Engaging Exposition (13): Issues Concerning Context

The inspection stage of exegesis moves toward completion once we have identified the genre and developed a genre-specific outline. These two elements are required to properly examine the content of a text.

The next stage can be called the inquiry stage. “Inquire” means to ask a question. In this stage, our attention shifts from observing the content of a text to inquiring about its context. Understanding the author’s context is important for understanding his content. Consequently, you must be prepared to study the particularized context of every biblical text to the best of your ability and the available evidence.

When interpreters think about the context, they are focusing their attention upon the unique cultural, historical, geographical, and theological factors that existed when the author recorded his particular content for a particular audience. The biblical authors addressed the specific needs of their own day in their writings. Consequently, the significance of the historical context of every biblical text is important. A failure to understand the context of a text may lead the interpreter to misinterpret the author’s content. There are four questions which can help us discover the context of the text.

1) Who? – The Cultural Context

The author and readers of every biblical book lived in a particular context-often it was the same, but sometimes it was very different. When attempting to discover the cultural context of a biblical text, you should consider three specific areas.

In most cases, you will know who the biblical author is with a great deal of historical certainty. In other cases, opinions on authorship may vary. The author’s personal circumstances can also add insight into his particular place in the culture. There are three questions to ask about the author and his place in the culture: a) Who wrote the book? b) What do we know about him? c) How did his unique experience in his culture shape his purpose in writing?

Much of the Bible is written as Historical Narrative. Every author had to make choices about which characters or personalities to include in the story and what dialogue and events to highlight. As a result, the characters themselves often provide insights into the unique culture of the time. For instance, both David and Goliath provide a window into the different military cultures of Israel and Philistia. When studying Historical Narratives, you should ask the following questions: a) Who are the characters in the story? b) How are they described? c) What unique, culturally relevant factors are revealed by how the characters speak, dress, and act? d) How do those factors contribute to the meaning of the text?

Every biblical text was written with a specific audience in mind. Often, understanding the cultural context of the audience is the key to understanding the meaning of a text. When analyzing the audience, you should focus on these questions: a) Who is the primary audience for this text? b) What is the unique cultural setting for this audience? c) What cultural issues are discussed in the text? d) How are those cultural issues addressed in the text?

2) When?-Historical Context

The author and readers of every biblical book lived at a specific time in history. As a result, every biblical event took place in a specific historical context. There are several areas to consider when assessing a text’s historical context.

It is important to place biblical accounts into the world calendar when possible. While biblical interpreters are focused primarily on God’s redemptive plan for the world as revealed in Scripture and God’s Messiah, his plan is accomplished within the context of human history. In fact, God uses world events, even the choices of pagan nations, to accomplish his will on earth. For example, Habakkuk struggles to understand God’s use of the Babylonians to judge Israel for their idolatry. When analyzing the time of a text, there are some questions you should ask: a) When is this story or event occurring in secular history? b) Does any event in secular history influence the story or event? c) Where does this story or event fit in redemptive history? d) How does this story or event contribute to our understanding of redemptive history? However, when precise historical information is not possible, it does not negate the legitimacy of the text or hinder accurate interpretation since the location of meaning resides within the text, not behind it or in front of it.

Political Climate
Political realities are often the backdrop against which, or because of which, certain biblical events occur. God routinely accomplishes his will through the political drama and intrigue of Israel as well as pagan nations. When considering the political climate in any biblical text, consider the following questions: a) What is the dominant nation during this time? b) What, if any, is Israel’s relationship to this nation? c) Are there any unique, localized, political issues in play in the text? d) Does politics have a direct impact on the characters or events depicted in the text?

Religious Climate
The Bible reveals God’s redemptive plan accomplished through the nation of Israel. As you study Scripture, however, you will discover that Israel had encounters with nations that had unique religions and gods. When you study the historical context of a book or passage, you should ask these questions about the religious climate: a) What religion did a nation practice? b) What gods did they worship, and what does history reveal about those gods? c) How were their religious beliefs different from those of Israel? d) Did the religious climate of a secular nation influence the characters or events in the text?

3) Where?-Geographical Context

Just as every biblical event occurred within a specific cultural and historical context, it also occurred in a specific region of the world. Understanding these regions often increases an interpreter’s understanding of the events themselves. As you study the geographical context, pay close attention to the following locales:


When you encounter the cities mentioned in the Bible, you should ask the following questions: a) Where was the city located? b) What was the size and scope of the city? c) Were there any unique features or historical landmarks associated with the city? d) Has the city been discovered through modern archeology? e) Does the city exist today?


When you are studying a region mentioned in a biblical text, you should ask the following questions: a) Where is the region located in a nation? b) What cultural factors define the region? c) Is the region unique in some way topographically, industrially, militarily, or religiously?

You should ask the following questions when you encounter the nations mentioned in the Bible: a) What nation is mentioned? b) Where is that nation geographically in relation to Israel? c) What is the relationship of that nation to Israel? d) Is that nation used by God to further his redemptive plan for the world in any way?

4) Why?-Theological Context

Theology is the final contextual element to consider as you conclude the inquiry stage of Exegesis. This is one of the most challenging aspects of your interpretive work. It is important to remember that the Bible is first and foremost a book of theology. Every event in the Bible has a theological purpose. When you begin analyzing the theological context, you should consider the following areas:

The Text
As we noted earlier, all biblical interpretation must begin at the level of the individual text. You will discover the theological context as you reflect upon the significance of the content and context of every biblical text. Further, you will discover that the individual texts in a book are working together to communicate the message of the entire book. Finally, the theological themes you discover in individual texts will be connected to the primary thesis of the book as well.

When searching for the theological context of a text, you should ask the following questions: a) What theological themes are mentioned? b) What theological themes are implied? c) Which of the stated theological themes are developed? d) What do the theological themes reveal about God and his redemptive plan?

The Canon
Every individual text is part of the canon. As a result, you must attempt to discover how the truths revealed in a particular text fit within the totality of Scripture. Every text in the canon is revealing truth about God and his plans for creation. Furthermore, every text adds important information to the developing story of redemption.

When you are contemplating a particular text within the theological context of the canon, you should ask the following questions: a) How would the reader have understood this theological theme within his own canonical context? b) Does this theological theme have some level of correspondence within the other testament, either Old or New? c) How does this theological theme point to Jesus or reveal Jesus?

Engaging Exposition (12): Analysis of Poetry

The development of a thematic outline will help you discover the author’s MIT when you encounter Poetry in the Scriptures. It is essential to consider rhyme and meter and the use of figurative language when interpreting Poetry.

Poetry Type and Pattern
There are a variety of poetic styles in the Scriptures. Determining the type and pattern of a poem is one of the most challenging aspects of studying poetry, especially for young interpreters. For instance, Psalm 4 is a Psalm of trust-it reminds the reader of God’s faithfulness in life’s trials. If you do not know what type of Psalm you are studying, you will run the risk of misinterpretation.

Produce a Thematic Structural Diagram

When dealing with poetry, you are not attempting to identify the plot like you would in a narrative. You are not concerned with producing the kind of intensive structural diagram required by an epistle. Rather, you are attempting to trace the development of the poem’s themes and movement. As a result, you want to produce an analysis of the poem that will identify these.

In Psalm 4, David addresses several primary themes: a) God is righteous, and he hears the prayers of his people (4:1); b) man’s natural inclination is to participate in destructive activities (4:2); c) God’s people fear and trust him (4:3-5); d) God alone is the source of provision and safety for his people (4:6-8).

Identify Figurative Language

Poets use figurative language to describe the issues and emotions of life. Furthermore, the theological content of poems is often contained in their poetic devices. Consequently, interpretation requires an ability to understand a poem’s figures of speech and their connotations.

Identify the Theological Themes
As is true for every other genre, biblical poetry is about God and humanity. Consequently, it contains theological themes about God and his work among his people. The thematic structure that you develop will reveal the theological themes in the poem. Trusting God is the overarching theological theme of Psalm 4. He can be trusted to hear our prayers, to set us apart to fulfill his purposes, to infuse our hearts with joy, and to provide safety and security as we follow him.

Analysis of Wisdom Literature
Wisdom literature is a genre that incorporates both narrative and poetic elements. When you are studying in either Job or Ecclesiastes, use the narrative analysis form in the appropriate places and apply the appropriate criteria. When you are studying Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and the poetic parts of Job, use the poetry analysis form and apply the appropriate criteria. Note that there are significant similarities between Poetry and Wisdom Literature.

Analysis of Apocalyptic Literature

Apocalyptic literature is a very challenging genre to interpret. Because of its unique forms and language, Apocalyptic literature incorporates both narrative and poetic elements. As is the case with Wisdom literature, use the analysis form that works best for the text under consideration, whether narrative, epistolary, or poetic. To see how I have treated this genre, you can go to www.danielakin.com where you will find almost 40 verse by verse studies of Revelation.


Every biblical genre requires a unique model of outlining. You must properly identify the key elements used by the author in his writing. Rushing through the inspection stage may rob you of the joy and significance you will find in letting a text “speak.” Your haste, often influenced by personal presuppositions, may hinder you from “hearing” the text in the way God intends. Make the commitment to study the Scriptures carefully. Your close inspection of every biblical text will help you discover the author’s MIT. It will also yield rich expository fruit!mobile gamesgames java

Engaging Exposition (11): Analysis of Epistles

The Epistle is the one of the predominant types of prose found in the New Testament. Epistolary literature is propositional in nature and requires a careful analysis of both its linguistic and literary contexts.

Interpreters must remember several things as they outline Epistles. First, the author’s MIT is not found in individual words or even sentences-it is found in studying the whole discourse as it relates to the parts (e.g. whole discourse, paragraph, sentence, clause, phrase, and words). Second, Epistles are constructed to address localized situations and problems. They are occasional documents addressing particular persons and specific issues. Consequently, they tend to be thematic. Third, the authors of the Epistles are developing theological arguments that address a local church context. An Epistle is a challenging genre to outline because it requires knowledge of grammar. As you begin to outline a text in an Epistle, there are seven areas to consider.

Scope of the Text
Locate the parameters of the text. This helps ensure that the text is being studied in its context. Many Bible translations provide headings designed to reveal these parameters. Rather than relying upon the work of others, however, interpreters should verify the parameters on their own using the language clues they find in the text.

Identify the Independent Clauses
The basic unit of thought in grammar is the sentence, and every sentence (or independent clause) is constructed through the combination of a subject and predicate. Locate the independent clauses and you can discover the primary units of thought in the text.

Identify the Dependent Clauses
Dependent clauses provide descriptions or explanations of the independent clauses. For example, as you study Philippians 2:5-11, you will find these dependent clauses: a) “existing in the form of God (2:6)”; b) “by assuming the form of a slave” and “taking on the likeness of men (2:7)”; c) “and when He had come as a man in His external form (2:8)” and “by becoming obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross (2:8)”; d) “for this reason also (2:9)”; e) “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow-of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth-and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2:10-11).” These dependent clauses are important because they expand our understanding of the author’s main ideas as revealed through the independent clauses.

Produce a Structural Diagram of the Text if You Can
This diagram will help you discover the natural divisions within the text. Your ability to recognize the natural divisions will increase your ability to discover the author’s MIT. Informal diagramming can accomplish the same purpose.

Identify Transitional Clues in the Text

Generally a text will have one main idea with supporting concepts. The author often reveals these supporting concepts through his use of transitions. Not every text will contain these clues, but many will. Biblical authors used transitional clues to develop their arguments.

Identify Key Words and Concepts

An author’s MIT is always discovered through the analysis of a biblical text, by both studying and structuring the Scriptures. Every text is constructed with words, however, and the author chose those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As a result, it is essential to understand the meaning and significance of those words.

Space does not permit a lengthy treatment advocating the pursuit of a workable knowledge of Hebrew and Greek. Suffice it to say, if you are going to devote your life to Christian proclamation, it is critical that you take the time to learn the biblical languages, if at all possible.

If you look at Philippians 2:5-11, a number of key words and phrases stand out: “Attitude, existing, form, advantage, emptied, himself, slave, likeness, external form, humbled, obedient, cross, name, knee should bow, tongue, should confess, Lord.” Every one of these words is significant and should be carefully defined.

Identify Key Theological Themes
Every biblical text is designed to reveal something about God and humanity. As you identify the key elements in an epistolary text, you must keep in mind that there are theological themes present. The author may address several theological themes in a text. They may be stated or inferred. Your task is to discover them.

Philippians 2:5-11 is one of four great Christological passages in the New Testament, and it provides one of the essential descriptions of the person and work of Jesus. As a result, you would expect to find a number of theological themes, and you would be correct. There are at least four distinct themes: 1) the full deity of God the Son; 2) the incarnation of the Son; 3) the substitutionary, atoning death of Jesus on the cross; 4) the exaltation of Jesus. Addressing and developing these is all a part of doing faithful exposition.