Posted by: chuckbumgardner | July 11, 2011

A Capsulized Perspective on the Cultural World of the NT

“Almost two thousand years separate us from the writings of the New Testament.  One need not read much of the biblical text for that distance to become apparent.  Medicine was primitive, infant mortality was common, and physical ailments were sometimes attributed to evil spirits.  Roman rule was sometimes brutal.  Democracy at best was a Greek institution of centuries past, only traces of which existed during the Roman Republic, and human rights as a concept lay a millennium and a half in the future.  The economy was chiefly agricultural, slavery was a given, and lifestyles were modest for the vast majority of people.  Transportation was slow; mail service was limited to official correspondence.  Religious traditions were often polytheistic, and deities were frequently conceived in anthropomorphic terms.  Animal sacrifices were commonplace.”

“The ancient Mediterranean world differed markedly from the modern Western world in its cultural assumptions.  Novelty was viewed with suspicion rather than favor, and old ways were assumed to be superior to innovation.  Religion and politics were thoroughly intertwined rather than kept separate from one another.  Political decisions were seldom made without first seeking divine guidance by auspices and omens.  Our modern practice of beginning sessions of Congress with prayer pales by comparison to the intermingling of religion and politics in the Roman Empire.  In contrast to modern American misgivings, people in antiquity generally would have had scriples about not mixing the two.  Finally, both households and society at large were hierarchically structured and patriarchal.  The modern Western world, of course, has unfinished business in this regard, but in the first-century Mediterranean world this assumption was commonplace, and there were few voices of protest against it.”

N. Clayton Croy, “Preface” in Prima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation (Baker, 2011).


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