Week 1 Introduction – Investigate the Context (Feb 20)
According to “Dictionary.com” the word context has two possible and similar meanings. The first is that context is, “the parts of a piece of writing, speech, etc, that precede and follow a word or passage and contribute to its full meaning.” This is what is often called “Literary Context”, which basically means context within the literature it is found in. The second definition is that context refers to “the conditions and circumstances that are relevant to an event, fact, etc.” This, from a Bible study perspective, could be called historical or cultural context. This type of context asks the question, “How do historical events or the culture of the time help us understand or give significance to the writing of the Biblical passage?”
Let’s look at a great example that will help us understand context: Luke 10:30-35
Many of us are probably very familiar with this parable. It is packed with significant meaning, but did Jesus have an overall reason for telling this parable? What was his main point? What does he want the listener to understand? We can find out by looking at the literary context.
First look at the verses preceding the passage, verses 25-29. Here it clearly shows that the parable is Jesus response to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” The expert in the law is expecting to show Jesus how he has “loved his neighbour”, but Jesus is about to give him a big surprise by telling him who his neighbour really is.
Historical or Cultural Context
Why did Jesus use a Samaritan as a character in this parable? Through an understanding of the history and culture of the time, we find that Samaritans were hated by the Jews of the time. They were considered traitors to their religion and worse than Gentile “heathens”. We call this the “Parable of the Good Samaritan”, but to the original audience, there was nothing good about a Samaritan. This parable was clearly offensive to those listening to Jesus.
How can you get help to better understand context, especially historical context? There are many tools you can use, and some are free. A Bible dictionary or handbook is a great tool for quick reference. If you want some more detail, try a commentary. Matthew Henry’s Commentary is a solid, “time-tested” resource that can be downloaded from the internet for free with the right Bible software (that can be free too!). Easton’s Bible Dictionary is also a great tool and can be obtained without cost as well!
1) In your own words, what is Jesus’ answer to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” More to the point, who are we to love?
2) Who are the “Samaritans” in your life? Who do you dislike, maybe because of the way they act, or the way they treat you, or because of their lifestyle that you disagree with?
3) How can you love these people or this person?
4) Pray: Ask God and consider who you need to love and what you may need to do differently.
5) Refer to your Prayer Journal.