Considering Culture (I)

Introduction

Many Bible passage talk about activities and attitudes that the first readers of Scripture knew well. As time passed and cultures changed, that everybody knows language has become murky to us. Today we’ll consider how you can beat the culture gap and understand the Bible better.

The tools that we talked about yesterday will help you bridge the culture gap – you just have to use them.

Example

Let’s take a look at the concept of redemption mentioned in Colossians 1.

“In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:” (Col 1:14)

If you asked me before I got saved what redemption was, I couldn’t have told you. I can only remember hearing the word two times. My mom used to save S&H Green Stamps. When she got enough of them, she would redeem them for a toaster, a blender, or something like that. The only other time I heard the word was in the phrase no redeeming social value. That meant that the thing being talked about didn’t do help people. Neither of those uses of the word helped me when I came across the word in the Bible.

One important principle of Bible study is to figure out what the writing would have meant to the original audience. Let’s do that by looking into the historical and cultural background of redemption. If you start with the commentaries and dictionaries, you’ll find this sort of information:

  • “The purchase back of something that had been lost, by the payment of a ransom.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)
  • “Redemption referred to the release of a slave or captive upon receipt of ransom.” (KJV Study Bible)
  • “Redemption describes the act whereby we were bought from the slave market of sin.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary)

These are correct definitions, but where did they come up with this idea. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives a little more insight about the background of redemption.

“The idea of redemption in the Old Testament takes its start from the thought of property (Lev 25:26; Rth 4:4 ff). Money is paid according to law to buy back something which must be delivered or rescued (Num 3:51; Neh 5:8). From this start the word “redemption” throughout the Old Testament is used in the general sense of deliverance.”

The concept of deliverance is central to one of the earliest uses of redeem in the Scriptures:

“Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments:” (Exo 6:6)

Redemption also involved the idea of paying a price to buy back that which was lost.

“If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.” (Lev 25:25)

As you search the Scriptures, you’ll also find that the word translated redemption is also translated kinsman. A person could be redeemed by was a near relative. So one aspect of redemption was the relationship of the redeemer to the one redeemed.

“And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I.” (Rth 3:12)

Over time, the word redeem began to be applied more to spiritual deliverance.

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;” (Psa 103:2-4)

Redemption also included the idea of a transfer of ownership. The redeemer became the owner of that which was redeemed.

“But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” (Isa 43:1)

Spiritually speaking, redemption involved forgiveness of and deliverance from sin:

“I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.” (Isa 44:22)

The New Testament, Christ is revealed as the One who redeemed us from the law’s penalty, and from our sins by purchasing us with His own blood.

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:” (Gal 3:13)

“Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Tit 2:14)

“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:? (1Pe 1:18-19)

As you study the Scriptures and other reference works, you get a clearer idea of what would have come to the mind of the original audience when then read Colossians 1:14.

Read More About It

On your own, study the next verse of Colossians 1.

“Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:” (Col 1:15)

Jehovah’s Witnesses have told me that this verse means that Jesus was the first being Jehovah created. Of course, if Jesus was created, then He is not eternal. And if He is not eternal, He is not divine. Are they right? Was there a time when God the Son did not exist? Is He a creature, or the Creator? To answer these question, use the tools we have mentioned to research the meaning of firstborn in the Old Testament.

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