Rebecca Van Noord
When my siblings and I were very young, my parents refused to let us watch TV. When they finally gave in and purchased the looming black box they feared would suck hours out of our childhood, they placed it in a cabinet with locking doors. It was opened for movie nights on Fridays and closed for Saturday morning cartoons. I learned how to pick locks at a very young age.
But my parents trained me up in the way they thought I should go, and as an adult I rarely watch TV. It’s the reason I smile blankly when peers quote lines gleaned from popular sitcoms. I miss the association and thus often miss the point of their argument, or the poignant moment where they identified with a character or storyline—associations that would give me insight into their lives.
It was not until I started studying the Bible “in context” that I thought about these interactions in a different way. When we think of studying the Bible in context, we often think about studying the surrounding passages of a biblical text. We might include studying the stories that biblical writers drew on, like the exodus and the flood account, that speak of a faithful God and a foolish people as they grew and stumbled in faith. These contexts are helpful and necessary to interpret the text correctly. But is there another context we might be overlooking?
We don’t often think about the context in which ancient readers would have understood the text. Like us, they used literary forms and associations that helped communicate their ideas about God. Understanding their context helps steer us away from modern misapplications of Scripture. Noting the points where the biblical text makes abrupt, intentional turns often shows us how biblical writers were making a bold statement about God—how He is the one who saves, how He is faithful when others are not.
When we place the biblical text in its ancient context, there is danger in lodging it there. Will we assert ourselves over it, or will we seek to understand and be changed by it? We need not pick these locks to follow God faithfully—Scripture is sufficient for that.