LITERARY CONTEXT

In literature, the context of any specific passage is the material that comes immediately before and after it.

The context of a sentence is its paragraph, the context of a paragraph is the series of paragraphs that precede and follow it, and the context of a chapter is the surrounding chapters.

Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (2004), 214.

BRIDGING THE GAP

In a sense, the Bible always comes to us secondhand, through others who lived at different times and in different places.

This is the basis of an important principle of hermeneutics: The correct interpretation of a biblical passage will be consistent with the historical-cultural background of the passage.

Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (2004), 229.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Information on the historical background of a book is available from several sources.

Perhaps the best single source is the introduction to the better commentaries. Many contain quite detailed, up-to-date summaries of the issues.

It is important to consult recent, well-researched works because of the explosion of information uncovered in the last few decades.

Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral (2006), 36-37.

CULTURAL CONTEXT

We should be concerned that we do not import into the text what is not there (and take those impositions as word of God!).

But also we should take care not to miss what it is that the text does seek to convey and what effect and formative power it would wish to have on us and our communities of faith.

To immerse ourselves in the cultural context of the New Testament authors and hearers is to open ourselves up to hear the New Testament with the fuller resonances it would have had for authors and addressees alike.

DeSilva, Honour, Patronage, Kinship & Purity (2000), 18.

CHOOSING & USING REFERENCE SOURCES

Prefer professional scholars in relevant fields, reflecting academic consensus.

Avoid fringe scholars, outdated sources, and sources with an obvious bias.

Use fully referenced quotes in context. Never misrepresent a source by quote mining.

Proper research requires you to read broadly, deeply, and critically. Take care to evaluate the merits of any material before using it in your work.

Googling and Wikipedia trawling is not research.

AVOID OUTDATED SOURCES

Many reference works have been rendered obsolete by advances in archaeology, textual criticism, palaeography, and other related disciplines.

All Bible dictionaries, Bible encyclopaedias, and commentaries published before 1965 are out of date.

Exercise caution when using them, and cross-check against more recent publications.

Beware of modern reprints, such as this 'concise edition' of Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament (first published in 1930 and now in public domain). They offer no improvements to the original work, and should be avoided.

CHOOSING & USING COMMENTARIES

Select a commentary appropriate for your subject and area of focus.

Prefer commentaries with multiple authors. Ensure the authors are suitably qualified.

Reject commentaries which lack proper referencing and extensive bibliographies.

The best commentaries examine Scripture in context, not verse by verse.

Read the passage thoroughly, several times. Keep an open mind; your current understanding might be wrong.

Consult at least three different commentaries.

Beware of theological bias; your own as well as the commentators'. Reach your conclusion objectively.

The best interpretation is the one most consistent with the evidence.