The answer to this question is absolutely! But many Christians are hesitant to say so. Though the reasons vary, a lot of these folks are concerned that such thinking undermines the Bible’s authority. Some wonder, Why do I need to know the cultural background of the Bible in order to understand it? Can’t I just read the Bible alone to get the message? All I need to do is read the Bible literally to understand its meaning, right?
These questions are common among evangelicals, who hold to a high view of Scripture. But it is important to remember that a person cannot hold to a high view of Scripture if they do not, at the same time, hold to a right view of Scripture. The fact of the matter is that the Bible is an ancient document, and if we are to understand it rightly, then we will need to understand its ancient context. If we don’t, then we risk misunderstanding the biblical text by reading into the text our own modern, 21st-century context. And when we do that, we risk misapplying the biblical text.
One scholar who has done quite a bit of work on Bible backgrounds is Craig Keener (PhD, Duke University). He has just posted a short piece on this subject at his website. Craig himself holds to a high view of Scripture, and he offers some good thoughts on why it is important to take the cultural context of the Bible seriously. Along the way, he addresses some of the questions and concerns mentioned above. At any rate, you can find his article here: Why Understanding Cultural Context Precedes Application.
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