Study No. 12: How historical background helps us to understand Scripture

Holy Bible Whenever I pick up a book that looks interesting, the first thing I look for is its publication date.  Why?  Because this will affect the way I understand its contents.  If, for instance, I find it assumes that London is the biggest city in the world and the quickest way to reach it from New York is by ship, it will not surprise me if its date is AD 1900.  and I will not fault the author for being out-of-date.  The same would apply to a book of that date on human biology which did not mention DNA.

Does this mean these books are not true?  Not at all, for at the start of the nineteenth century, London was the biggest city in the world, and DNA had not yet been discovered.  This does not necessarily mean what was said about biology was untrue but simply incomplete.

Not only so, but if the book is about Shakespeare and I know little about Elizabethan and Jacobean England or of the history of English literature, I would be wise to get a book from the local library or at least an article from the Internet that would give me some background.  Every book needs to be read in terms of the historical context of its author.  This is just as true of the Bible.

Does this raise problems for the inerrancy of the Bible?

1.  Historical Interpretation of the Bible

Bible scholars have their own technical terms and it is useful gradually to learn them.  As we have already seen, the somewhat unwieldy expression, “grammatico-historical interpretation,” simply means that in studying Scripture we need to see it in its historical context and to give the words, phrases, sentences and larger literary units the meaning they would have had for their first readers.  We have already thought about the grammatical element in some detail; now we look at the historical.

Studying the history of Israel and the Near East in Biblical times, like all historical study, involves a number of different disciplines, not only political but also social, cultural and economic history, and also historical geography.  This may seem to be quite daunting, and the Bible reader with little technical knowledge of history may wonder if she or he will ever understand the Bible if all this is needed.

Don’t despair!  Not only is there a wealth of literature available to help you (more about this later), but there is a lot of material in the Bible itself too.

Get to know the geography of the Bible lands, especially the Holy Land.  The political geography has changed a lot, of course, but not the physical.  You may have good maps at the back of your Bible, and these may be enough for your use, but it is worth getting a good Bible atlas.

Notice the approximate distances between towns of major importance in the story, places like Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, Bethel, Samaria, Nazareth and Capernaum.  What about the contours?  Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10:30, my italics).  Was the road very steep?  How big is the Holy Land?  Compare it with the United Kingdom or one of the American States.  Pick up geographical references when you come across them in the Bible, including allusions to weather patterns and also to plants and animals.

Get to know also the main features of the political history, not only of Israel but of her neighbours, as she was in contact with so many of them and constantly lived under the shadow of great empires like Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia.   Anything you can learn about these empires will be of help to you.

In the New Testament we are aware of the Graeco-Roman world, especially the Roman empire.  In the Acts of the Apostles, for instance, Luke refers to a number of Roman officials in his account of Paul’s missionary journeys.  Note them down; find out the rank and functions of each.

Then there is religious and cultural history.  We become aware, for instance, of the culture and religion of Egypt in the story of Joseph, that of the Canaanites in the Book of Judges, and that of Corinth in the two letters we have from Paul’s correspondence with the church in that city.

There is much excellent, well-written scholarly material available on all these matters, and it would be good to read some of it.

As far as Israel is concerned, it had many God-given institutions, such as a place of worship, a sacrificial system, a calendar of feasts and fasts.  It also had its social patterns, with a strong emphasis on the family but also with tribal loyalties.  There were differences between town and country life.

In order to highlight some of this for you, I suggest you study Hosea 9.  Seek to hear its message but look also for allusions that require some knowledge on your part.  Some will be geographical, some historical, some cultural, some religious.  Why not make a list of them?

In an earlier study I have already mentioned the importance of “distancing”, which means recognising the cultural distance between an older world, in this case the Bible world, and our own.  You need to be alive to this.  For instance, Britain has a monarchy and so did Israel.  To what extent were the conditions of Israel’s monarchy similar to Britain’s and to what extent different?  Were the elders in New Testament churches like those in Presbyterian churches or Brethren assemblies today, or neither?  What about leprosy?  Does the Bible term mean the diseases of this name in the modern world?  What about the “cities” in the Bible?  If we accept a common modern definition of a city in Britain and Europe, how can we apply the word at all to places with no cathedral, such as Samaria or Babylon or Philippi or Rome, or in fact any city in the Bible?   Paul writes of himself and others as ambassadors for Christ.  Did the ambassador have the same functions in the Roman world of the New Testament period as he or she has today?

A particularly important example of this is to be found in the fact that a nation called Israel is part of our own world.  How do we relate our thinking about this to Israel in the Bible?  I will not easily forget the day I read in a student’s exam paper a reference to the invasion of Canaan by the Israelis under Joshua!  Does this show a serious, perhaps even a dangerous, confusion?

Distancing is really a frame of mind and it does not become a settled one overnight.  You will need to keep checking up on yourself in this regard until it is firmly established in your mentality.

2.  The extent to which historical background exists in Scripture

A first-time Bible reader is likely to conclude that the historical element in it is the predominant one, especially if she or he starts reading either at the start of the Old Testament or of the New.   This impression is not mistaken.  From Genesis to Esther (inclusive) historical events are either the predominant element or, as in Exodus to Deuteronomy, where there is a large legal element, the one that acts as the frame for all else.  The Law was given in an historical context and that context matters.  The same is true of Matthew to Acts.  There is teaching there, given by Jesus and the apostles, but it is all in the context of history.

Not only so, but in both testaments these two sections take up much more space than the rest of the books.  You may think Paul wrote more of the New Testament than anybody else.  If so, you are wrong.  Count the pages taken up by his letters (apart from Hebrews, which is anonymous) and those occupied by Luke’s two books, his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles!  You may get a surprise.

Moreover, in reading the rest of the Bible you will get great help from studying these historical books.  Somebody unacquainted with the Christian faith who started reading, say, in the Epistle to the Philippians, might well wonder who this Jesus was who seemed the centre of interest.  The Gospels would make this clear.  Then the Acts of the Apostles would identify the Philippian church, so showing who the first readers of this letter were.

3.  The Purpose of the Historical Books of Scripture

It is possible to read a book with incorrect assumptions and never to realise they are wrong.  This is particularly the case with the Old Testament historical books.  Certainly they provide us with useful historical information which is very helpful when we come to read the Old Testament prophetic books, but we should not go on from this to assume that this was why they were written.

They were not even written simply to satisfy the curiosity of their first readers about their nation’s past.  Such historical curiosity was particularly characteristic of the Nineteenth Century, which was also very interested in origins, especially human origins.  The fact that the Jews referred to the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings as the Former Prophets means that they knew the readers were intended to hear a message from God in what was written.  This is true too of the historical psalms, such as 105 and 106.  Because they are much briefer than these historical books, the lesson – the faithfulness of God in Psalm 105 and the unfaithfulness of Israel in 106 – stands out clearly.

All historical writing is an interpretation.  Certainly a good history does not play fast and loose with facts; the historian records what happened; he or she does not invent it.  Yet the element of interpretation is always there, for the historian needs to make a selection from the facts, and to select is to interpret.  Everything cannot be recorded.  In fact, everything is not worth recording.  This means that principles of selection are important.  The historian may state them, but even if this is not so, they can often be discerned.  Certainly they usually can be in the Bible’s historical books, especially when the historian seems to become a preacher.

Some scholars regard the Former Prophets as a continuous history written under the influence of the theology of the Book of Deuteronomy, and so they call it the Deuteronomic history.  Deuteronomy teaches that God would judge his people if they were unfaithful to him and that this judgement would ultimately mean expulsion from the land of promise.  In the Books of Kings the reader becomes immediately aware of this in reading 2 Kings 17.  Read this chapter through now.  These books record plenty of Israel’s sins, but the writer here fastens almost exclusively on one great sin.  I suggest you read the record of the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20 and find which it is.

There are some Bible chapters where the writer’s emotion comes over clearly to the reader.  Romans 8, with its great crescendo of joy, is one such.  This chapter in Second Kings is another.  Read it, and feel the throb of the writer’s anger.   Like the prophets, he was living close enough to God to feel something of God’s own righteous indignation.  It becomes clear that the previous chapters were written to lead up to this.

We will now look at the way the Books of Samuel provide a background to the first part of the Book of Psalms.

4.  The Books of Samuel as background to the Psalter, Books 1 and 2

Some books of Scripture make excellent companions and this is true of the Books of Samuel and the first two books of the Psalter, which consist of Psalms 1 to 41 and 42 to 72.

There is a big difference between the books which record the history of the First World War and the poems of people like Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, who experienced it in all its horror.  Historians tend to concentrate on outward events, although they sometimes quote people in the story to give human interest; poets however show us the feelings of the people involved, often their own.

For the period of David we have both.  We will look at each in turn and then relate them.

a.  The Books of Samuel

A major interest of the writers of Scripture is in human character.  This is one reason why the historical books of the Old Testament make fascinating reading, for they tend to concentrate on character.  They recognise too that character has a spiritual basis, so that they constantly indicate the relationship of these characters to the God of Israel.

They also recognise the great importance of example, especially in relation to the kings.  It is not just that the kings were to be role-models for the people, but that they were able to make decisions about the vitally important question as to what divine being should be worshipped and how and where.

The early days of any institution have special importance, because often a paradigm is established, the influence of which may be long lasting.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the early days of Israel’s kingship are given extensive coverage, much more than the later periods of it.

The Books of Samuel may seem strangely named, for David rather than Samuel is the chief human character in them.  What is written here of David is the most extensive biographical information about anybody in the historical books of the Old Testament, although there is also a lot about Abraham, Jacob and Moses among others.  The two books are really one and were simply divided into two for convenience when the Septuagint, the great Greek translation of the Old Testament, was produced two or three centuries before the time of Jesus.

When we consider how supremely authoritarian the royal dynasties of the Near East were at this time, the frankness of this narrative about David’s faults is remarkable, in fact unique.  He is presented as a man of true godliness, yet at the same time as one with serious faults, which became manifest in one series of events.  At this time Nathan the prophet accused him of both murder and adultery, but he also brought to him, on his immediate repentance, the assurance that God had forgiven him (2 Samuel 12).  The Books of Samuel could almost be regarded as an extended commentary on this.  No wonder some have thought Nathan had a major hand in their writing!  There are good grounds for this, as we note in the reference to him, along with Samuel and Gad, in 1 Chronicles 29:29.

The Books of Samuel contain masterpieces of story-telling in the interest of historical truth.  This shows then that strict historical fact and literary art are not enemies but friends.   Many fine historians have possessed great literary skill.  Sir Winston Churchill is a twentieth century example of this.

There is superb characterisation, not only of David but of some other characters, such as Saul, Jonathan and Absalom.  In fact over one hundred individual human beings are referred to in the course of the story, some named, others unnamed.  It is worth taking notes and recording each time a new character appears, giving some indication of his or her place in the developing story.  The importance of most of them is because of their contact with David.  In this respect, the Books of Samuel are somewhat like the Gospels, which make reference to many individuals, all of whom are important because of their contacts with Jesus.

In fact we should not forget that the authors of the Gospels will all have known the Books of Samuel well.  They knew that Jesus was “the Son of David” and could perhaps have learned something about how to write a biography from the story of his ancestor.  After all, the Holy Spirit often used means when he inspired the Bible writers.

It is worth while to read and study these books to saturation point.  Use your historical imagination.  You can develop such an imagination when you are visiting old buildings with important historical associations in your own country.  An imagination that has been well supplied with facts can people them with folk from the time they were built.

Seek then to live in David’s period as far as you can.  Be there when Samuel is in the home of Jesse, and David is chosen as king.  Be there when David calls out to sleepy Saul and accuses him of neglect of duty.  Be there when the prophet Nathan accuses David (his king!) of adultery and listen to David’s immediate confession of sin.  Be there when David’s men bring water to him from Bethlehem’s well and David pours it out as an offering to the Lord.  Be there when the news of the death of Absalom is brought to David and he breaks down in a paroxysm of grief.

It’s a great adventure story.   See how David used the cave-potted terrain of southern Judah to evade Saul’s constant attempts to capture him.  Count the number of times Saul tried to kill him but without success.  Why not mark and number them in your study Bible?  (If your count falls short of twenty you have missed some!)  Note the place of Jonathan in the story.  See how David becomes king first in Judah and then in all Israel.   It’s a real “Log Cabin to White House” story and is as exciting as the tales of Robin Hood and the sheriff of Nottingham – and with much more claim to be accurate history.

If you have a Bible atlas or at least a Bible with good maps at the back of it, it is worth following the course of David’s movements with these aids.   On a visit I paid to Israel, the tour took us up through this part of the country and it did wonders for my understanding of this part of David’s story.  You may not be able to do this but a really good atlas can give you considerable help.

You will notice that I have not given any Bible references in these comments on the story of David.  This is because there is no substitute for actually reading his story through, and I do not want to rob you of the experience of this.

See how David’s story links up with the wider story of Israel in the historical books of the Old Testament and thus ultimately with the consummation of that story in the Gospel story of Jesus.  Always relate the small stories to the bigger ones and ultimately to the Big Story.  Jesus was to be not only the Son of Abraham but also the Son of David, as the very first verse of the New Testament tells us.

Then take in the message for yourself.  Is my awareness of God as keen as that of this man, who lived a thousand or so years before Christ?  Is my confession of sin as immediate or my penitence as complete?  Do I give glory to God for all he has done and is doing for me?

b.  The Psalter, Books 1 and 2

The Book of Psalms is arranged as five books, and there is good evidence that they were compiled over some centuries.  This does not mean the actual psalms are in some sort of chronological order but rather that the way in which they were gathered into books probably followed a chronological sequence.

The first two psalms look as if they have been placed where they are to form a joint introduction to the book.   In fact Psalm 1 may actually have been written for this purpose.  It shows the great importance and value of the word of God and, perhaps the writer intended us to understand, of the Book of Psalms, because the word rendered “law” in verse 2, although often used of the Mosaic Law also has the wider sense of “instruction”, and the Book of Psalms certainly falls into this category.  Then Psalm 2 points to the Messianic/Davidic theme as important for the book.  Although these two psalms introduce the Psalter, they echo in some ways the whole Bible, for the whole Bible is immensely profitable and the whole Bible points us to Christ.

After this opening, every psalm in Book 1 is headed, “A psalm of David”.  Many in Book 2 are also ascribed to David although a sizeable number are by other authors.  Some of the Davidic psalms also have some biographical information relating to David.  These headings were in the Bible Jesus used and from which he quoted and so, it seems to me, they should be regarded as part of the Word of God.  This gives the biographical notes real value by providing a setting for the psalms themselves.

Of course it is most unlikely that it was at the time of their occurrence that David wrote the psalms that relate to particular events in his biography, although he would probably write them soon afterwards and while the experience was still fresh in his mind.

Is this psychologically likely?  Yes, it is.  I have an elderly friend who has a greater love for poetry than any other person I have met.  He says he has never studiously learned a poem but he has read his favourite poems so very frequently that they have stayed in his mind.   Not only so, but they are deep in his heart and they have become part of his very being.  I visited his wife when she was in hospital, and one day, on going to see her, was told she had died a few minutes earlier.  Her husband was in the room and immediately he began to recite a poem which movingly expressed the emotions he was feeling at the time.  If he had possessed as much skill in writing poetry as in recalling it, he would probably have written an appropriate poem soon afterwards.  A lady I knew was a secret poet who wrote a poem every day of her life, many of which reflected her recent experiences.

Perhaps the best known of these psalms with biographical headings is Psalm 51.  The heading says, “A psalm of David.  When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.”  The story of this is told in 2 Samuel 11.  Read these two passages through now.  It is important to note that this extremely poignant penitential poem was a response to the word of God.  This shows the depth of David’s repentance, which was in marked contrast to Saul’s reaction to God’s word through Samuel, as recorded in 1 Samuel 15.  The words were identical (“I have sinned”) but their heart’s response was so different.

A number of modern Christian songs are based on the psalms.  One taken from Book 2 is Psalm 63.  Here David expresses his feelings when he was in flight from Saul.   If you find yourself singing this in a service, remember the circumstances in relation to which it was written.  It is one thing to express such confidence in God when sitting in a comfortable church surrounded by other believers but quite another when in a situation of mortal danger, as David was.

Psalm 18 is headed,

“Of David, the servant of the LORD,  He sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.”

This is not precisely-enough worded for us to tell exactly when it was written.  It occurs again in almost identical form in 2 Samuel 22, but there it is part of a series of appendices to the main history recorded in the Books of Samuel.

Nevertheless, it conveys the emotions and outlook of a man profoundly thankful to God for all his mercies to him.

Of course, the number of psalms with biographical information is limited, but it is still worth using all the information you have about David’s life and his various vicissitudes to enable you to identify with him in the various emotions he expresses in his psalms.

5.  The Old Testament historical books as background to the Prophets

The Old Testament provides us with information about the reigns of all the kings of Israel and Judah (the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles), plus some information about the period following the return from Exile when there was no king (Ezra and Nehemiah)

Remember that like the books of Samuel, the books of Kings were originally one and the same is true of Chronicles.  These two accounts have many points in common, but, among other distinctive features, Kings deals with both Israel and Judah after the division of the kingdoms, with a tendency to give more space to Israel, while Chronicles concentrates on Judah.  There are reasons for this.

It is not always realised that most of the writing prophets prophesied, not only after the division of the kingdoms, but that it was to Judah rather than Israel that most of them preached.  Although small, because of the fact that it had Davidic monarchs and the Jerusalem temple, it represented the heart of God’s purpose for his people.  The northern kingdom, known as Ephraim from its largest tribe, or Israel, because it represented the bulk of the original kingdom of Israel, was however still of concern to God, and he sent prophets like Amos and Hosea to preach to it.

Four important prophets fulfilled their ministries during the Eighth Century BC: Amos and Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, the first pair to Israel and the second pair to Judah.  The Books of Kings give plentiful information about this period.  It can be found in 2 Kings 14 to 20.

Read these chapters through.  They tell the story of a relatively affluent period in the history of these two kingdoms.  Politically and economically things were going fairly well.  King Uzziah of Judah (called by this name in Isaiah but Azariah in 2 Kings) and King Jeroboam the Second of Israel, each reigned for a good length of time (Uzziah for fifty-two years and Jeroboam for forty-one), and so there was a degree of stability and prosperity.  Probably many people lived their whole lives within the reigns of these two kings so that they would provide a very stable background.

These prophets were however all concerned about social justice.  It seems that although this period was relatively good economically, this was not benefiting many of the people, for they were oppressed and exploited by those with wealth.   In this way the history and the prophecies illuminate each other.

Why were these books written?  Some Bible books, of course, show us clearly the purpose of their writing.  The Gospel of John is an outstanding example of this.  Take a look at John 20:3O,31.  Even though we are not told the purpose of the Books of Kings, I think we can discern this from what we are told in them, for a reading of them shows clearly what the key chapter is.

It is Second Kings 17.  Here the author of the books reflects on several centuries of history and directs his readers to the spiritual lessons of these centuries.

I suggest you study this chapter carefully.  Verses 24 to 41 are really a lengthy appendix and I suggest you concentrate on the verses that precede this section.  In this chapter the author writes about God’s anger with his people because of their constant sin against him.  He shows the reason for the Exile which eventually overtook them.

So the first readers, living probably during the Babylonian Exile, were being told why they were there.  The writer was therefore warning them against repeating the sins of their fathers.   Here, perhaps more than anywhere else in the Old Testament historical books, we can see why Joshua, Judges,  Samuel and Kings were called “the Former Prophets” by the Jews.  Some scholars think they were all part of the “Deuteronomic History”, a continuous account showing that the principles of spiritual and moral cause and effect set out in Deuteronomy.  If so, then 2 Kings 17 virtually sums up the lessons of the whole history.

There are other pointers to the purpose of the author of Kings, in the comments he makes.  For instance, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the first king of the Northern Kingdom after the division, is referred to his sin is almost always mentioned.  See, for example, 1 Kings 15: 25,26, 30, 34.  This sin was not the political act of dividing the kingdom but the religious act of setting up apostate shrines at Dan and Bethel.  There is something parallel to this in the Gospels when Judas Isariot is mentioned (see Matthew 10:4; Mark 14:10; Luke 6:16; John  12:4).

The reign of Ahab saw events of enormous importance in the religious history of Israel.  There was an all-out challenge at this time to the worship of Yahweh.

Perhaps this is why there are more miracles recorded during his reign than at any time since the time of Joshua.  Elijah was God’s man in this situation.  Read l Kings 17 – 2 Kings 2.  How many miracles can you find in these chapters?   List them.

By the way, you may wonder if some of the events, like the drought, were miracles in the strict sense.  They did however show God’s control of physical events, so list them as evidence that nature was being controlled by God for His own special purposes.

John Drane’s comments on the story of Naboth’s vineyard are good (John Drane – Introducing the Old Testament).  When we come to the great writing prophets who lived in the eighth century, we should be able to see that Elijah was really a trail-blazer.  They too were concerned about social justice as he was.  Like him, they saw that, because Yahweh was a righteous God, His people must be righteous in their dealings with their fellows.

But was Elijah really an innovator in this respect?  Read Exodus 20 yet again, and assess the social implications of the Ten Commandments.

Study l Kings 18,19  as an example of the trials and triumphs of a man of God.  Try to understand his character and seek for lessons for your own encouragement.

Note evidence of his courage and decisiveness, the faith and prayerfulness which are their explanation, the depression which followed the spiritual elation of a great victory over the enemies of God, and the way God encouraged and recommissioned him.

Times may have changed, but Old Testament situations have their parallels in Christian work.

Because the writer of Kings is concerned to get a message across to his readers, he gives religious estimates of the Kings of Israel and Judah.

If you study the table of kings on pages 114 and 115 of Drane’s book, you will notice that Israel had many more kings than Judah.   This is due to the relative stability of the Davidic dynasty that reigned in Judah.  This is particularly marked during the first 90 years or so after the division, that is up to the death of Ahab.

During this period, two of Judah’s four kings were godly, while Israel’s seven kings were all ungodly, Ahab being the worst of the lot.

Read l Kings 15.  You will notice that this chapter deals with four kings, two from Judah and two from Israel.  Notice that two previous kings are employed by the writer for purposes of comparison, the one godly and the other ungodly.  What are their names?

Notice that the godly king was not perfect (as the author of Kings himself notes) and, no doubt, the ungodly one could perhaps have been even worse.   A king though was estimated in terms of his religious influence on the people, and this stemmed, of course, from his personal faithfulness to Yahweh.

These two kings are used for comparative purposes right to the end of the book.  Because the people were so deeply influenced by their monarchs, these verdicts lead us straight to the great 17th chapter of 2 Kings, which we noted above is the key chapter for the books.

What lesson has this for us in Christian work?   Christian leaders do not have the authority of the kings of Israel and Judah, but their influence on the churches they lead can be even greater.  It is worth taking some time to ponder prayerfully the seriousness of this for your own life and work.  See especially James 3:1.

 6.  Using the Book of Acts as background to the Epistles

The Acts of the Apostles is of quite special importance for the New Testament.  This is because it is the only book that provides historical background to the Epistles and the Book of the Revelation.

This is not its primary function, of course.  This is to tell the story of how the gospel moved from Jerusalem, where the church began, to Rome, the centre of the Empire and of the civilised world of the time, but in the course of the telling of this story, there are references to the establishment and early history of many churches, many of whose names occur also in the addresses of the New Testament epistles.

Moreover it is not only its function to tell the story, but to encourage its readers to continue it.  After all, Acts does not reach the ends of the earth, even though Rome was central to the world of the time.  We are to complete the story.

A reader of Acts might be forgiven for thinking that the early church spread from Jerusalem only northwards and westwards, as this is the main movement of the book.  Yet we know that it spread southwards and eastwards also.  In fact, Luke its author has given us hints to that effect.  Look out for these.

As we have already noted, it is important not to use any of the historical books in the Bible, simply as a source of background information.  To do so would virtually ignore their nature as the word of God.  Acts has its own message to convey, and it would do so if we had none of the epistles at all.  That message is vital to the church.  It can be summed up thus: The church of Christ is commissioned to continue the mission of Jesus.  It can never settle while human beings are unevangelised, and it is empowered for this task by the Holy Spirit.  The continuing relevance of this message needs no arguing.

Yet it is valuable to see it as background, but not just historical but also theological background to the epistles.  It means that we should understand each of the epistles within the context of the mission of the church, interpreting them dynamically rather than statically.

This is perhaps particularly important in relation to the Pastoral Epistles (those to Timothy and Titus).  It is widely recognised that these show the beginnings of the institutionalisation of the Christian church in the sense that there is an interest in structures and offices, in the authority of Scripture, in the importance of sound doctrine.

There is truth in this, but we should note an important feature of Second Timothy, usually regarded as the last of Paul’s extant epistles.  Paul still sees himself as a herald of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:11,12) and although he is bound in prison he rejoices that the word of God, the gospel itself, is not bound (2 Tim 2:9).  Moreover he calls on Timothy to testify to this gospel.  If “gospel” dominates the first two chapters of Galatians, which may be Paul’s earliest extant letter, it is not absent from Second Timothy, and it implies a dynamic concept of the church, taking out the message to a needy world.

For further Reading: John Drane, Introducing the Old Testament [Illustrated] , Oxford:Lion, 2010.

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