How Cultural Context Makes Bible Stories Come Alive

When I read the New Testament, sometimes I feel like a director who has just been handed an unfinished screenplay. The dialogue and descriptions are scarce. The characters are doing things that don’t make sense. The story isn’t cohesive. The ending is bizarre.

In these moments of confusion, I’ve found that studying the cultural context of what I’m reading is vital. What was going on in that moment in history, and how did that culture differ from ours? Understanding context gives you the ability to imagine what life was like for early Christians—how their families operated, how their friends and neighbors treated them, what they hoped for, what they feared, and how they coped when life got hard. It creates empathy and makes the characters and narrative come alive. Suddenly the screenplay starts to make sense and you begin to realize how amazing God’s story really is.

The cultural context in 1 Peter

In this clip from NT201 The Cultural World of the New Testament, Dr. David deSilva helps us understand the cultural context of 1 Peter and the challenges faced by the early Christians living in Rome.

Earn a graduate diploma in New Testament

Dr. deSilva’s Mobile Ed courseware is included in Ashland’s new online Graduate Diploma in New Testament program. This enables students to learn remotely and earn graduate-level credit they can use toward a master’s degree.

The program consists of five master’s-level courses incorporating presentations by Ashland faculty, group discussions, webinars, course readings, and assessments, while also utilizing Mobile Ed courseware and the Logos Bible Software Gold base package.

The courses focus on engaging the texts and contexts of Scripture, developing a solid foundation in New Testament studies, and encountering the words behind our English translations. Students will also have the opportunity to explore specific topics of interest by choosing courses from a list of electives.

Register Today

The Graduate Diploma in New Testament program begins October 3, 2015. Visit Ashland’s website to learn more and register today!

Written by
Ryan Rotz
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  • This is an awesome post and reveals in my opinion why “proof texting” leads to a new gospel through our own cultural intrusion into the text. Big thanks for the clarity.

    • God bless:

      Dr. Byrd the generalization you make about proof texting may not be granted in all cases.

      If it was a valid generalization, then what Paul wrote doing exactly what you condemn, would have yielded a false message:

      Quote follows:

      “For this inclusion of Gentiles in the covenant-promises made to Israel, the Apostle next cites proof-texts from the Old Testament. The first passages are from Hosea, three passages being combined, and their order intentionally changed, for the purpose of bringing out the full force of the prophecy”.

      Jacobs, H. E. (1896). Annotations on the Epistles of Paul to the Romans and 1 Corinthians, Chaps. 1–6. (H. E. Jacobs, Ed.) (Vol. VII, p. 201). New York: The Christian Literature Co.

      Was Paul letting his cultural intrusion distort the OT message? or was he bringing out the full force of prophecy as Dr. Jacobs suggests?

      How are we to bring and make alive the NT message to modern times? trying to bring out the full force of the prophecy or dismissing the warnings as not applicable to us:

      2 Timothy 3:1-5
      1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.


    • Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I agree that the text looks a lot different if it’s only looked at through our own cultural lens.

Written by Ryan Rotz