 1:1 and 2 Peter 3:15. Thus Hebrews might be that letter. The theology is consistent with Paul’s as he was a big proponent of salvation by faith, etc. ↩