Learning to 'mind the gap'

A couple of weeks ago I was blessed to have been invited to teach a Sunday School class on New Testament history and in the process of preparing the material I was constantly confronted with the nagging question of why would we need spend time and energy bridging the historical and cultural gaps between the modern world and the world of the New Testament era?

As of now I am still struggling with this question and below are some insights that I shared while giving the introduction to the lesson, to which I think the phrase: ‘mind the gap’ fittingly exemplifies.

Let me start with posing a question?

Do you believe the Christianity that we have now is the same as the Christianity that existed during the time of the Apostles?

Obviously the answer would be a resounding: "no!"

Of course if we'd look at our church now we'd see ourselves in a far different setting we are in the Philippines, we are worshiping in a church building and are reaping the benefits of modern technology. On the other hand, the earliest Christians are living in Judea and are gathering in houses speaking a different language (probably Aramaic or Greek Koine) and are within their own cultural contexts.

The reason I asked this is because realizing this difference is the start of understanding the New Testament in light of history. Because we are 'people' that are 'situated' somewhere (in time & space) and that we are products of our own environmental, social, economic and cultural contexts.

It is important to take note of this if we are to study New Testament history, because much of what we know and understand now about our faith and more importantly our Scriptures (which we understand as the inspired Word of God) are actually products of its own historical existence. A study of its historical milieu then is an attempt at reconstructing the world that exists during the formation of the New Testament.

This session is by no means extensive in its take on the historical setting of the New Testament. But the intent here for all of us is to  be able to situate the external factors that have informed and influenced the formation of the New Testament writings that we so often read and study at church and in the privacy of our homes and workplaces.

For sure there is a gap that exists between our socio-cultural context and the socio-cultural context reflected in the New Testament. As readers and followers of the Bible we are called to a respectful reading of it. Because the Scriptures’ meaning is always predicated on contextual  assumptions shared between author and original recipients. Also the communicative intention of the author can be discerned only in light of the text’s background conceptual assumptions.

Ultimately we are also doing this is because we believe that we are the continuation of the first community of believers who have gathered around this belief in this risen Christ and therefore understanding this belief in light of history is like going to a grand reunion where we learn about the origins of our faith and community which would hopefully help us find connections with how they lived alongside the forces at work in their society to our present struggles as Christians which would prayerfully inform our decisions that would help us live and witness consistently to this faith that we proclaim in Christ.

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