Darrell Bock on Why We Need Cultural Scripts to Understand the Gospels

Can we properly interpret the Gospels without cultural scripts? That is, without knowing their historical and cultural background?

Dr. Darrell Bock says no. 

Dr. Bock is the Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He’s a pillar of contemporary evangelical scholarship that students of the Word turn to for theological expertise on topics like Luke-Acts, Jewish studies, and dispensationalism. 

In a recent Author Talk interview with Faithlife’s Mark Ward, Dr. Bock discussed the state of scholarship on the historical Jesus and the importance of Jewish culture and context to understanding and interpreting Scripture.

Here’s a sneak peek from the Author Talk segment chock full of Bock’s theological insight into the Gospels:

[Each of the Gospels] takes on particular angles depending on which Gospel we’re talking about. Matthew probably qualifies as the most Jewishly oriented of the Gospels. Mark is a selective presentation, mostly of the activity of Jesus—there’s actually less teaching in Mark than in the other Gospels. Luke is very concerned with how Jesus relates to a more Hellenistic context—a more Greek context if you will. [Luke] is very concerned with how the bringing together of Jew and gentile . . . was something that was part of the program of God to begin with. . . . And the Gospel of John is a combination of dealing with this Jewish background again but in the context of how Jesus was rejected by Judaism and presented himself very much at the center of what God was doing. . . . 

The Gospels are rooted in cultural scripts. Cultural scripts are things you communicate in shorthand because you share the culture with the audience you are addressing. So you don’t have to say very much. . . . [A cultural script] evokes a world that the author and reader share, and if they share it, then they understand not just what is being said but the backdrop of what is taking place. 

If you want to understand the significance of some of what Jesus said, or even more importantly in many cases, what Jesus did, then having an understanding of these cultural scripts helps you to understand what he’s actually doing and saying and ultimately what he’s meaning by what he’s doing. 

And that is really how the Gospels work. That’s the key to the historical and cultural context to the Gospels that are part of setting [them] in either a Jewish context and/or simultaneously, in a Hellenistic context.

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