Q&A: Ahistorical Interpretation

Ahistorical Interpretation

How do modern interpretors often read prophetic texts ahistorically, in isolation from their historic context?

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Answer

Reading prophetic texts void of their historical context is detrimental to a correct interpretation of the prophets. You would no more do that than you would try to understand me apart, really, from my family — my mom, my dad, my siblings. Of course you can understand me on my own, but whenever you put me in the context — my historical context of the family of origin that I come from — then I begin to make a lot more sense to you. And so, it is very similar with the biblical text. You extract the historical context, and then that text can mean anything to anybody at any time. But the problem with that is that these texts are not ahistorical. They have a target audience, and there is a target time frame in which that audience is addressed. And it could be a prophet to the eighth century, or the seventh century, or the sixth, or the fifth. And in each of those centuries there is something that is going on historically that is critical, and typically it's the people of God who are interacting with another superpower. Whether it be the Assyrians and God's people interacting, whether it be the Babylonians and God's people interacting, there's always a historical context from which the interactions take place. And so, God's prophets are often addressing international political situations and then, also, the situation with Israel. And the two of them collide together. And so, it's imperative, then, that we as modern readers recall and remember that these prophets were not written in a vacuum, but they can hang their hat, as it were, on a very real historical landscape that helps us to really read accurately and understand what they're getting after. Isaiah interacts with Hezekiah — feet-on-the-ground king. And there's all these interactions. Isaiah interacts with Ahaz. These are kings who reigned in the nation, and one king trusts the Lord, one king doesn't, and so Isaiah brings the word of the Lord to both of these individuals. But that word of the Lord to these individuals also has ramifications for the entire nation. So, therefore, you have to read the Prophets very clearly in light of a strong historical context.

Answer by Dr. Donna Petter