OH, THE PLACES YOU WILL GO
Dr Suess wrote Oh, The Places You’ll Go.
He affirms that this is the day for a young man to begin his journey and explains, “And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
This is true in relation to our study of God’s Word. We decide where we will go. We decide how much effort we will invest in our individual discipleship, spiritual growth and maturity in the faith. If you are not growing as a Christian, the blame stops with you, not your pastor, your Sunday School teacher, your spouse, your parents or anyone else. You are the guy who decided where to go or not go!
To successfully grow in our faith, the Gap of Culture is one of the places we must GO! Culture influences many facets of our lives. There are many outside influences that need exploring to gain a greater understanding of the biblical author’s intended meaning when he penned the passage we study.
God elected to use human authors to reveal himself and the more we know about these the writers and their backgrounds, the better. Let’s consider Paul. If we wanted to study one of his letters, we ought to know some important things about him. We know about his radical conversion on the Damascus Road. We know about his Jewish training to be a Pharisee. He persecuted the early church with a desire to please God. Many early Christians feared Paul (Acts 9:21). Paul referred to himself as “the chief sinner” in 1 Timothy 1:16. Have you pondered on how often Paul struggled with his past?
Even Jonah’s culture influenced his decision as the reluctant prophet. He knew some things about the Assyrian culture that led him to run away from God’s call. What do we know about his audience? What difference does it make to know anything about Ninevah? Where is it located? Why was Jonah’s story recorded? What lessons are we to learn?
Dr Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, in Grasping God’s Word, (pages 123-124) gives 3 warnings about studying background materials.
- It is easy to grab inaccurate information without serious research to test the veracity of the material.
Duvall and Hays point out that one such error is found in Matthew 19:23-24. Jesus says that it is harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Some explain the ‘eye of the needle’ to be a small gate in the wall of ancient Jerusalem through which a camel would squeeze if its load was lifted. The camel had to crawl on its knees through the gate.
This explanation appeared in the ninth century AD, long after the walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed in the first century by Vespasian and Titus, Roman military leaders who eventually became Roman emperors. However, it may be that this was a popular proverb, rather than a historical fact.
- It is easy to elevate the background materials above the meaning of the text.
It could be easy to overlook the major truths taught in the Word if one or two elements create so much fascination that little focus is kept upon the actual truth. For example, when studying the Parable of the Prodigal Son, one can become enamored with the actions of the Prodigal and his brother, that the role of the father is neglected. We see that He desired relationship with both sons, regardless of the price to be paid.
- It is easy to become nothing but a walking fact book of Bible trivia.
Remember that the background material is not an end. Our goal is to gain a clearer understanding of the text so we grow, and we can share this truth with others so they mature.
I like Duvall’s encouragement, “In spite of these three dangers, however, the greatest danger by far is assuming that we do not need to know any background information to understand the Bible (page 124).”
Each human author of the Bible lived in a real time and among real people. These people existed during a culture which needs to be explored. Here are several areas to explore as you overcome the Gap of Culture:
Explore the background of the author.
Who was he? Does his name mean anything special?
What was his occupation before his call? After his call?
Is anything unusual about him? Clothing, diet, hair, etc?
What economic pressures might be felt?
What was unique about his ministry?
Where is the author when he writes?
What political issues are present?
When did he live?
Explore the background of his intended/primary audience
To whom did he minister?
What was their relationship to God before the writer’s work?
What religions were practiced?
What was the government like?
What was the economy like?
What was daily life like?
Explore when did he write his work?
What was happening else where in the same region?
What was happening in other parts of the world?
Explore the purpose for the writing of the work.
Was there a motive behind the work?
Is it clearly stated somewhere?
Are there other culture factors that might shed light on the book?
Next week, we will explore a few tools to help bridge the gap of culture when we study the Word of God.