Why Historical Context is Important When Reading the Bible

Read: Isaiah 40:8  “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

When I read the Bible, it can sometimes feel like I’m playing “tikam-tikam”, leafing through a page, pointing at a block of paragraph, and reading a quick sound bite before the book is shut and I’m done for the day – hooray!

Very often readers don’t dive deep into the characters, the setting, the plot and the message – just as one does when they’re losing themselves in a good book. And many times, we read the Bible as separate stories with no head or tail of any larger historical context.

In my university days I enjoyed The Message translation immensely, not so much for the modern interpretation, but for the overview pages at the start of every book. I found these to be so helpful as they gave a quick summary of who it was written by, whom it was written for, the era it was written in and what that corresponded to in world history.

An ancient book filled with world history

For example, did you know that the period when Abraham’s sons Isaac and Jacob were born (2000 BC) was the age of the Pharaohs in Egypt? Or that when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt (1450 -1400 BC), it happened during the Shang dynasty’s rise in China when calendar systems were already highly developed? Or that when Solomon became king of Israel (970 BC), the ancient Mayans were on the rise in Central America?

We can see the divine pattern that runs through the Bible

Some of us are so familiar with the Bible that we hardly consider what an ancient book it is. But by looking at the setting, the message, and the relationship of each to the whole, we can see the divine pattern that runs through the Bible and how God’s plan for humankind is the same throughout history.

When we’re reading the Bible, historical context can be so important in giving us new insights, understanding and revelation. This will definitely take research into external sources, like commentaries, history books, and cross-referenced biblical passages that might explain what was going on at the time a particular verse was written about.

Adventure through the Bible with a guide

In simple conversational language, Stedman guides us book by book from Genesis to Revelation

For this, I’ve found Ray Stedman’s Adventuring through the Bible: Home Edition a great help. In simple conversational language, Stedman guides us book by book from Genesis to Revelation, giving us setting, theme, commentary and insights accompanied by outlines, coloured charts, maps, timelines and photographs.

The Home Edition is a smaller, more affordable version of his classic ‘Adventuring through the Bible’ published in 1997, which contains his sermons and teachings from the 1960’s. The Home Edition, however, still contains a thorough overview of the entire Bible, presented in a systematic way book by book, from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

I personally find that being systematic helps with understanding any subject. For the Bible, context and commentary are always helpful so as we’re not dipping into 2000 BC today and 500 BC the next without knowing where we are in the timeline of things. Stedman’s guide can even be finished in two months if one commits to a chapter (ie. one book of the Bible) a day.

Despite being such an ancient book (Moses had finished the first five books of the Bible and was in his grave a thousand years before Greek philosopher Herodotus, who is called the Father of History, was even born), the Bible continues to inspire, instruct and awe us, holding truth that is just as relevant today as when it was written.

We hope that you will find Stedman’s companion guide helpful in understanding the historical context and spiritual message of the Bible. Grab a copy of ‘Adventuring through the Bible: Home Edition’ here.


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About the Author​​

Wan Phing Lim is a contributor to Our Daily Bread Ministries Malaysia. Born and raised in Penang, she studied Politics before turning to a career in writing. She loves coffee, books and films.


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