7 Reasons to Study the Cultural Backgrounds of the Bible
09/06/2017 in Olive Tree Blogon
1. Understand the audience: Grasping the original audience’s perspective helps us understand the setting to which the inspired authors communicated their message.
2. Understand how the text communicates: A text is ideas linked by threads of writing. Each phrase and each word communicates by the ideas and thoughts that they will trigger in the reader or hearer.
3. Biblical writers made assumptions: Biblical writers normally could take for granted that their audiences shared their language and culture; some matters, therefore, they assumed rather than stated. Think about what happens when later audiences from different cultures read the text without the same un-stated understandings as the original audience.
5. Understand what issues were being addressed: When we hear the message in its authentic, original cultural setting we can reapply it afresh for our own different setting most fully, because we understand what issues were really being addressed.
6. Prevent imposing your own culture: If we know nothing of the ancient world, we will be inclined to impose our own culture and worldview on the Biblical text. This will always be detrimental to our understanding.
7. Fill in the gaps: As each person hears or reads the text, the message takes for granted underlying gaps that need to be filled with meaning by the audience. It is theologically essential that we fill [the gaps] appropriately.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this beautifully as follows:
109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.
110 In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current. “For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression.”\
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“Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written” (DV 12 #3). The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it (cf. DV 12 #4): 1) Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture” (cf. Lk 24:25-27, 44-46); 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”; 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith (cf. Rom 12:6; CCC: 111-114).