Q&A: The Importance of the Original Context

The Importance of the Original Context

Why is it important to understand the historical setting of the book of Revelation?

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Answer

It's important to understand the historical setting in which each book of the Bible was written, as far as we can determine that setting, for several reasons. One is that it helps us really see the Bible as a real document, written to real people, in real circumstances, not simply written and tucked away, and sealed for another day, but actually written to living, breathing people who struggled with the same kinds of issues we do. And when we can understand their circumstances, we can see a more direct line of application, sometimes, to our own lives. That's part of it. Another reason is we're able to discern the applications for those original readers. For example, the book of Revelation was written to people struggling under, sometimes, what was perceived as a chaotic world, where maybe God wasn't in control. Or a world in which the authorities, or people in general, were hostile to their faith. And so, they had real questions about, could they persevere in this kind of world? Was God in charge? And if he was, was he working for their good? And so, as an example, the book of Revelation, we see what those early Christians received from it, if we look at the historical situation instead of simply looking past it to our time. And finally, an important reason why we want to look at the historical setting is because the human authors of Scripture, as they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they used the language, they used the literary forms, and they also, at times, used historical reference, so that, if we understand those things we tend to read them in their original context, rather than try to force them into our context. So, we can understand how biblical writers used poetry or used imagery on their terms, rather than forcing them to do it on our terms.

Answer by Rev. Michael J. Glodo

Rev. Michael J. Glodo is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.