Last week’s post was devoted to discovering the 40 people God inspired to write the 66 books of the Bible. But what about the people who first read what those 40 people wrote down? (Check out Part 1 if you didn’t read it yet.)
[featured-image single_newwindow=”true” alt=”How about a little context? – Part 1″]
[callout]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.[/callout]
We frequently miss out on some pretty cool stuff if we never think about the different audiences – sometimes vastly different – who were the first readers of what we have as the Bible. For example…
If I wrote a letter to the people in my small group, do you think it would be different from a letter I wrote to everyone in my church? Would a letter to my church be different from a letter to all the Christians in the Seattle area? Would that letter be different from a letter I wrote to every Christian in the United States? The world? The obvious answer is, “Of course they’d be different.”
Let me give you three examples of the way these questions apply to various books of the Bible.
Example 1 – II Timothy 1:2
The Apostle Paul says he is writing “To Timothy, my dear son…”
Just one guy. Yup…you got it. When you read II Timothy, you’re eavesdropping.
Example 2 – I Thessalonians 1:1
Paul writes “To the Church of the Thessalonians…”
One church. A group that he loved and brought him joy.
Example 3 – I Peter 1:1
Peter’s first letter is different altogether. He has his letter addressed “To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…”
A whole bunch of different believers. Jews and Gentiles. Spread all over modern-day Turkey. Christians who were enduring lots of challenges and persecution for their faith.
II Timothy. I Thessalonians. I Peter. All letters. All very different.
Not only are some books sent to one person and others sent to many, but some are sent to people who are of Jewish background, others sent to Gentiles, and still others sent to both.
While we don’t need to spend hours and hours studying the recipients (although you can if you like), it certainly helps to understand the author’s audience if we are going to fully grasp the purpose of a book.
The methodology of a Background Study on the audience is exactly like that of the Background Study of the author.
- Start by finding out what you can from the book you are reading
- Check out other parts of the Bible (if there are other applicable passages)
- Search for information in outside resources.
My favorite resources for background studies.
- Simplest: Almost any study Bible will have basic background information at the beginning of each book of the Bible.
- Online: Faithlife Study Bible or BibleHub
- Mobile: ESV Bible App or Logos
[reminder]What is your favorite tool for finding out about the readers of the Bible?[/reminder]