Thursday, February 8, 2007

Text or Context? Where is Theological Continuity Found?--Introduction

The Bible is by nature a multicultural work of divine and human creativity. Each book of the Bible was written, compiled or edited during different times by different authors/editors from different cultural backgrounds and situations. Some would argue that this drastically affects the meaning of the text so that one cannot understand it clearly without understanding the cultural situations behind the writing (or behind the author). More radically, some hold that one cannot understand it fully because it is trapped by those same cultural situations and cannot be meaningfully extracted. Others argue that the reinterpretation of the text by each successive generation serves as a model for interpretation of the text for all contexts (the premise being that each generation changes the meaning to fit its own cultural context and needs). Still others find the meaning greatly transferable from one age to another but choose not to obey certain commands or truths revealed from the text because those propositions relate to another (different) cultural context. Moreover, some find that to label anything from the text as out-of-date or inapplicable for the current context compromises its truthfulness and relevance as God’s Word. So one must ask: which view is correct; or, what role does culture play in Biblical interpretation?

The answer that I will seek to establish is that the Bible, though being immersed in culture, is meta-cultural (i.e., its meaning transcends all human cultures); however, sensitivity to cultural forms is necessary in translation and communication of the text. This endeavor is closely related to the theology of revelation and inspiration. The very nature of the text (and some would say Christianity) is at stake. The role of Biblical Theology (and, hence, the original languages) is instrumental for establishing this thesis. Flowing from Biblical Theology, the nature and importance of sound translation and interpretation forms the background for my argument.


dwmIII said...


I better get this in now before you blog about it: How does the text view itself?

Are you trying to get me back into blogging already? You know this subject is near and dear to my heart. :)


dwmIII said...

It also looks like I'll be dealing with another of Hesselgrave's books soon instead of finishing the other to add to this discussion. I'll bring in a little Gilliland as well on contextualization.


Alan Knox said...

Contextualization is the question that many do not want to ask or answer (as we saw in class last semester, Wes). What parts of Scripture are cultural (there are parts that are cultural), and what parts are not (there are parts that are not cultural)? How do we decide? Who decides? What if we're wrong?


Mark said...

Okay, as a non-Academic I may be missing the point, but rather than asking "which view is correct; or, what role does culture play in Biblical interpretation?", I prefer to ask questions like "How sovereign is God?" or "Is God sovereign over some things or all things?" But perhaps that is merely a good starting point. I am, as always, interested in what you will say.

wlh said...


First, let me tell you that in this series I am posting and expanding a paper I wrote 3 years ago for an independent study. I think my original paper is decent, but it covers a lot of ground and needs development so bear with me.


wlh said...


I appreciate our conversations. I can see why you are a pastor, you are very gracious, soft-spoken but to the point and have a heart for Scripture.

Now concerning Scripture. Ultimately, people cannot exist outside of culture. Additionally, one could argue that language is a product of culture as culture is a product of language. They are intertwined.

So when one comes to the texts of scriptures, the human element of scripture is immensely cultural. Now, it is not necessary to equate culture with sin--though sin is present in every culture since culture flows from mankind.

Therefore, the since the Bible is a human book, it is a cultural book. But because it is a divine book, I will argue, its meaning transcends culture. Not that we are to emulate ancient Hebrew or 1st century Greek or Palestinian culture. But God is not bound by culture. He works in culture, for culture, against culture, but he is culture neutral.

I will argue that trying to find meaning in the cultural backgrounds of texts is not the best hermeneutical endeavor. What is inspired text or context (cultural that is)?

Others may be less skeptical of historical background than I. I am just very cautious.

My buddie Dougald, I suppose intends to post concerning his view of the background necessary for understanding as revealed in the text.

I look forward to that post.

But, what are your thoughts? Your questions are great questions and I have a hunch you have an answer yourself.



wlh said...


As always, I appreciate your comments and your readership. You are right in challening academic inquiry to trust in the Sovereignty of God. Sadly, the people I interact with (through books) sometimes do not share my same concern for God's Sovereignty. Oh that they would!