Ok, up to this point we have only used the Bible. We have not looked in any Bible commentaries or Bible Dictionaries. Now we want to go to these resources to find out what was going on when the text was written and why the text was written.
To understand the history of the text, we need to answer three questions as completely as possible. The first of these questions is: Who is writing the Text? The second question is: Who is reading the text? The final question is, Why was the text written?
Who is writing the Text?
The first question we must ask is who is the writer of the text? I want to know as much about the writer as possible. If the letter is Romans, then I want to know about the Apostle Paul. When did he live? What happened in his life? What are the important things to him? What are the themes that he emphasizes? What is his relation to the people who are reading the text? You want to look in the Bible, Bible Dictionaries, Commentaries, and other books for anything that will help you learn about the Apostle Paul. Always ask yourself, how does knowing some fact help me understand the text under consideration?
Who is reading the Text?
Now we need to ask many of those same questions about the original hearers of the text. Go ahead and pull out your Study bible, Bible Dictionary, and other books to find out as much information as you can about the hearers. What were their concerns? How were they related to other Christians? How were they related to other religions? and again, you want to ask yourself how does knowing these things help me understand the text?
Why is the Author writing the Text?
Finally, you want to find out why the text was written? In these letters of Paul, often it is in the text. In addition some of the same tools like a good Bible dictionary will help you here as well. You want to understand what was going on in the church, or in the community or in the world that brought forth this text.
Answering these three questions will help you get a decent handle on the history of the text. Now you want to go back to your observations and update them according to what you have found in this step.
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