The Environment of the New Testament Era

The cognitive and exegetical environment of the 2nd Temple/New Testament era is far more diverse and far different than most biblical readers understand. Relative to the expectations and assumptions of modern readers, the various New Testament authors often utilized creative readings, and even at times deliberate alteration of the text in order to support their current rhetoric.

Imagine your favorite pastor/teacher/priest using a biblical text to make a point, yet you discover they intentionally altered a reading or even the very words used in order to support what they’re sharing. You probably wouldn’t be very happy about it, especially if you’re the type of person who pays attention to how we use the bible in such contexts. What may be shocking to us, however, is discovering that Jesus and Paul both actually handle scripture like this, and they’re not alone. It happens in Matthew’s gospel. It happens in Luke’s gospel. It happens in Acts. It happens in Romans.

The key to understanding this behavior is coming to terms with how radically Jewish the New Testament is, and how widespread 2nd Temple hermeneutics had become by the time the New Testament was written. The hermeneutics commonly used in that era would make a freshman seminary student faint, yet it was common practice at the time – the methods are driven by understanding how the text relates to the concrete world around them and how present circumstances may be understood as the recapitulation of established biblical patterns. Concrete is a key concept, as to them, the text does not serve merely as a backdrop for the kind of abstract systematic theology that drives Western textual interaction and interpretation.

The goal of discovering this phenomenon is not to undermine the biblical text, but rather to further understand that our unspoken assumptions and privileged epistemology often do not line up with it. In the future, I hope to dive deeper into individual texts to draw out further details.

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