Understanding New Testament Context

Why is knowing the cultural, and historical background of the New Testament important for our understanding its message?   To understand the cultural, and historical background of the New Testament, is to understand the context of Jesus, God’s redemption plan for the world.  As stated by J. Scott Duvall, and J. Daniel Hay in “Journey Into God’s Word:”

There is a covenant barrier between the Old Testament audience and us because we are under different covenants.  Thus, the river between the Old Testament text and us consists not only of culture, language, situation and time, but also of covenant.”[1]

The New Testament was composed during a period of time, known as the “second temple era (515 BC – AD70 [+]).”  It documents the life, and death of Jesus, which represents that change in covenants in the first century AD.

JESUS OF NAZARETH -- Pictured: Robert Powell as Jesus -- Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo BankThese new covenant documents fit theologically, culturally, historically, and politically, within second temple Judaism; however, the writers give no introduction to, or background for important characters like the Pharacies, and Sadducees, who were in constant conflict with Jesus, because they assumed the readers already had an intimate knowledge of the Judaic movements at the time.

Movements like the Pharacies, and Sadducees, who originated during the Maccabean period (166-63 BC), were living under the old covenant, and were used (in part) by the New Testament writers, to show why the new covenant of grace was replacing the old covenant of law.

It is surpassingly important to interpret the New Testament (new covenant) message clearly today.  In order to do that, we must look back into second temple literature, and grasp the theology of the Pharacies, Sadducees, Zealots (and other groups of Judaism), as well as the traditions of second temple Judaism, the conflicts between the Jews and their captors, the purpose of these movements, and their motives in the context of the original author and readers.

By connecting God’s word to God’s world, we are better equipped to preach God’s plan of redemption, as it was intended to be preached, throughout time.

[1].  J. Scott Duvall, J. Daniel Hay, “Journey Into God’s Word” (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, 2008), Ch 1.

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