February has officially been celebrated as Black History Month since 1976. However, the roots of the celebration go back to 1915, when Carter G. Woodson recognized the need for a balanced approach to the presentation of United States history. Woodson realized that excluding some events and certain viewpoints of the people who shaped our nation conveyed a distorted perspective of the history of our country. To truly grasp the significance of history, every historical event must be viewed through the social, political, and economic understanding of that era. It is vitally important that the context in which history took place is flushed out in order to have the appropriate perspective.
It is called context.
According to Oxford dictionary, context is “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.”
History cannot be judged through our post-modern understanding. We must examine it in the context in which it happened and then pull application forward to our current understanding. This is true for any nation’s history. And it is true for the Bible.
The Context of the Bible is Not the 21st Century
We cannot read the Bible as if it was written for a 21st century audience. It wasn’t. It was written to specific people during a specific time period. It will not make sense if we do not seek to understand the context for which it was written. However, it was miraculously preserved for every generation and is still relevant for us today. It is completely sufficient for knowing God and His deep love for mankind, which was demonstrated by sending His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins (John 3:16).
For those who were raised in a Christian culture, this concept is not foreign. However, for a post-modern generation who may have never heard the name of Jesus, the concept of a father sending his son to die on behalf of someone else does not sound like love. In fact, it sounds heinous. Is it enough to tell someone who thinks they are a “good person” and does not understand sin and the need for repentance, to just read one of the gospels to understand this sacrifice? Probably not. They need to know the context leading up to Jesus’ earthly life.
We All Filter the Bible Through Our Reality
Biblical context is not only for the unbelieving. It is also necessary for believers. It is human nature to approach the Bible through the lens of our traditional views. We all filter what we read through our denominational doctrines, our family of origin, our political leanings, our socioeconomic position, and even our gender. I first experienced the significance of our Scripture “lens” when I was having a discussion with a dear friend about the sacrifices of Cain and Abel which led to Cain jealously killing his brother. Cain brought “some” of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. Abel, however, brought the prized “fat portion from the firstborn” of his flock (Genesis 4:3-4). Because I had already learned about giving God our best and our first, I clearly saw that God was not pleased with “some,” but was very pleased with the “fat portion of the firstborn.” My friend, who struggled with money and adequate employment, saw this passage very differently. She saw a God who favored the rich. Because Abel was responsible for the livestock, he was considered “wealthier” than Cain, who was a produce farmer. This eye-opening conversation broadened my recognition of the significance of our “filters” when approaching the text.
The Old Testament Provides Historical Context
Every person from every generation, from every country is going to have a different understanding of Scripture, UNLESS we all read it in light of the context it was written. The Old Testament provides a wealth of context for Jesus’ ministry. The Jews of His day would have understood the sacrificial system of making atonement. Jesus’ sacrifice made PERFECT sense to believing Jews. However, in our post-modern era, it is not logical. The Old Testament provides the historical context we need as modern readers to appreciate the incredibly patient love of the Father. From the very beginning of creation, He has desired to walk closely with humanity, even though the first man and woman walked away with the initial act of sin. The effect of sin, choosing something other than God, has been inherited by all of humanity. The story of the Old Testament is God pursing His people who respond with rebellion, over and over again, in spite of repeated prophetical warnings. Instead of Almighty God giving up on mankind, with the love of a Father, He sent His Son to lead the way back to Him.
We need Jesus. We have no future and no hope without Him.
The Old Testament provides the historical context that we, as post-modern readers, need in order to understand the significance of the most important events that ever happened in history – the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.