The Grace Commentary will focus heavily on providing historical and cultural background studies for each book of the Bible. It is my conviction that these studies not only help bring the Bible to life, but are more important than word studies, grammatical analysis, or other types of research that can be performed on any particular text.
Some may wonder why cultural and background studies are important or necessary for understanding the Bible. They want to know why they can’t just “read the Bible for what it says.” The answer is that you can “read the Bible for what it says,” but only if you understand what it says. And cultural and background studies help us understand what the text says. If you don’t know the culture, then you won’t know the way people thought back then, and if you don’t know the way they thought, you won’t know the meanings of the words they used, and if you don’t know the meaning of the words, you can’t just “read the Bible for what it says.”
I recently found an illustration in Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh’s Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels which helped me explain this in a way that makes more sense (p. 9). They write that when we in the United States read about a “Big Mac” we don’t need someone to tell us that it is “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun” (remember the old Big Mac commercial?). We know what a Big Mac is and we don’t need someone to unpack it for us.
But suppose I wrote a letter to you, and in it, I mentioned how much I love Big Macs.
Now suppose that my letter gets miraculously preserved for 2000 years until a future archeologist discovers it. Upon translating the letter, the archeologist decides he wants to research what these “Big Macs” were that I loved so much. So he does some investigation, and immediately discovers that some people in 21st Century America are called “Mac.” So he decides that “Big Macs” are guys named Mac who are really large, and in my letter, I express my special affinity for them. He publishes his findings in a leading archaeological journal of his day.
Another scholar comes along, who has a degree in computer science, and he remembers reading something somewhere about “Mac” computers during the 20th and 21st centuries. He goes back and finds his notes and discovers that there were little Macs, called MacBooks which could be carried around, and other, bigger Macs which sat on a desk. He decides the bigger macs must be “Big Macs” and publishes his findings. He is invited to speak at the TED Conference in the year 4014.