Historical Method

There is a tremendous value in devotionalizing on the contents of the Word, but many passages will
have little or no meaning for the believer unless he or she seeks to understand their historical context and
importance.

The student may follow four general points when considering a book:

1. Setting of the book—its place in the life of the writer or the history of the people. If the book is
one of Paul’s Letters, we should ask where it fits into Paul’s life and ministry. On what
missionary journey was it written? Did he ever visit the church? If so, how many times? If a
book under consideration was written by some other known author, where does it fit into his life
and ministry? If the name of the author is not known, where does the book fit into the history of
the nation of Israel and the nations surrounding it?

2. Historical narrative represented in the book. When the book being studied is a Letter of Paul
that deals with a specific church, several times need to be developed: the account of the
founding of the church; its composition—whether Jew or Gentile; the place of meeting; special
problems facing the church; and the historical events which occasioned this particular letter. In
other books, the historical and chronological content or plan of the book might be detailed at
this point.

3. Historical importance of the book. We are interested now in the importance of the book in
history. What special doctrinal contributions does it make to the Hebrew-Christian tradition? If
it is a New Testament work, how close to the origin of the Christian Church was it written?
What is the history of the book in the Church?

4. Textual evidences and inferences of what life was like at the time and in the area comprehended
by the book. What does the text intimate concerning the nature of the life of the people referred
to in this book? What can be learned in this regard from other sources?

The plan for developing an historical event is quite different from that just outlined.

1. Survey the event; discover the general movement of the event; characterize the persons
involved; not the amount of time consumed.

2. Place the event in the book as a whole. Why is it where it is? What does it contribute to the
progress of the book as a whole?

3. Place the event chronologically in the life of individual or nation.

4. What caused the event or what led up to it?

5. What were the effects of it to persons involved, to posterity, to the history of the nation,
movement, town, or area, and in the doctrinal or ideological development of the Hebrew-
Christian tradition?

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