Delving into the “World Behind the Text”: Unearthing the Historical and Cultural Contexts of Biblical Passages

This post is part of a series on illuminating Scripture through personal study that follows biblical exegesis methods. Read the Introduction article: Illuminating the Scriptures: A Comprehensive Guide to Biblical Exegesis.

In our journey through biblical exegesis, after annotating our selected passage and exploring its significance in our personal and contemporary context, we now venture into understanding the “World Behind the Text.” This exploration is crucial for grasping the full depth and nuances of the scriptures, as it involves uncovering the historical, cultural, and literary settings in which the biblical texts were composed.


This phase aims to illuminate your chosen biblical passage’s historical and cultural backdrop. We can appreciate the authors’ original intentions, challenges, and messages by delving into the world in which the text was written.

Historical Context:

  1. Setting and Authorship:
    • Investigate the historical period during which the passage was written. Consider the geopolitical, social, and religious circumstances of that era.
    • Explore any available information on the authorship of the text, recognizing how the author’s background and position may have influenced the writing.
  2. Historical-Cultural Insights:
    • Delve into the cultural practices, laws, and societal norms reflected in the passage. Understanding these aspects can reveal deeper layers of meaning and the significance of specific actions or commands.

Research Guidelines:

  • Do’s and Don’ts of Research:
    • Do use scholarly sources such as academic books and peer-reviewed journals. Libraries and online academic databases are valuable resources for this purpose.
    • Don’t rely solely on internet searches or non-academic sources, as these may not provide the depth and reliability needed for scholarly exegesis.
  • Citing Your Sources:
    • Ensure you correctly cite all the sources used in your research. As a personal study, you may want to revisit your research as a cross-reference with another passage. As a student, adherence to citation guidelines is essential for maintaining academic integrity and clarity in your work.

Genre and Themes:

  1. Identifying the Genre:
    • Determine the literary genre of your passage (e.g., narrative, prophecy, poetry) and explore how this influences its interpretation.
    • Analyze how the passage fits within the broader literary context of the book and the Bible.
  2. Themes and Motifs:
    • Identify key themes, motifs, and repeated phrases within your passage. Understanding these elements can highlight the text’s central messages and theological insights.

Authorial Intent:

Reflect on the possible intentions of the author(s) and the original audience’s understanding of the passage. Consider how the historical and cultural contexts might have shaped the reception of the text.

Challenges and Solutions:

  • Challenge: Limited access to scholarly resources.
    • Solution: Utilize digital libraries and academic databases and consult with librarians or scholars for guidance.
  • Challenge: Difficulty in understanding ancient cultures.
    • Solution: Engage with secondary literature that provides insight into the everyday life, beliefs, and practices of the time.


Understanding the “World Behind the Text” is an essential step in biblical exegesis, offering a bridge to the past that informs our reading of the scriptures. By engaging with the historical and cultural contexts of the Bible, we gain a richer, more nuanced understanding of its messages and teachings.

Next Steps:

Our next post will guide you through structuring your exegesis, focusing on creating a detailed outline and developing a working thesis that encapsulates your interpretation of the passage.

Want to Go Deeper?

As you embark on this phase of your study, share insights or questions you’ve encountered in your exploration of the “World Behind the Text.” Join the online conversation using #BiblicalExegesisProject and enrich our understanding of scripture together.

This step in your exegesis project deepens your knowledge of the biblical text and connects you more profoundly to the rich tapestry of human history and divine revelation.

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