How to read the Bible in context

It is necessary to understand a little the context in which the biblical text was written

The purpose of this article is to better understand a golden rule of literature, whatever it may be: to read the text within its context. This means seeing it also as a product of different people and different times.

We are often discouraged by certain biblical texts because we are unable to understand them. Who has never read a Bible passage and learned almost nothing of what was written there? Who has never encountered concepts that are too complicated and too far from what we understand and live today?

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This is because each of the books of Sacred Scripture is part of a broader context, whose texts were written at a time very distant from ours. In this way, reading becomes a little more complex and, often, incomprehensible, due to a temporal, linguistic and cultural distance between the writing of the biblical text and the reading and interpretation that we do today.

The best way to read

And that is why we call attention to the need for a more careful and not so fast and superficial reading, so that a misinterpreted and risky interpretation does not occur. Because it is natural to understand what we read from concepts and the idea we have of the modern world in which we live, forgetting that the Bible is formed by ancient texts, built in a different world from ours.

In this way, we need to seek as much information about the text as we are going to study. Everything that surrounds it, especially the period in which it was written and the historical context that influences it. The more information we have about it [text], the more we can be guided by the literary rule mentioned at the beginning of this article: read the text in context.

But how can we know more about the time when the biblical texts were composed and under what conditions did this process of writing the text we are going to read take place?

Is easy. We only need to consult our own Bibles, as they provide us with this information. We need to check the introductions presented before each biblical book. This is the case, for example, in Bible translations, such as the version of the TEB, the Jerusalem Bible and the Pilgrim. Or, as in the translation of the Ave-Maria Bible, which immediately opens a commentary on each of the biblical books.

These introductions are very important, as they give us precious information about the book we are going to read, which are very useful and practical information about the period of composition of the text, about the historical context in which this writing took place, to which group this text it was first directed, who wrote it, among others.

If we have access to reliable sources that can, in the same way and perhaps more completely, provide us with this information, we can and should use it, because, as we said earlier, the more information we have in the text, the greater our security of that we will read it in context, avoiding mistakes and mistakes. But, remember: it is important that we know well this secondary literature used so as not to consult a bibliography that may lead us to error.

The danger of information over the internet

A warning to those who use the internet: be very careful when searching for this information in this virtual space. I have nothing against the world wide web; quite the contrary, I am a user and I see it as a facilitator of everyday life. But, unfortunately, when it comes to Bible studies, the vast majority of things I find in it have many errors or are linked to another doctrine other than Catholic.

Another resource presented by the Bibles, which in addition to helping us understand the texts, also provides us with important information about the content of what we read are the footnotes. These observations are very valuable because they are explanatory and through them questions related to language, geography, culture are clarified, among many other things that facilitate our understanding of them. Many ignore them, precisely because they are small, it is sometimes difficult to see them, but they are there to help the text become more accessible to us, who are distantly temporal, culturally and linguistically from biblical texts.

Finally, it is necessary to make use of these resources present in our Bibles, as well as introductions in books and footnotes. These features are, in a way, part of the reading and we cannot ignore them. The Church, and our translators, know the distances between us and the text and, consequently, are aware of the risk of reading out of context. That is, information present in the Bible itself, even if it is not the biblical text itself, is not only important, but necessary for an unambiguous reading of the Word of God and that truly allows our encounter with the sacred.


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