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Observation: Paragraph Titles, Charting, Background, Style, Structure, Integration of Style & Structure, Conjunctions, Structural Laws, Analytical Diagram & Observation Chart, Word Studies, Figures of Speech, Parallelisms

Interpretation: History, Interpretative Phrases



  1. Here is what a background study will do:

  1. A background study will always illuminate the text.

For example, John 2:1-11 records the Lord's participation in the wedding at Cana by providing wine. An implication of this story might be that the Lord approved the unfettered use of wine at festive occasions.

However, Robert H. Stein says: ". . . the drinking of unmixed wine or even wine mixed in a ratio of one to one with water was frowned upon in ancient times, . . . (Wine-Drinking in New Testament Times, Christianity Today, June 20, 1975, page 11)." Stein, an associate professor of New Testament at Bethel College surveys the custom of mixing wine and water as recorded in ancient non-biblical writers and then shows how this custom parallels the Biblical, rabbinical, apocryphal, and patristic writers. See the positive review of this article in John A. Witmer, Periodical Reviews, Bibliotheca Sacra, October-December 1975, page 359.

This being the case, the student might think twice before he serves undiluted wine to guests or allows wine to be used in excess. Though this is not an important doctrinal issue, the information illuminates the issue in a way that would be unknown by the person who does not investigate the passage's background.

  1. A background study will occasionally influence the interpretation of a passge.

A study of the background to Hebrews could influence one's interpretation of Hebrews 10:25-31.

The Ryrie Study Bible (NASV), page 1836, indicates that Hebrews was written sometime during the period 64-68 AD. This was shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Philip Schaff indicates that Jerusalem was taken by the Roman General Titus and the temple destroyed around August 10, 70 AD. Schaff states that, "The blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them. The ground was nowhere visible (History of the Christian Church [HCC], AP&A edition, volume I, page 184)." "The number of the Jews slain during the siege, including all those who had crowded into the city from the country, is stated by Josephus at the enormous and probably exaggerated figure of one million and one hundred thousand. Eleven thousand perished from starvation shortly after the close of the siege. Ninety-seven thousand were carried captive and sold into slavery, or sent to the mines, or sacrificed in the gladiatorial shows at Caesarea, Berytus, Antioch, and other cities (HCC, volume I, page 185)." Speaking of the triumphal procession that followed in Rome, the historian says, "The images of the gods, and the sacred furniture of the temple--the table of show-bread, the seven-armed candlestick, the trumpets which announced the year of jubilee, the vessel of incense, and the rolls of the Law -- were borne along in the procession and deposited in the newly built Temple of Peace, except the Law and the purple veils of the holy place which Vespasian reserved for his palace (HCC, volume I, page 186)." In a footnote, Schaff states, "The Temple of Peace was afterwards burned under Commodus, and it is not known what became of the sacred furniture (HCC, volume I, page 439, footnote 32)."

In the time preceding 70 AD, Chrisians had also frequented Jerusalem and its temple. But Schaff writes that, "The Christians of Jerusalem, remembering the Lord's admonition, forsook the doomed city in good time and fled to the town of Pella in the Decapolis, beyond the Jordan, in the north of Perea, where king Herod Agrippa II, before whom Paul once stood, opened to them a safe asylum (HCC, volume I, page 186)."

The destruction of Jerusalem was used by God to pull the church away from the leftovers of an expired old covenant to the freshness of the new covenant. Christianity was no longer a sect of the Jews but a free-standing religion. Schaff: ". . . He [God] demolished the whole fabric of the Mosaic theocracy, whose system of worship was, in its very nature, associated exclusively with the tabernacle at first and afterwards with the temple; but in so doing He cut the cords which had before this bound, and according to the law of organic development necessarily bound the infant church to the outward economy of the old covenant, and to Jerusalem as its center. Henceforth the heaven could no longer look upon Christianity as a mere sect of Judaism, but regard and treat it as a new, peculiar religion (HCC, volume I, page 187)."

The question this background brings forward is, does the Book of Hebrews prophetically address this future disaster and exhort Christians to separate themselves from the failing Jewish religion and its institutions and permanently join the Christian religion and its new institutions? In the validation step, the student will find that commentators like J. Dwight Pentecost (notes taken during a presentation) and B. F. Westcott (The Epistle to the Hebrews, pages xxxv-xliii) make this interpretation. Pentecost teaches that the "problem" passage in Hebrews 10 addresses death during the 70 AD disaster, not eternal punishment. According to this interpretaiton, the Jerusalem Christians must not forsake their assembling together as local churchs (Hebrews 10:25) seperate of the old Jewish institutions; otherwise, they would die in Titus' attack.

  1. A background study will never change doctrine.

The belief here is that every important, major doctrine of the faith does not depend on a single passage. It will be taught several times in Scripture. Thus, a change in interpretation of one passage based on a background study would never change doctrine.

  1. Sources of Background

Often a background source will have a scriptural index in the back of the book. You can look for your study passage in the index and then turn to the correct page in the text. You can also look for an appropriate topic in the subject index.

Sources of background information other than the Bible are not inspired and the student should exercise care in his use of them. This is true with the non-Biblical sources listed below.

Most students do not have the finances to purchase all the sources that may be helpful. A local church can provide an important service to its gifted men by collecting an up to date library of source material. Or a student may be able to find these books in the library of a local Bible college or seminary.

  1. Bible

The Bible Itself is a source of background information. Consulting other passages listed in the references may identify passages that are parallel to the one you are studying. See what the Bible says about the passage you are studying.

A concordance may also be consulted to find what the Bible says about a passage's background. The most helpful English concordance is the one by Young, Young's Analytical Concordance. Another concordance is Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Both of these concordances list all of the usages of a word.

To be fully useful in Bible study, a concordance needs to be exhaustive. That is, it needs to list all the occurrences of each word. It also needs to provide a system that identifies the word in the original language behind each English word.

  1. Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

Nelson's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts, J. I. Packer (not reviewed)

New Bible Dictionary, 3rd Edition, D. R. W. Wood & A. R. Millard, editors

New International Bible Dictionary, Merrill C. Tenney (not reviewed)

The New Unger's Bible Handbook, revised by Gary N. Larson

The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger

NIV Compact Dictionary of the Bible, Merrill C. Tenney (not reviewed)

Unger's Concise Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger

Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, Charles Pfeiffer, editor

Young's Compact Bible Dictionary, G. Douglas Young, editor (not reviewed)

The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Merrill C. Tenney, editor

  1. Commentaries

It would be difficult to provide a list of acceptable commentaries because of their number. However, the following commentaries are good and cover the entire Bible. At this point in the process of Bible study, the student should stay away from the commentary proper and only use the background section.

Believer's Bible Commentary, William MacDonald, edited by Art Farstad, 1 volume

The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, editors, 2 volumes

The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, 12 volumes

Through the Bible Commentary Series, J. Vernon McGee, 60 volumes, also available on CD-ROM (not reviewed)

Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Charles Pfeiffer, editor (not reviewed)

  1. Books of Biblical Archaeology

No in print sources have been reviewed.

  1. Biblical Introductions

A General Introduction to the Bible, Revised and Expanded, Norman L. Geisler (not reviewed)

Introduction to the Old Testament with a Comprehensive Review of Old Testament Studies and a Special Supplement on the Apocrypha, R. K. Harrison

New Testament Introduction, Donald Guthrie

A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Gleason L. Archer, Jr.

  1. Bible Atlases and Geographies

The Atlas of the Acts, John Stirling (may be out of print)

The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands, Barry J. Beitzel (not reviewed)

Tyndale Handbook of Bible Charts & Maps, Neil S. Wilson and Linda K. Taylor, includes CD-ROM

Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible, Carl G. Rasmussen (not reviewed)

  1. Histories

The Augsburg Historical Atlas, Charles S. Anderson

Chronological and Background Charts of Church History, Robert C. Walton

Church History Collection, Galaxie Software, on CD-ROM, excellent original sources

A History of Christianity, Kenneth Scott Latourette

History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff, available on CD-ROM

The Works of Flavius Josephus, Flavius Josephus

  1. Other

Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Harold W. Hoehner

Herod Antipas, A Contemporary of Jesus Christ, Harold W. Hoehner

The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times, Ralph Gower (not reviewed)

  1. Example

If the book of Ephesians is being studied, the student would want to know enough about the city to feel that he could respond to the situation there in the same way that Paul reacted to it. When the student knows Paul's mind set, he will be less apt to make inaccurate interpretations or applications and will be more apt to make the passage come alive to others. For a background to Ephesians, click here.

HOME 2001-2002, Ken Bowles - September 30, 2010, Edition

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