The Bible is God’s word to His people in all times and places. I want to affirm that wholeheartedly. However, by understanding more clearly who the Bible was written to, we can read and interpret it more accurately.
The Bible was not written to you. Yes it is God’s word for the Church today, but we are not the original audience. Because of God’s sovereignty and the clear inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the writing and preservation of Scripture, we can be assured that we are included in the intended audience by God. But we are not the original audience. Moreover, the human authors of Scripture were writing to a specific people who were not us.
Written in a time and place
Just like any piece of writing, the time and place in which each book of the Bible was written influences the way it was written. The Bible has several books that are considered histories, but they are not written like modern histories because the norms and expectations for histories are different in Biblical times. The Bible was written in languages other than English, so when we read our thin-line editions, we have to remember that we are reading translations. While the translators have worked hard to stay true to the meaning of the original text, we must approach even our favorite translation with humility, seeking to further illuminate it by other translations.
Written to People Different than Ourselves
The Bible was written to an audience very different from ourselves. Because the original readers of the text had a culture and a body of background knowledge that differ vastly from the one we bring to the text, they would have understood things that we miss entirely. In order to read the Bible well, we must work hard to understand what the original audience would have. This means that we must to admit that we have been wrong for a long time. Like any learner we must be more enthusiastic about learning and growing than we are attached to the ideas we’ve already learned, especially when they are challenged by better information and understanding.
Not Written to Individuals
For the most part the Bible was not written to individuals. (Link to community post) It was written to and read by groups of people who interpreted and applied it together. Since the invention of the printing press, the text of the Bible has become more accessible to the average believer. We no longer have to gather together to read scripture because the church owned the only copy in town. We can read it in our homes. While this is good, it can obfuscate scripture. We tend to read it as if it is written to a single person rather than the whole Body of Christ.
For All of God’s People
However, the Bible is also written and preserved for the people in all times and places. This is not just an set of ancient texts that we seek to understand because we find it interesting or gives us insight about humanity in the ancient world. We do not just gain knowledge from scripture. We must obey it. Because of our cultural distance from the original audience, it will take more work for us to understand it, but that cultural distance does not let us off the hook for obeying God as he has revealed himself to us in the scripture. We can rejoice that we have been included in the intended audience by the grace of God. But we must know that this ancient set of texts bears weight on our day to day, moment to moment life today.