Noel Weeks on the Contextualization of Scripture

Noel Weeks’ The Sufficiency of Scripture provides some helpful guidelines in regard to the multi-variant issues that arise during the hermeneutical process. Weeks deals with such issues as cultural “Contextualization,” “The Human Element of Scripture,” and “‘Rabbinic’ Exegesis in the New Testament.” When he comes to explain the dangers surrounding the trend to emphasize cultural contextualization–a contextualization centering on the belief that “the fundamental concepts, ideas, and themes of Scripture are shaped by the culture within which the Scriptures were given(76)”–Weeks gives two examples to illustrate an illegitimate and a legitimate use of historical contextualization. First, he explains that all of Scripture is aimed at promoting truth in the midst of a world full of falsehood. He writes:

The ideas of a culture are not neutral. They are much influenced by the cultures acceptance of, or rejection of, the truth of God. This was true in Biblical times. Much of Scripture is a polemic against the ideas of the time. (78)

The great danger Weeks is seeking to confront is the potential loss of the Gospel. He explains:

If we may revert to the idea of sacrifice. The Scripture does not simply accept the ideas of the time. For contemporary ideas tended to see sacrifice as food for the god worshiped. Scripture, in rejecting this, is asserting a different view of God as the just, and hence the wrathful, God. If we change our view of sacrifice, and hence the work of Christ, we must also change our view of God…The fact is that such concepts as the justice of God cannot be relativized and “contextualized” without destroying the Gospel. (78)

Weeks is very careful, however, to note the fact that Scripture is, in fact, written within a cultural context:

It may be objected that Scripture is very much in terms of the culture of its time. The tenth commandment refers to an ox or a donkey and not to a llama or a yak. Surely such passages of Scripture must be ‘contextualized’ in order to be applied today. (78)

So how does one reconcile the fact that contextualization, if approached illegitimately can potentially be used to destroy the Gospel, while at the same time acknowledging the fact that Scripture has a historical context that must be taken into account? Weeks concludes with these thoughts:

It all comes down to a crucial question: Do we meet in Scripture a truth which transcends cultural barriers, even though it is applied to a particular culture, or do we meet a truth expressed in terms of the limited ideas of a particular culture?

If the truth is not culture bound, yet is directed to a particular culture, then we can apply that same truth to different cultures and different situations…If we may revert again to the example of the tenth commandment , the commandment already provides the ground for including llamas and yaks by the fact that it includes ‘anything that belongs to your neighbor.’ (78)

All of this is to say that this volume is an exceptional contribution to hermeneutics. Weeks faithfully and clearly articulates the issues the exegete is confronted with when seeking to faithfully and clearly interpret and expound Scripture. It is a valuable tool for scholars and pastors alike.

3 Responses

  1. Ian Hall

    Thank you for that review. Exegesis is such a big part of ministry and yet it can often feel like crossing a minefield. Of course this is balanced by the huge personal blessing that comes from an in depth study of the Bible.

  2. Nicholas T. Batzig

    Yes Ian, I agree. We need to constantly be comparing Scripture with Scripture (1 Cor. 2: 13). I have discovered, in my short life, the great blessing that God promises those who diligently read His holy word. We need to submerse ourselves more and more in the pure doctrine of Scripture.

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