Study of Biblical History
By: Brian Marston
Studying history is important because it allows you to understand our past, which in turn, allows you to understand your present. Studying history can provide you with insight into your cultures of origin, as well as cultures with which you might be less familiar, thereby increasing cross-cultural awareness and understanding.
The same holds true for studying the Bible. When we pick up our Bibles to read the stories and teachings, we are reaching back 2,000 to 7,000 years ago to literally the other side of the world. To come away with complete understanding, we must become historians of the biblical culture, the people, the celebrations, the relationships, the agriculture, the traditions, and the surrounding cultures. We also may discover why the Hebrews fell into the traditions and worship styles of the surrounding “pagan” people groups.
Proper exegetical work in the Bible always looks at the author’s intended meaning, and it always looks at the context of not only the author, but also the original readers. To do that, let’s examine Genesis 1:26-27, and think about this really big concept from Scripture that is very important and fundamental to what God was doing—and is doing:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
We read these verses without much pause in most cases. But think about these phrases “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness … So, God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them.”
These phrases tell us that each and every one of us have a divine makeup. We are created in the image and likeness of our almighty, holy, wonderful, gracious God. If that doesn’t cause you to pause and take a breath, I don’t know what will.
This was so important because all of the other surrounding cultures had a pantheon of gods who had multiple heads, or eyes all the way around their bodies, or dog heads, or snake tails, or wings like eagles, or wore the sun on their heads. These gods would use human beings as their play things. They were gods that needed to be appeased and used humans for their amusement.
Until Moses began writing out the oral traditions of the Hebrew ancestors in this point in history, gods were fickle and finicky, and you never knew where you stood in appeasing them. But the Lord God, “ … created mankind in his image, in his likeness …” His intent was much different than the other gods. He has created mankind with divinity and eternity in mind.
This powerful concept—if it is truly believed and actually lived out—changes everything! It changes how we interact with people and go about our daily lives.
Yet we do forget that we are made in the image and likeness of God, don’t we? We don’t realize that we were divinely crafted for divine purpose. We don’t live out the truth that we are created in the image and likeness of our holy God.
So, what do you do? You study history. You study the biblical text, and you study the historical context that you find within the people, the celebrations, the traditions, and what the authors originally wrote and why—and you’ll discover the reasons why God would want an ordinary, average person like you to be his ambassador for the Gospel. You read about the shepherd boy who became king; prostitutes who became written into his lineage; fishermen who became apostles and leaders of the first church. You read about the murderer who became the greatest Christian missionary evangelist the world has ever seen.
You are divinely created for divine purpose because God made you—and everyone else—in His image! His living Word is poetry, history, teachings, legal documents, parables, psalms, and prophecy. All of which points to a life that is different than what the world would have us believe and live.
As you study history and the biblical text, you will see that those who did not believe in their divine purpose enough to live out the commands of their Creator, suffered the consequences of a life away from God. However, those who embraced their divine purpose—and lived as if they were created in the image and likeness of God—walked in grace and peace that far surpassed any earthy wealth or privilege. With that in mind, I ask you this, young historians: What side of history do you want to live on?
Brian Marston is a Pastor here on staff at Shepherd Church with the Life Groups Team.