“Yes, my students, Solomon just told his beloved that her hair is like a flock of goats. Guys, do likewise. If you tell your dates that their hair has goat-like attributes, then not only will you be speaking Scripture to them, you will also most certainly be protecting your purity.” It was at this moment that a 16 years-old student we will call “James” finally looked up from his phone. He had been to our Bible study several times; brought against his will by his parents. However, in that moment he actually laughed during Bible study. From that moment through the end of the session, James was riveted by the Bible – something especially significant given that James was a militant atheist.
Speaking to me afterward, he shared with me that he had come to our sessions convinced that we would circumvent the dark or awkward portions of Scripture. He thought that all Christians cherry picked from the Bible. To be a part of a session in which the group “leaned into” the innately awkward portion of a Scripture passage instead of avoiding it intrigued him. Once we had a laugh, we were able to look into the cultural implications of Solomon’s statement. Then, what we see as bizarre in our context was illuminated to be something quite endearing in Solomon’s context. It was the implications of this moment that piqued James’ interest. What other portions of Scripture had he misunderstood because of their foreign context? Had he actually been the one cherry picking Scripture? The Holy Spirit was working on his heart by shedding light on Scripture for him.
The times I laugh with my listeners and fellow Bible students are some of the most memorable for us. As a result, these laughing moments serve as mnemonic devices that help us recall what we studied together. I am not a very funny guy on my own, but I have seen crowds laugh heartily when we run head-long into the more awkward portions of Scripture; passages that must be interpreted in light of their cultural nuance. Adults and teenagers alike are engaged when they immersed through storytelling in a word-picture journey through the events of a given Scripture passage. Brushing such difficult passages to the side, or conspicuously skipping them can breed distrust, but fearlessly laying them bare and working through them can turn the hearts of Bible critics and produce a few laughs along the way. “Yes, Boaz and the other family redeemer just traded sandals. However, you must remember that the study of microbiology did not yet exist and that our handshake would have seemed just as strange to them!”
Teach context fearlessly. Do not avoid or neglect it, but engage your people with it. This will protect you from accidentally teaching false doctrine as your research into the original historical-cultural context helps you to align your teaching of the Scripture with the inspired earthly author’s original intent. It will also help you to earn the respect of those under your teaching.
Describe the context in creative ways. Become a raconteur – one who tells stories well. If you tell the story of the Scripture’s context, it will keep that part of the session from becoming a barrage of data and factoids. Once you accurately understand the world of the original earthly recipients of your session’s Scripture, you can immerse your people in that world through stories that clarify your passage’s context.
Bring pieces of the context back as you close with application. This provides a sense of cohesion to your session. If you open with Scripture’s context and you close with a practical challenge that draws upon that same context, you will likely be applying the Scripture properly and you will be further clarifying the historical-cultural context. “In the same way that Peter followed God’s call to share the gospel across the cultural gulf that separated him from Gentiles, we have been commissioned to make disciples of all nations.”
So, lean into the sharing of the Bible’s context. It was the most engaging part of that session for James and he has been drawn in ever since. Thank you for what you do for churches. God bless you and your ministry. Please, pray for all of the students like James; that they would be drawn by the Holy Spirit and convinced by the historicity of Scripture. We are praying for you!
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