Ignoring Historical Context
Updated: Jul 4, 2019
Have you ever played the telephone game? It’s where a group of people stand (or sit) in a circle and one person whispers a phrase or sentence into the person next to them. Each person subsequently whispers that same phrase into the ear of the person next to them until the phrase or sentence has gone around the entire circle of people. And guess what – the message the last person ends up with is usually really different (and often funny) from what the first person whispered at the beginning. One reason the message gets all messed up is the lack of context.
Anything that is written has a context (unless you are playing games). 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. 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.
However, instead of doing that, we tend to force our own historical context on the text. I get it, it’s natural and easy but it can result in missing the point of the passage. It’s in effect saying, “We of all the people that have ever lived are the most important, and our historical setting is more relevant than yours.” I know we’d never say that, but you get my point.
How can we avoid this error? By asking good questions:
Who is the author, and what do we know about him or her?
Who is the audience, and what circumstances were they (or was he) facing?
At what point in history were these people living?
What was going on historically, politically, economically, culturally, and religiously at the time?
So, the next time you read the Bible – remember what you are reading was written to certain people in a certain context as they faced a certain situation. As we observe their historical context, our interpretation and application will be more accurate.
Enjoy Walking with the Savior Today,
PS – I highly recommend this free commentary (link below) to help understand the historical context. The commentary has introductory material before the verse by verse commentary that helps us understand the historical context of a particular passage or book.