What I mean by remote idea is words or phrases in the Bible text that are talking about things that aren’t part of our culture any more. In other words, you don’t know the meaning of words because of historical and cultural differences between our world and the world of the Bible.
“Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Mat 3:12)
This statement by John the Baptist creates some strange mental images if you’re not familiar with the activities he was referring to. The word wheat might give you a hint of what John is talking about. It seems like it has something to do with harvesting grain. It would be helpful, though, to get a little more information. The New Manners & Customs of Bible Times offers this explanation under the topic winnowing:
“In the evening, when the breeze developed, the separated grain and straw was gathered into a pile in the center of the threshing floor for winnowing. For this the farmer used a five-pronged fork called a winnowing fan and a spade that was called a winnowing shovel. The fork was first used by putting it into the pile and throwing the mixture of grain and straw into the air. The heavier grain fell back, while the straw was blown away by the wind. When the remainder was too small to be picked up by the fork, the shovel was used for the same purpose. If there was no wind it was possible, while winnowing small quantities, to create wind by wafting a piece of matting. The chaff was gathered up and used to fire the domestic stoves; the straw was collected for the animals.” (p. 101)
Understanding how grain was harvested in Bible times helps you understand what John was saying about the Lord Jesus.
“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” (Gal 3:24-25)
When you read this passage, you probably get the general idea that the purpose of the Old Testament Law was to point us to Jesus Christ. That’s true. Getting a little background on who the schoolmaster was and what he did makes the picture even more vivid.
“G3807 pahee-dag-o-gos’ = a boy leader, that is, a servant whose office it was to take the children to school; (by implication [figuratively] a tutor [“paedagogue”]) (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries)”
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (available in eSword) gives the following background information:
“This paidagogos was not a teacher but a slave, to whom in wealthy families the general oversight of a boy was committed. It was his duty to accompany his charge to and from school, never to lose sight of him in public, to prevent association with objectionable companions, to inculcate moral lessons at every opportunity, etc.”
Sources of Cultural and Historical Background
There are many resources you can use to find background information for your Bible reading. A good study Bible will offer historical and cultural insights, and so will a good Bible commentary. Here are some of the Bible commentaries and dictionaries eSword offers:
- Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)
- Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible
- John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
- Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
- A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown
- Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
- Easton’s Bible Dictionary
- Fausset’s Bible Dictionary
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
- Smith’s Bible Dictionary
A good Bible dictionary is an essential resource for every Bible student. Here are two that I use:
Read more about it
Read Mat 25:1-13 and then research the wedding customs of that period. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) available for eSword is a good starting place. (The ISBE is also available online at Searching God’s Word.) Smith’s, Easton’s and the various commentaries also offer additional insights about marriage practices in the Bible.