December 6, 2014

Culturally Ours

I think one major element missing from Christianity is the teaching of the Cultural Context of Scripture. Here are a few facts that might change how you read the good old book:

The most common Biblical reason for divorce was childlessness. By the time of the New Testament, the Pharisees were teaching that if a woman did not have a child after ten years, divorce was compulsory.

It was acceptable for childless women to use their servants as surrogate mothers - Sarah and Rachel both did this.

Samaritans are descendants of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Levi. When the Kingdom of Israel was conquered, some of their people were forced to move away and people from other nations were brought in. Intermarriage resulted. Descendants of the tribes from the Kingdom of Judah however, never intermarried and saw themselves as pure. At some point, the Samaritans built for themselves their own place of worship.

The unspoken rule of the New Testament: Don't provoke the Romans!

Households were nothing like modern nuclear families. A household would consist of: The eldest (first born) man and his wife. Any sons would remain home and their wives would come to live with them. Any daughters of age (13-ish) would be promptly married and move out into her husband's home, but any underage daughters would remain home. Any servants would also live with them. Since it was not uncommon to have up to a dozen children, families were large. Some estimates state that the average household was nearly eighty people for wealthier families.

Some 2/3 of the population was a slave owned by their master.

Paul wasn't worried about women dressing provocatively, but putting on a fashion show with expensive clothing and jewelry.

Mary and Joseph didn't travel alone to Bethlehem, they would have brought much of their family with them. Nobody in the ancient world traveled alone if they could possibly help it. Traveling in numbers was the safest option - especially on long, slow journeys.

The household codes are quite possibly a response to Aristotle's teachings about the politics of the family.

The dynamic of Honor / Shame is important to understanding the full depth of scripture. We don't have any way to relate to that - so we are missing much of what's going on when that is a factor is the story.

We have the Bible from Genesis to Revelation - the people in the Bible were living it. They didn't have it conveniently bound in book form to refer to and teach from.

The New Testament is mostly in order of the longest books first and the shortest books last. It is not in chronological order.

Some words and concepts in Greek don't exist in English - some of the Bible has been lost in translation ... and we don't even know it.

Community was an important aspect to Christianity, individualism could prove dangerous. Scripture speak more to "us / we" than "I / me".

Misreading is all the rage these days, but: "We are likely misreading when our reading of the text requires us to ignore the context, to shorten the text to just this or that verse or part of a verse. We are likely misreading when our reading of the text requires us to lengthen the text, by pulling in verses from other parts of the Bible until we get all the pieces we need."

Our day begins and ends at Midnight, theirs began and ended at sunset.

The Bible is a very cultural books, the New Testament churches weren't writing to Paul to see if they agreed, but to sort out how to be Christians despite their cultural differences. What an Ephesian believer grew up being taught would have been very different from a Roman believer or a Jewish believer of The Way.

The least often asked question about Bible interpretation today is: "What did this passage mean to the original audience?" Because "How does this passage apply to me?" is much more important.

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