Archive for November 5th, 2009

ZIBBCOTIt was with great anticipation that I opened a package that appeared on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago – an advance copy of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Volume 1 (Genesis – Deuteronomy) – which is part of the complete Old Testament Set released this past Monday. You see, my good buddy, Christian Penrod, had pointed me to an opportunity to get a copy of one of Zondervan’s OT Bible Backgrounds Commentaries to review – and, in all honesty, I don’t know that I was all that excited.

I’ve been let down by a number of Bible commentaries over the years – particularly OT commentaries – which, at best, acknowledge that Abraham and his descendents fit within the culture of their geography, and at worst, pretended the Hebrew culture was wholly unique, enlightened and only negatively impacted by “foreign” cultures. The truth of the matter is – as many of you, my frequent readers know – the Hebrew people, from Abraham through Jesus and his followers, were culturally influenced – and cultural influencers – with their own “pop culture” references that take more than a literalist hermeneutic to crack.

The Hermeneutic is Key

Many lay Christians have a hard time going beyond a literal hermeneutic, primarily because they know of no other method, and – in essence – end up using an a-historical-grammatical method – in essence, filling in the cultural “gaps” (i.e. reading between the lines) with modern cultural references and meanings, based upon the grammer used in their chosen translation.

In contrast, most well-read preachers/teachers, tend to use some form of historical-grammatical method, in which they try to examine the original meaning of the text – as first heard and taught – and then apply the principles at hand to the modern culture of their listeners. However, the historical context used often stops when the immediate boundary of the Hebrew/Christian culture at hand – or when a systematic theology developed centuries (or millenia) later conflicts with the culturally relevant meaning.

Examining the wider culture in which the Hebrews and/or Christians lived, though, is often ignored. One key reason tends to be that liberal scholars have tried to use such comparative studies, which show similarities in cultural beliefs/practices, to discredit Christianity as a shadow, or amalgam, of other contemporary beliefs.

This does not need to be the case. In fact, it should not be.

What Zondervan has done with its ZIBBCOT series it to take a highly respectful study of the cultures and events surrounding the people of the Bible, and compared them, verse-by-verse, with the experience of the Hebrews and Christians. In addressing their methodology, General Editor John H. Walton states:

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I am reading So Beautiful by Leonard Sweet and came across this gem on page 85:

There are many features in my ministry that get me in trouble with certain segments of the Christian community, but perhaps the biggest of them all and the one I least understand is the way I am deemed guilty by association because I quote certain people. I admit it: I quote anyone. I quote the good, the bad, and the ugly… especially the bad and the ugly. I get this from John Wesley, who enjoyed everybody he met and believed he had something to learn from everybody. I begin every day with the assumption that everyone I meet has something to teach me. I begin every day with the assumption that the most important people in my life I haven’t met yet.

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