Each book of the Bible was written in a specific place, in a specific period of time, by a specific author, to a specific people or person who were a part of a specific culture, with a specific intention. The Bible, and everything in it, is a part of history. Understanding some of the historical background can give us a more robust and well-rounded understanding of what we are studying.
Understanding the who, when, where, how, and why of a text can make a passage clear. As we read a passage of Scripture, we should always be asking these questions:
- Who is the author of this passage?
- What is known about the author?
- When was this book of the Bible written?
- What was happening to the author and the audience when the book was written?
- Who is the audience, and in what circumstances did they find themselves?
- What was the culture of the place where these people lived?
- Why was this book written?
This can also be helpful when reading about certain people or events in Scripture.
For example, when reading about the Pharisees, it would be helpful to understand more about them. Why were their rules so strict? Who came up with all their rules? Why did they hate Jesus so much?
When reading about a city it would be helpful to know where this city was located, what their economy was like, and what their religious and political leanings were.
When reading about a certain festival, find out how the celebration originated. Why was it important? How was it celebrated?
Take a few minutes to answer the above questions about today’s reading, Matthew 4:1-4.
As you answer these questions, does it help you uncover the author’s underlying theme or message? If so, what did you find?
All of this background material is easily found in a good Bible Dictionary or Encyclopedia. Doing a little bit of historical research will enrich your study and help you grasp the significance of certain topics or words to the original audience. It will also help you interpret the Bible correctly. When we know the intent of the author, we can determine the underlying truth they wanted to communicate to their audience. Let’s not forget how God strategically chose specific people to write the words of Scripture that we read today. He is the ultimate Author, and His truth is communicated on every page.
Looking to Jesus,
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This day is for sure a really tough day. I am having a really hard time finding resources that can answer the questions posed above. I have looked through several Bible dictionaries but am still struggling to find a good resource that can help me, especially with the questions of author and audience circumstances and audience’s culture.