Roadblocks to Interpreting The Bible Accurately # 3 (iii)

The third question to ask in ascertaining the context of a given Biblical text is

3) What is the philosophical context of what I’m reading?

The philosophical context refers to the societal norms, guiding principles, attitudinal slants/inclinations and prevalent worldview when the Biblical text was written. It describes what was considered “normal” in a given era.

For example, John 4 records that the disciples of Jesus were shocked when they found Him speaking with a woman.

John 4:27 (NKJV)

27 And at this point His disciples came, and they MARVELED that He TALKED WITH A WOMAN; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?”

The 21st Century reader might not readily understand this text until he immerses himself into the philosophical world of that time.

It was scandalous in 1st Century Israel for a man to engage in lengthy discourse with a woman, particularly in a public space.

A common saying at that time was, “let not a man talk with a woman in the streets, even with his wife; and there is no need to say with another man’s wife” (Bemidbar Rabba, sect 10. fol. 200. 2.).

This principle was even stricter for teachers, doctors and scholars of the Law (the Rabbis). It was regarded unbecoming for a scholar to converse with a woman.

One of the six things that brought reproach to a scholar was “to talk with a woman in the street” (T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 43. 2.).

And it was even said, “let him not talk with a woman in the street, though she is his wife, or his sister, or his daughter” (Maimon. Hilch. Dayot, c. 5. sect. 7.).

It was demeaning for a man (particularly one of repute) to speak with a woman in plain sight, as ancient Israel operated an highly patriarchal system (in which women were subjugated). One of the daily thanksgivings by Jewish males was, “Blessed art thou, O Lord… who hast not made me a woman” (Westcott).

Thus, what the disciples witnessed (in John 4:27) was counterculture. It would have been genuinely bizarre for them to see Jesus break the “societal norms” and speak publicly to a woman. By so doing, Jesus was departing from a faulty societal system and restoring the honour due to the woman.

Therefore, understanding the philosophical context of the day (in which the Biblical text was written) would grant a firm grasp on the same. When we don’t respect the context in which the Bible was written, interpretation errors are inevitable.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *