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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Studying the Bible in Cultural Context

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a group of believers who are in some way involved in house church in my area, and one person (I no longer remember who), who asked (as I recall) about whether others had found any ways of telling others about what we had learned about simple worship that was effective. There was no overtly positive answer. To this, the phrase, "a bad plan is better than no plan" comes to mind. The outline, below, is one I have come up with for the basis of a discussion, as opposed to a speech, on a subject that brings up various topics that support the propriety of simple worship. I will say that this is a second draft that I have not personally used, but print this as a basis for discussion.

1.  Ephesians 4:28 NKJV
            a.  “He who has been stealing must steal…”
            b.  “He who has been stealing must steal no more”
            c.  The first is out of literary context
            d.  This is obvious; the problem is that some things are not so obvious.
2.  What is being out of cultural context?
            a.  The gospel as told in the play/movie Godspell
                        1.  Intentional removal of story from it cultural context to make a point
                        2.  Makes some ideas more obvious
                        3.  Many ideas are totally obscured
            b.  It is taking an idea or story that was in one culture and time, and sticking into
                 a different one.
                        1.  Some pieces of the story come up missing
                        2.  Some things that weren’t there get added (intentionally or un-)
                        3.  This can happen due to a sufficient separation of time.
                        4.  How long is enough time—two full generations
                                    a.  Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II became head as a mid-teen, and
                                         lived to 93, when average lifespan was 35.
                                    b.  Outlived his 5 sons who were designated as successors.
c.  His people knew no other pharaoh, and his length of days                                     seemed supernatural
d.  Possibly the idea of king as a god came from him.
            c.  David & Goliath—1 Samuel 17 & 18
                        1.  We hear a simplified version of this story in Sunday School.
                        2.  Why was David there?
                                    a.  David (ch. 16) had already been anointed king by Samuel,
and had been found to play the harp such that it soothed King Saul (16:18).
b. Therefore, King Saul knew this boy.  David still went back to      his father’s place to feed sheep (17:15).
                                    c.  In our culture, does anyone drive over to the base to bring relatives food?  Since 9/11, a civilian can’t even get on a base without paperwork filed from inside, and due to how our country moves persons to different areas, few have local relatives. 
                                    d.  to bring his brothers bread and grain (17:17).  For what its worth, one could make beer from grain.
                                    e.  to bring their 10 cheeses to their captain (17:18)
                                    f.  “to bring back news of them”—as much as it doesn’t sound like it in English, in Hebrew it comes across as an order not to forget to bring home a receipt that shows that Jesse has paid, with the cheeses and grain, a war tax (17:18).
                                                                                                                                              3.  Zechariah 12:10-14
            a.  This is obviously a prophecy of Jesus’ death
            b.  Who or what is Haddad Rimmon?
                        1.  To us, sounds like a name of a town or area.
                        2.  Haddad—Caananite storm god
                        3.  Rimmon—its title, thunder
                        4.  corroborating evidence—2 Kings 5:18
                        5.  Note:  So far, I don’t believe I have said anything to upset anyone’s status quo.  I can’t promise that for the balance of what I will say.  On the rest of what I say, you will not only need to search the scripture, but also history.
For example:

4.  Why didn’t Jesus, the disciples, those they taught, even the leaders of the Reformation, use phones, fax machines, personal computers?
            a.  Obviously, they weren’t invented
            b.  Jesus, as God, had, in some sense we cannot understand, ability to understand all that, but chose not to affect the universe in that way.
            c.  The rule is that, overtly or not, we can assume that those in the latter days understand what those previously has said or done, and not vice versa.
            d.  There are places in the Middle Ages in which this rule is not valid.

5.  Luke 1:26 to 2:52 (read 1:26 to 1:38)
            a.  How old was Mary when this happened.
            b.  It is frequently taught in our culture (David Jeremiah, for example) that she was 16, which, in our culture seems shockingly young.
            c.  In both Jewish and Gentile culture at that time, arrainged marriages for girls happened at age 12 to 16, but usually 12 to 14.  Therefore, 16 isn’t totally wrong, but unlikely.  Usually this is a factoid that is avoided.
            d.  Yes, this is not healthy for mothers and babies.
            e.  Yes, that was a male-dominated society, and this was a convenience for adult men.
            f.  Unlike Gentile arrainged marriages, there is a place in the betrothal ritual which demands the girl’s approval—Jesus parodized it in his introduction of communion.

6.  1 Corinthians 11:17-34—Jesus at the Last Supper
            a.  What were they doing? Celebrating Passover
            b.  What was a Passover ceremony? A ritual meal, featuring lamb, bitter herbs, roasted egg, bread, wine, other foods.
            c. Verse 21 warns the church in Corinth not to overeat or get drunk while celebrating.  Have you ever seen this as a problem?
            d.  Communion means fellowship
            e.  Communion as a ritual was not introduced to the world until the Roman Empire legalized Christianity, forcing organization, paid personnel, buildings, and other rituals, like Roman paganism had, into the faith, and many pagan orators “converted” to get speaking jobs.
            f.  Therefore, that 3rd century and on debate over whether communion represented Jesus’ body and blood, or whether it supernaturally turned into his body and blood could not have happened until the Roman Empire legalized and in a sense took over Christian leadership, because communion was a meal over which believers communion was a practical thing with other believers.
7.   Word study—“ekklesia”  church
            a.  Five meanings of church, today, developed after Christianity’s legalization by Rome.  That is important in that none of these were in the mind of the writers of the New Testament, the churches who received those books, or would be recognized by unbelievers of that day as a definition of the word.
            b.  Those five are:
                        1.  Roman Catholic Church
                        2.  a denomination
                        3.  a building
                        4.  a special type of not for profit corporation
                        5.  the people who make the policies of the not for profit corporation
            c.  Five definitions of ekklesia that the writers and readers of the NT would recognize:
                        1.  All believers over history.  Heb. 12:1.
                        2.  All believers in a city or area.
                        3. A group of believers who meet to worship Jesus.  Acts 2:41-47
                        4. A group of believers who meet to edify (build up) each other.  1 Thessalonians 5:11.
                        5.  A group.  Acts 19:32, 39, 41.  In this example, the “ekklesia” is a group formed by pagan idol makers to protest Paul’s being in Ephasus, as his teaching was turning enough persons away from the temple of Diana (fertility/sex cult) that they were feeling an effect on their profits.
                                    a.  This tells us that church was non-organizational, informal, was totally based on faith, not ritual, and able to be spread by any believer when the group was forced to be scattered, as both Rome and the Jewish status quo occasionally did.
            d.  From Acts 2:5-12, a) Jews in Jerusalem from all over, in town for Passover.      b) Gentiles from many places because Jerusalem was on a trade route.
 Those that came to faith in Jesus dropped what they were doing to learn from the apostles and others taught by Jesus how to live to honor Him.  The travelers may have had less than they owned with them.  Those that came to faith in Jesus dropped what they were doing to learn from the apostles and others taught by Jesus how to live to honor Him.  The travelers may have had less than they owned with them.  Many who were residents were poor.

8.  “poimen”—word study
            a.  This word appears 18 times in NT.  17 of them, it is translated “shepherd”, meaning:
                        1. a sheep herder
                        2. Jesus is to us as a sheep herder is to his sheep
            b. One time, Ephesians 4:11, it is translated “pastor”
                        1.  Pastor is a transliteration of the Latin word for shepherd.  Clearly, in this instance, it does not mean either of the definitions above.
                        2.  Many include this in the “fivefold ministries”, an idea that only dates back to the mid-1800’s.
                        3.  Before the Reformation, there is no record of any leader being titled pastor.
                        4.  In the Bible, the other four “ministries” are used to describe a believer’s giftings.
                        5.  The word “some” breaks this phrase into four parts, so “shepherd/pastor” may easily be a modifier for “teacher.”
            c.  In the Bible, the only one of these ministries that even has the appearance of being supported financially by other believers are “workers”, which appear to be apostles and their helpers who were going to areas so culturally different that they might not be able to support themselves.  Even so, God chose Paul, who had a largely societally transferrable skill, as an apostle who is the example we see the most of in scripture.

9.  The concept of the tithe
            a.  In the Old Testament there were clearly two tithes.
                        1. One supported the Levites
                        2. One supported the temple, and when Israel was a country, the government.
                        3. Some scholars say that Dt. 14:27-29, 26:12-15 is speaking of a third voluntary one-third of a tithe or a tithe every third year for the poor.
                        4. All this adds to 20 to 30% off the top of income, which in an agrarian society was crops or livestock.
            b.  In the early church, it was understood that Jesus fulfilled the Law, and the only aspects of the Law believers were to obey was what the leaders agreed about in Ac. 15:24-29.  There is nothing about tithe in there.
            c.  Believers were notable by their generosity.  Ac. 2:45
            d.  The early church did not have buildings or salaries to pay for; the NT shows Paul collecting for the special problems of the church in Jerusalem (many elderly Jewish persons wished to die in Jerusalem, and there were many widows in need) and to send apostles to unreached areas.
            e.   Roman Empire forced buildings, officials onto the church, and collecting gifts to offset costs, as Roman paganism did.
            f.   In 8th century northern Europe, typical land rent was 10% of crop.  Catholic church started owning land.
            g.  Over 100 years, Church went from collecting rent, to confusing OT Scriptures, and forcing all to pay 10%.
There are some excellent books on cultural context I wish to mention:
*Robert Banks, “Paul’s Idea of Community”
*George Barna & Frank Viola, “Pagan Christianity”
*Craig Keeener, IVP Bible Background Commentary—New Testament
*John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, IVP Bible Commentary—Old Testament
Potential ideas that may fit into this presentation:
Matthew 5:3  That while this verse is commonly taken as a condemnation of poverty in general, Jesus is specifically speaking that for his followers, as a consequence of their faith and how it will disturb those who choose not to believe, they will suffer poverty for his sake.  At that time, the Jews were already a group out of favor by the Empire.

I Sam. 8:16  Because of a lack of contact the translators of the KJV had with the culture of the time of the writing, the word “cattle” appears in the KJV, whereas later versions translate this “young men.”  Notably, a current defender of this error has his defense come up first on

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