Better Bible Study Tip #70: The Setting of a Biblical Story Isn’t Necessarily When It Was Written

When we read the Bible, it’s easy to assume that what we’re reading was written relatively close to the time of the events described in the book. Sometimes that may in fact be the case, but not always. For example, most scholars believe the gospels were written sometime between 40 to 80 AD. This delay makes sense, since the earliest Christians would have had more first-hand relationships with the apostles, but as the church grew, so did the need to record the events of Jesus’s life writing for posterity. This may seems like an insignificant detail, but understanding when the they were written can help us understand the author’s setting, his purpose for writing, and why he has chosen to arrange his book the way he did.

Of course, writing within a few decades of Jesus’s life is still a relatively short amount of time, but when it comes to the Old Testament, things are different. For instance, when Moses recorded events about the garden of Eden, the flood, and the lives of the patriarchs, he was writing about events that happened hundreds, if not thousands of years before he wrote. The fact that Moses wrote Genesis at a later date and to an Israelite audience as they left Egypt, helps us understand why he structured the book the way he did, and why he emphasized various points along the way.

The gap between an event and it’s recording is no reason to doubt the accuracy of Scripture. For instance, since Moses received the law first hand from God at Sinai (Ex. 19:9), he would have had direct revelation of those events. We know that Luke was able to consult multiple sources to make sure what he wrote was accurate (Lk. 1:1). Ultimately we can trust Scripture is true because it is God’s word, and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Moreover, external sources and archeological finds have countless times verified that what we read in the Bible fits with what we know about ancient world it describes.

If you want to do better Bible study, don’t only pay attention to the timeline of the events that are described. Also think about who wrote about the events, when they wrote, and who they were writing to. The more we can understand the author’s original purpose for writing, and what he was trying to communicate, the more we can understand God’s purpose and what He was trying to communicate through that author.