When we read Sacred Scripture, far too often we fail to take into consideration the setting and time and place in which the Bible was written. Unfortunately, we place a sense of ethnocentricism toward the text as if our society with all of its technological advances and accomplishments is far superior to the society that produced the Bible.
As a result, when we read passages that are difficult to understand, we evaluate them on the standard of what our society holds as right or wrong when the society that produced the Bible had a totally different social, economic, and political landscape as we do.
Passages such as Jesus being “Lord” come more alive when you take into account the severity of what 1st century Christians were professing boldly against the Roman Empire. Today we might blow it off as a casual profession of faith, but to a 1st century Christian perhaps it meant a potential death wish.
Moreover, when we examine many “troubling” passages from the Old Testament when God implicitly refers to himself as the Divine Warrior against the neighboring nations like the Canaanites, we fully understand more precisely what God means when He declares himself as “LORD of Hosts” a direct reference to his Sovereign command of the angelic armies of heaven or leader and protector of Israel. When you discover that a lot of neighboring nation-states had similar concepts of the Divine Warrior, this illuminates the Exodus story to show how God is more powerful over the Egyptian pagan god of the Nile River, livestock, and sun god. No wonder why Moses could describe God as the “fighter” for Israel (Ex. 14:14).
Some like to discredit the writers of the Bible because their time was too primitive and basic. They say things such as “I can’t believe the Bible because the society that produced it was gullible and didn’t use reason.” However, when we really examine the setting of the Bible, I’d imagine that the men and women were really intelligent.
Not because they had less, but because they had more responsibility, more grit, hard-working ethic, and their brains were more readily soaking in large amounts of information. It’s been known that Hebrew boys memorized books and chapters of the Old Testament which is a very arduous task. People nowadays barely remember a simple grocery list.
Also, the art of living in an agrarian society is tough. You have to know so many things in regards to veterinarian science, ecology, some lite engineering, or soil formation to name a few. These duties aren’t simple tasks to comprehend either. In their own unique and individual way, the Inspired authors were talented and were in their right reasonable mind. On the contrary, we freak out if there is a hurricane that knocks out our power for more than a day, but back then they didn’t have electricity and made it successfully. Furthermore, we depend on grocery stores and restaurants for food, but perhaps the families of the Bible were self-sufficient in their own produce and hunting skills. Sadly, we couldn’t probably survive a week in the 1st century Bethlehem.
I wrote about this very idea of looking backward through our modern lens somewhat in a post on the biblical portrayal of slavery. I make the case that society back then was totally different and for the apostles to command an obliteration of the institution would’ve eventually led to a revolt and more massacre at the center of the empire. This would’ve been counterproductive to the spread of the gospel.
Overall, to project our cultural standards on Sacred Scripture is a bit snobbish and elitist. It makes us seem like the people of antiquity in the Bible are out of touch with humanity and justice. When in fact, they really weren’t. Christians and non-Christians alike should be cautious of committing this mistake.
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