Sometimes people will write off the notion that the books of the Bible were written in a particular context and, if we want to understand those books, then we’d better understand the context.
Why would someone write that off? I suspect that a lot of people don’t want to know the context of the Bible because that means the Bible wouldn’t say what they think it says. Sometimes, this crowd is a group of Christians who aren’t willing to adjust their errant theology. Other times, it’s critics and skeptics who want to make the Bible look as horrible as possible and don’t want to admit that understanding the context of a book like Deuteronomy can actually help explain some of that book’s weirder and more horrifying provisions.
This week, I was given yet another reminder that’s important to understand the Bible’s world to understand the Bible itself. What is that proof, you ask? It’s this post, which I’ve seen passed around on Facebook:
The text is from the Song of Solomon, the Bible’s most erotic–and, let’s be honest, Christian singles, enjoyable–book. Hear that, ladies? Your hair is like a flock of goats. A flock of stupid, pooping, smelly, bleating animals. That’s your hair.
In our time, this line would never help a guy get a date ever. If a woman said yes to this, then she’s definitely not the kind of girl that a guy wants to be taking on a date because–and I speak the truth in love here–something’s just not right there.
But at one point in time, someone in history thought that this was a good line. That someone was not a part of our culture. They belong to another culture–and their crazy brand of hot talk made it into the Bible. To try and understand what is meant by that line and the rest of Song of Solomon, we have to do our best to understand that world.
That goes for the other holy books. We can’t understand the rest of the Bible when we isolate it from the context in which it was written. (We also can’t understand it without the help of the Holy Spirit and the church, but back to the post.)
A lot of people already know this; a good number of people want to ignore it because that means the Bible won’t say what they want it to. But it is a crucial concept–and we have a lame pick-up line to thank for reminding us of it.