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Day 5: Historical Context

 

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Learn to Study the Bible with Logos: Part 1

Day 5: Explore the Historical Context of the Event: Geography and Time

Step 5: Explore the Passage’s Historical and Cultural Context

We’ve looked at the literary and intertextual context of Matthew 4. We’ll now turn our attention to the historical context. After that, we’ll move on to the cultural context.

The historical context of a passage is its chronological and geographical setting. Where did it take place? When did it take place?

In his Logos Mobile Ed course, Learn to Study the Bible, Darrell Bock explains that there are two types of historical context: “There’s the historical context—the setting of the book and the setting of the event that’s being depicted, and those aren’t the same things. A book is written after the event to talk about something that happened earlier, so when you’re dealing with historical context, you’re actually dealing with two things simultaneously: the historical context of the event that’s being described—or perhaps you’re in poetry or something like that, the setting into which the praise or the hymn falls—and the time of the book that’s being written, and where this piece falls in the literary sequence of the book.”

For example, the historical events that Matthew writes about are separated in time from the historical situation of Matthew and his audience when he wrote. The difference is even greater between the events of Genesis and historical situation of its writer, Moses.

Today, we’ll look at the historical context of the actual event. Tomorrow, we’ll go on to the historical context of the book.

We’ll start with the geography.

Atlas

The Passage Guide should already be open from when we typed the reference in the Go box. If it isn’t, we can use the Guides menu to open up a new Passage Guide. Let’s find the Atlas section. When we click on the map’s thumbnail, Logos opens the Atlas tool. We can also access the Atlas through the Tools menu.

With the Atlas tool we can view a broad map of the biblical world at different times in history, and detailed maps of specific events, like the account we are studying. We can find maps with the search box in the upper left-hand side of the Atlas. We can even search based on Scripture reference and people. If we want to measure the distance between two different locations, we can hold the Control button (Command button on a Mac), click the mouse, and drag it between locations. For example, we can find how far Jerusalem is from Nazareth.

In the upper left-hand side of the map, we can open an information pane that shows us the map’s legend. The orange line represents the route Jesus took from Nazareth to be baptized by John. The green line represents the probable place in which He was tempted. There are even links to a Factbook report on the Pinnacle and Herod’s Temple. We can export this map to our presentation software by opening the panel menu and even click on a link that shows us a modern map of the area.

Biblical Event Navigator

The map’s legend also includes links to related events. When we click on “Satan tempts Jesus in the desert,” Logos opens a Factbook report on this event. We’ll expand the Events section and click “Open Biblical Event Navigator.” This interactive shows Biblical events arranged in chronological order.

The first thing we notice is that the event we are studying occurs at the “Beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.” When we click on “Jesus’ ministry begins,” we see additional events in the timeline. We see that Jesus’ temptation occurs right after He was baptized. John proclaims Him to be the Messiah and God the Father declares Him to be His beloved Son.

Many scholars argue that this order of events is significant because these events in Jesus’ early ministry mirror the events in Israel’s early history. Jesus’ return from Egypt mirrored God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Jesus’ baptism is associated with Israel’s passage through the sea in the Exodus and His temptation in the wilderness is connected to Israel’s wilderness wanderings. The fact that the three passages of Scripture that Jesus quotes are from Deuteronomy adds to the connection. The events after the temptation are also significant. After being tested in the wilderness, Jesus crosses back over the Jordan just as Joshua and the Israelites did before conquering the promised land. Matthew makes a point of mentioning the Jordan in verses 15 and 16 by quoting Isaiah Isaiah 9:1–2. Jesus then calls the twelve disciples—a further connection to the twelve tribes of Israel.

In his excellent commentary in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series, R. T. France states, “Now another ‘Son of God’ is in the wilderness, this time for forty days rather than forty years, as a preparation for entering his divine calling…. Israel’s occupation of the promised land was at best a flawed fulfillment of the hopes with which they came to the Jordan, but now this new ‘Son of God’ will not fail and the new Exodus will succeed…. It is probably also significant that the passage of Deuteronomy from which Jesus’ responses are drawn begins with the Shema; … it is precisely that total commitment to God that this wilderness experience is designed to test.”

In Jesus’ temptation, we find God’s beloved Son passing the test that Israel, whom God called His son in Deuteronomy 14:1 and Matthew 2:15, did not pass. Jesus then crosses the Jordan bringing light into a land of darkness. Let’s add these thoughts to our notes.

We’ve again moved from what the passage says, observation, to what the passage means, interpretation. We don’t want to make this a habit in our own Bible study, but because we may not get back to these concepts, we’ll do a little interpreting early in this course.

The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments that we referenced earlier is one of the best modern commentaries ever produced. If you are looking for a comprehensive, contemporary, and accessible commentary on the whole Bible, you should definitely consider this resource.

As you continue to observe the text, take particular note of the places and things Matthew mentions. For example, what is the “pinnacle of the Temple”? Which Jewish temple is Jesus at? Solomon’s Temple? Zerubbabel's Temple? Ezekiel’s Temple? Herod’s Temple? A good study Bible, Bible dictionary, or commentary can help you answer these questions.

Assignments

You are doing great and you are halfway through the course. Here are your assignments:

  • Use the Atlas tool and the Biblical Event Navigator to research the places and events directly preceding and following the temptation narrative and record your insights in the Note file
  • Use the Biblical Event Navigator to look at the events early in Israel’s history, compare them to the events in Jesus’ life, and record any further similarities in your Note file

Tomorrow we’ll observe a couple of specific elements related to the historical context of Jesus’ temptation. See you then!