How much thought do you give to the author of a particular book or letter when you are reading the Bible? How about the first readers of that book or letter? Do you put any thought into what they were facing or the surrounding social and political climate?
This 3-part series is adapted from the chapter ‘How about a little context?’ in my book Falling in Love with God’s Word: Discovering What God Always Intended Bible Study to Be.
You can read reviews or a grab a copy on Amazon
. I also cover background studies in my 8-week, online video course Relational Bible Study
Instinctively we know the importance of context in other areas of our lives.
For example, think about the sentence “I’ll be back before you know it.” If the person saying it is running to the refrigerator at halftime of the football game, it carries very different meaning than if it was spoken by your child as she boarded a plane bound for her freshman year of college.
It is impossible for us to grasp the big picture for any situation or idea – let alone accurately interpret the details – unless we first know the context. Understanding context can make that same kind of difference when you read a book of the Bible.
When we discover personal details and characteristics of the book’s author, the situations and challenges the author and recipients were facing at the time, and the events occurring in the world around them, we gain an entirely new perspective and depth of understanding for the book.
Taking even ten minutes (or a lot longer if you’d like) to do a background study will provide the necessary context for correctly interpreting and applying a passage to our lives.
There are three basic questions that background studies answer:
- Who wrote the book? (Author)
- To whom was the book written? (Audience)
- What was happening at the time the book was written? (Atmosphere)
Most study Bibles have information at the beginning of each book or in the back of the Bible that provides some context. While this is certainly helpful, I have found this is rarely all the information I want.
Fortunately, you don’t have to own a massive, 300-volume library to do extremely thorough background studies. Do you have access to the internet? (I thought so. After all, you’re reading this.) I won’t go into every resource I use in this post, but you can find lots of amazing – and free! – resources at www.keithferrin.com/resources.
The wonderful thing about background studies is that you can dig as deeply as you want to, or simply skim over a few items to bring a general sense of context to the book you are reading. Background studies also don’t need to be done every day. Think of them as “seasoning” rather than the main dish.
This week – and the next two – I’m going to tackle one of the three types of background studies: Author, Audience and Atmosphere.