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Don't Ignore Cultural Context

Updated: Jul 17, 2019

If you have ever been overseas, or to Texas, you understand how difficult it can be to communicate ideas to a culture different than your own. (Ok, the Texas thing was a bit of a joke. A bit).

We’re in a short series on How Not to Read Your Bible, and this week’s topic is Cultural Context. Remember, anything that is written has a context. Ignore the context and you will miss the message. Every chapter and every verse in the Bible were written in a certain historical context to certain people facing certain situations for a certain purpose. It is our job to dig in and learn about their context so we can better understand the message and how it applies to us today.

Just this morning in the devotional my wife and I read ( had us read Matthew 5:43-44 (among other verses).

It says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….”

It’s the “…and hate your enemy” part that I find interesting. Here’s where culture comes in.

Jesus was assuming that his audience had heard the line “love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” To the first century person in Israel that was common knowledge, everyone was familiar with it. But where would they have head that taught? Who in that culture taught that and why?

Cultural Context: It turns out there was a group of ascetic, isolationist, extreme, cultish men living in a small village just north of the Dead Sea in a place called Qumran. They were called Essenes. They wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Heard of those? They were very separatistic and taught that the Jewish high priest was the “wicked priest.” They viewed themselves as "Sons of Light" and everyone else as “Sons of Darkness.” Like I said…an extremist group. They were the ones that Jesus was likely referring to.

But why would Jesus single them out?

Because at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he would have looked like Essenes. Jesus talked like Essenes (a bit counter-cultural). Jesus and John both spent time in the wilderness of Judea. John affirmed Jesus and he “wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locust and wild honey” (Mt. 3:3).

Here’s the answer: Jesus had to differentiate Himself from the Essenes to avoid confusion and provide clarity for his teaching. Jesus was being assertive in addressing his own cultural context.

There will always be those in every culture that take theology to extremes. It is frustrating when we are misunderstood as being narrow minded, bigoted, etc. for loving Jesus and seeking to have Him live through us. Our culture is dark and we can at times want to separate and isolate and criticize and even hate those that hate us.

But. That. Is. Not. The. Way. Of. Jesus. That is not who we are, that is not why we have been redeemed.

So, as we live, drive, and rub shoulders with precious people of all strips, let’s allow the love of Jesus to flow equally to all who God sovereignly allows to cross our paths.

Enjoy Walking with the Savior Today, John


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