We say it all the time. It’s important to understand the background of the Bible! But like many things in life, we won’t put it into practice until we understand why it’s important. So, here are seven really great reasons to study the cultural backgrounds of the Bible.

1. Understand the audience

Grasping the original audience’s perspective helps us understand the setting to which the inspired authors communicated their message.

2. Understand how the text communicates

A text is ideas linked by threads of writing. Each phrase and each word communicates by the ideas and thoughts that they will trigger in the reader or hearer.

3. Biblical writers made assumptions

Biblical writers normally could take for granted that their audiences shared their language and culture; some matters, therefore, they assumed rather than stated. Think about what happens when later audiences from different cultures read the text without the same un-stated understandings as the original audience.

4. Understand the differences

We can see the differences between [ancient people] and us. To better understand how they would have interpreted what was being shared to them.

5. Understand what issues were being addressed

When we hear the message in its authentic, original cultural setting we can reapply it afresh for our own different setting most fully. Because then we understand what issues were really being addressed.

6. Prevent imposing your own culture

If we know nothing of the ancient world, we will be inclined to impose our own culture and worldview on the Biblical text. This will always be detrimental to our understanding.

7. Fill in the gaps

As each person hears or reads the text, the message takes for granted underlying gaps that need to be filled with meaning by the audience. It is theologically essential that we fill [the gaps] appropriately.

Learn More About Cultural Backgrounds

We adapted this blog from the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, which is available for NKJV, NIV, and NRSV. Interested? Then you can watch this video to learn more. Then, check them out on our website and grow in your understanding of the culture of the Bible!


  1. Thank you. Never thought about studying the culture of Biblical text. Awesome.

  2. I feel these gathered 7 reasons and probably more will be the key to understanding the bible without a western mindset

  3. Dennis Schaefer

    As a born again believer I am doing my best to do just this. One way is I am receiving emails on the Messianic studies. It is helping me to understand the Hebrew nation. God bless us all.

  4. I can not but agree that cultural consideration of the time of writing can be helpful in bringing the intent of the writer to the mind of the reader. However, at the same time, with respect to the Bible, it was written by God to be applied to all generations and all cultures for all times. It is so important that we put effort into understanding what God has given us; but ultimately, it is our prayerful pleas and the leading of the Holy Spirit that will bring understanding. Many Blessings!

  5. It is always a great step to not only read the Bible but to want to understand it better by studying the culture in which the Word was given.

    My concern is the fact that the NIV has a number of verses missing. In this case the reader may study amiss.

  6. Debra, I too have had trouble studying the Bible, the NKJ Version is what I was brought up on listening to my minister preach about, and taking it to a level of shouting and crying by our members but, to tell you the truth, I found myself getting into the message and not the flamboyant ways of the church. Now, I find myself needing messages relating to what is going on in my life and all of the lives around me in simple context relating to the world in this day and time. I know that my comment is taking up too much time and space but, if I don’t sound too crazy, please try to understand what I’m trying to say.

    • Hi Debra, there are a lot of commentaries that can help you read the Word in relation to this day and time. The Jesus Bible contains commentaries that show Jesus through out the Old and New testament. Also do some research online; you may find some commentaries that relate to today and now. I also find personally that studying the bible with bible plans can help too 🙂

  7. I don’t quite agree with point 3, are you saying the Bible writers “assume”.

  8. David Penner

    I fully agree with all the statements. I have come across so many people that don’t know anything about the cultures of old. In fact, in one Bible study, I was severely criticized by my instructor about Jesus turning water into wine. he stated that was impossible and it was Grape juice. the culture in the time of Jesus drank wine because the water at that time was already often impure. They mixed water and wine. the wine was diluted and was not the strength we have today. This instructor did not know about the culture of that time.