The Bible is a timeless treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge about God. Yet, to fully grasp the richness of its message, one must embark on a journey beyond surface-level reading. As the title suggests, context is the key that unlocks the meaning embedded within its pages.

Therefore, in this blog post, we will explore how to study the Bible in context. We will examine the historical, cultural, and literary contexts and how they can enhance our understanding of the Scriptures.

1. Historical Context

The Bible is not a single book but rather, a collection of texts written over thousands of years. Each book reflects the historical circumstances of its time. Therefore, investigating the historical backdrop of a book provides valuable insight for interpreting what it means. As such, when delving into the historical context of a passage, consider asking yourself and answering (as best as you can) the following guiding questions:

  • Who wrote the book? 
  • When was the book written?
  • Who was the book written to and what circumstances were they in?

Let’s take the book of Genesis for example:

  • Who wrote the book? Moses
  • When was the book written? Between 1400 BCE and 400 BCE. 
  • Who was the book written to and what circumstances were they in? The Children of Israel as they were journeying through the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan.

Now that we know this about the Book of Genesis, it will be helpful to ask yourself questions like:

  • What did the Holy Spirit intend to communicate to the Israelites through Moses?
  • How did the Israelites in the wilderness understand this passage, given their circumstances?

It is in this way that situating Bible passages within their original historical settings can help you to better grasp their intended meaning and discern their theological insights.

Now, I realize identifying historical information can be tricky, but we can make educated guesses about when the books were written. For example, the book of Ruth talks about events that happened during the time of the judges (Ruth 1:1). However, it concludes by tracing the lineage of King David (Ruth 4:18-22).

Therefore, it’s reasonable to infer that the book of Ruth was written to an audience that lived after his reign.

When it comes to letters in the Bible, like those from Paul, we can learn a lot about the historical context from the letters themselves. Typically, the writer introduces both themselves and their intended audience at the beginning of the letter.

2. Cultural Context

Just as historical context is crucial, so too is cultural context when interpreting the Bible. The people in the Bible had customs, traditions, and societal norms that are vastly different from our own. Thus, familiarizing ourselves with the cultural milieu helps to bridge the gap between the ancient world and our contemporary society.

This means thinking about the everyday life of the people or characters in the book and how the first readers would have understood it. It’s different from historical context because it’s not about the audience and author of the book but about gleaning insights concerning the cultural circumstances of the characters in the text.

For example, Paul’s letters to the Corinthians addressed a myriad of issues within the Corinthian church, including divisions, immorality, and the misapplication of spiritual gifts. Grasping the cultural setting of Corinth sheds light on why these issues were prevalent and why Paul felt compelled to confront them. Fortunately, for most epistles, the letters themselves serve as a primary source for understanding the cultural context.

Similarly, the writings of the Old Testament prophets were a direct commentary on the cultural circumstances of their time.

However, cultural context isn’t always explicitly stated within the book itself and it may require you to explore other books to find this information.

Take, for instance, the book of Ruth once more. Verse 1 says that it is set during the time when judges ruled. Therefore, understanding the cultural backdrop of Ruth’s story involves consulting the book of Judges for further information.

This is one way in which cross-referencing can enrich the interpretation of the text you are reading. By piecing together information scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments, you can reconstruct a more comprehensive picture of the cultural context of the text in question.

Note: Although we can glean certain insights into the historical and cultural context of a book from the Bible itself, there are instances where consulting external sources is necessary. Study Bibles and reputable extra-biblical materials such as study guides, commentaries, and Bible dictionaries can provide valuable contextual insight as well. Thankfully, many of these resources are readily accessible online at no cost.

3. Literary Context

In addition to understanding the historical and cultural backdrop, it’s essential to examine the literary context of the passages or verses you’re reading.

Consider the following analogy. Would one flip through a novel, select a paragraph at random, and presume to have grasped the story’s full essence? You will likely miss out on themes, character development, and the plot, right? Well, it’s the same with the Bible; we ought to employ prudence when engaging with biblical texts too.

The Bible is not a disjointed collection of isolated verses. Rather, it’s a cohesive narrative with interconnected themes, messages, and teachings. 

Just like a puzzle with missing pieces, reading verses out of context provides an incomplete picture of the overarching message of the Bible. Each word and verse contributes to the author’s intended message and the larger story of God’s redemptive plan for humanity. Therefore, to understand what it means, one must consider it in relation to the bible’s broader context

By “broader context” of a passage, i’m referring to:

  • The verses that come before and after.
  • The entire chapter.
  • The entire book in which it is found.
  • If necessary, the Bible as a whole.

What may seem like a straightforward statement in isolation, often takes a completely different meaning when we take the broader context into account.

For instance, in Matthew 7:1, Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” When taken in isolation, we might interpret this verse as a blanket prohibition against all forms of judgment. However, when read in context, it becomes clear that Jesus is specifically warning against hypocritical judgment (Matthew 7:2-5).

Likewise, if we consider the often-quoted verse from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” we see the same thing.  While this verse is undoubtedly inspiring on its own, a consideration of its immediate context reveals that Paul is specifically addressing contentment in various life circumstances. He wasn’t providing us with a slogan to believe that God will help us achieve our goals like we often assume.

Note: NEVER ignore the literary context. In my opinion, it is the most important context of them all. It’s also important to note that the division of the Bible into chapters and verses, as we know it today, was not present until the 1500s. These divisions were added to organize the biblical text for reference, study, and easy navigation.

Before this, people had to read the books of the Bible as a unified whole to understand what the author intended to communicate. This approach still remains crucial today even with the presence of chapters and verses. Because divorcing verses from their surrounding text often leads to misunderstanding and misinterpretation of what the author intended to communicate.

Why Should We Read the Bible in Context?

Reading the Bible in context is essential for the following reasons:

  • Accurate Interpretation: Studying the Bible in context provides the framework necessary for exegeting the Bible. Exegesis is an approach to interpreting the Bible that aims to uncover what the Holy Spirit intended to communicate through the Scriptures. Thus, preventing misinterpretation and ensuring the preservation of the author’s intended meaning.
  • In-depth Understanding:  Contextual study helps us to uncover the layers of meaning embedded within the biblical text. By examining historical, cultural, and literary contexts, readers can grasp the subtleties of the scriptures that may not be apparent on the surface. This depth of understanding enriches one’s appreciation of the text and reveals its profound truths.
  • Guards against Cherry-picking: Studying the Bible in context prevents cherry-picking or proof-texting. We are prone to isolating verses and imposing our own interpretations or using them to support our preconceived biases. However, reading verses in context helps to ensure that the Bible drives the bus. Not us.
  • Promotes Unity of Scripture: Understanding the Scriptures in their broader context allows us to discern how each verse contributes to the overarching message of the Bible. Which is the story of redemption through Jesus Christ. Recognizing these connections fosters a holistic understanding of God’s message.
  • Fosters Humility: Engaging with the Bible in context encourages humility. This is because it forces us to acknowledge that our interpretation is subject to the biblical text. Not our personal preferences. This is particularly important as Scripture is not just supposed to encourage but is also “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and. training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16–17).
  • Application to Life: Ultimately, the goal of reading the Bible is not merely intellectual comprehension but personal transformation and spiritual growth. As such, contextual understanding enables readers to apply the timeless truths of Scripture correctly to their lives in our contemporary context. 

Related: Exegesis vs. Eisegesis: Unveiling the Depths of Bible Study


Understanding the Bible in context is a lifelong endeavor that takes great effort, but the insights gained will surely enrich our spiritual lives and deepen our relationship with God. So as we embark on this journey, may the Holy Spirit guide our study, leading us to discern truth, grow in faith, and live out the transformative power of God’s Word. Let us also approach the Bible with humility, reverence, and a willingness to learn.

In doing so, we will heed the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Indeed it is with diligent study and reliance on God’s guidance that we will be able to rightly divide the Word of Truth and be equipped for every good work.

If you want to deepen your Bible study by learning how to correctly interpret the Bible, feel free to look through our Bible Study archives. There, you will find useful articles to help you on your journey.


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  1. avatar
    Sheilla says:

    Thank you, and many blessings to you Wanjiru 💞

  2. avatar
    Sheilla says:

    Thank you, and many blessings to you 💞

    1. avatar
      Wanjiru Ng'ang'a says:

      You’re most welcome Sheilla. Amen🙏!!

  3. avatar

    Good job Dear Shiru!

    I am challenged by your commitment to doing such a great job by your own self!

    May God continue to use mightily for His glory!

    Glad I got to know you!

    1. avatar
      Wanjiru Ng'ang'a says:

      Hi Nehemiah, Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement! I’m also grateful for the chance to connect with wonderful people like yourself along the way. Blessings!

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