Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Epistles

The biblical texts are written in several distinct styles or genres. The first genre our class looks at is the New Testament Epistle.

Context is so very important in discerning the meaning of a text. The relatively short length of an epistle makes it easier for the reader to read the entire text in one sitting—shorter epistles can be read several times in one sitting. This broad overview helps the reader understand at least a part of the context. Additional contextual information can be gleaned from the Book of Acts, and even from the Revelation of John.

Epistles are by nature occasional documents. They were written at a specific point in time, to a specific person or group of people, addressing particular needs. We must always remember that the meaning of the letters were VERY CLEAR to their intended, original audience! Our challenge is that we are removed from the original situations by almost 2000 years and we are only getting one side of the issue. Therefore, the first thing that we must try and do is reconstruct the historical situation the author is writing to. Remember, a text cannot mean for today what it could never have meant to the original audience. Our context may be different but the biblical truth is eternal!

The key to getting a grasp of the literary context is to think in paragraphs. It is too easy for us to take a verse out of context and use it to proof-text a point that we want to make.

As students of the Bible we will continually be faced with the question of cultural relativity. What parts of the text are meant for the first century group that the letter was written for and what parts are for all Christians at all times? A good rule that Fee and Stuart share is, “Whenever we share comparable particulars (i.e., similar specific life situations) with the first-century hearers, God’s Word to us is the same as his Word to them.” (p.75) The difficulty comes in when our particulars are significantly different from those in the first century. The book goes into great detail as it tries to help us deal with these cultural difficulties (too much detail for this blog to go into).

The section of the book on the epistles is worth the price of the book alone.


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