Lens #7: Context

At times, the Bible can be confusing and inaccessible. Delving into the historical and cultural context, which surrounds not just these confusing passages but the whole Bible, can help us come to a deeper understanding of the Bible. One great way to explore the context of the books of the Bible is through the help of resources called “commentaries.” These books and online sources, written by biblical scholars, give us some of the context that helps in our understanding.

(Note: If you are looking for commentaries to use, I wouldn’t use ones that are more than 15 or 20 years old, as newer ones have the most up-to-date scholarship. Of course, I break this rule in this very video, as the commentary on the Gospel according to John is over 40 years old, but it’s still really awesome and timely.)

Bound Commentaries in the Video

The New Interpreter’s Bible (12 Volumes)

The Anchor Bible Commentary (Gospel of John, vol. 1)

The Gospel and Epistles of John: A Concise Commentary

Harper Collins Bible Commentary

Links to Good Web Commentary Resources

WorkingPreacher.org (my favorite commentary site)

Textweek.com (aggregation of resources for weekly readings)

MinistryMatters.com (this is a subscription site, but it’s really good)

Prompts for Discussion

Use the comments box below (under “Leave a Reply”) to discuss some of these prompts. You can post more than one comment and respond to other people’s comments The first time you do it, you many need to provide some basic info like name and email.

1) Have you ever read a passage of the Bible and had that “WHAT??” moment I talked about in the video? If so, have you come to some deeper understanding? What sources did you use in your study that you found helpful?

2) Do you have any commentaries at home? If so, which ones would you recommend?

3) Have you found any good interpretive resources online? If so, let’s hear about them!

4) Click here to read this Sunday’s Gospel lesson. Then head over to WorkingPreacher.org by following this link and read the commentary for that lesson. Pay special attention to the paragraph that I quote below. How does understanding the context (ours and the passage’s) change the way you might interpret it?

“Different church contexts have different understandings of what it means “to come to Jesus.” John’s own context and community had different layers of meaning for this also. It may be important to invoke some of the options. For the Jews in Jesus’ context, it would be to choose the messianic understanding of their own tradition. For the Jews in the context of the Gospel of John, it would mean choosing to step outside the Jewish tradition and moving into the Christian context. In today’s context, it might mean moving outside the typical pattern of our own culture and choosing a radical Christian understanding of the world.” (Ginger Barfield, workingpreacher.org; accessed 8/6/12)

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