In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck tells the story of the Joad’s who leave Oklahoma with the hope of finding work in California. We follow them as they live in a tent city, a government camp, and eventually a boxcar. The story is set in the early 1930’s, at the height of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. Knowing some of the historical facts about the realities of the Dust Bowl, Hooverville living, and Route 66 add to our understanding and appreciation of Steinbeck’s novel. Context matters even for fiction.
Context also matters when we read truth, especially the Bible. Knowing about the recipients of a letter from Paul will and should impact how we understand that letter. Paul did not write in generalities, but addressed a specific group, knowing their culture and worldview.
Purpose of Understand the Context
The Understand the Context feature appears in the Explore the Bible adult Personal Study Guide, adult Daily Discipleship Guide, adult Leader Guide, and adult Commentary. This feature gives information to help us understand what is going on in the background and around the core passage being examined. We may not examine every passage in a Bible book, making the Understand the Context feature important if we are to understand the setting of the core passage. The feature fills in the gaps so we can give attention to the core passage with clarity. The same is true for all the authors God used to pen His Scripture.
Using the Understand the Context Feature
We will address this in three categories, us, them, and we.
Us (the leader):
Review the feature ourselves. Most of us are busy so the temptation to move past the Understand the Context is real. We want to get to the core passage in our study or we may think we already know the context, but it never hurts to slow down and be reminded.
Read the passages in the background. The context passages are listed in the adult Leader Guide, giving us the opportunity to read the larger passage in which the core passage sits. After reading the context passage, we may want to then read the Understand the Context section and make additions to what we find, or we may choose to write our own summary and compare our summary to the one included in the resource. The point is to become familiar with the surrounding passage, however we do that best.
Them (the individuals in our group):
Pointing them to the question at the end of Understand the Context. If our group uses the Personal Study Guide, we find a directed question. Send a message to the group using the question at the end of the feature to spark interest. You can find a suggested message in the Social Media posts included in the adult Leader Pack (see sample).
Emphasize the importance of context. We may need to regularly remind the group of the importance of context, so they do not skip over the Understand the Context feature as they study prior to or after the group time.
Provide them with a copy of the Personal Study Guide or Daily Discipleship Guide. Everyone in the group needs a copy to direct their study. We can’t expect people to study outside the group time with our providing them a tool to do so. Make sure they know how to use the resource. We can reference the How to Use videos to help us explain to each person in our group how to get the most out of either resource.
We (the group gathered):
Assign a summary. Prior to the group time, enlist a volunteer to share in their own words a summary based on the information found in the Understand the Context section. This is a great way to begin to apprentice a potential new teacher or to just get someone involved in a different way.
Review as a group. We may direct the group to review or scan the information in the feature, calling on volunteers to share items that may impact how the group examines the core passage. Doing so reminds people of the importance of context while also giving some direction or focus to the group time.
Use the ideas in the group plans or leader helps. The teaching suggestions found in the adult Leader Guide and leader helps in the adult Daily Discipleship Guide include ways of using the feature to help introduce the Bible passage or transition between the Focus Attention idea and examining the core Bible passage. Following these suggestions may help us add variety so we are not always assigning a summary or reviewing as a group.