How does knowledge of the political, historical and cultural background of the Greco Roman world help in the interpretation of the New Testament?According to your readings in chapters 1-3 of...
According to your readings in chapters 1-3 of Metzger, be certain to address specific political, historical and cultural factors from the Greco Roman world which may have shaped the formation of the New Testament.
The Roman empire had clear control of Judea, meaning Jesus and his followers had interaction with Roman power on a daily basis. One of the main understandings for any person living in the empire was that anyone standing in the way of Rome would be quickly and completely wiped out, hence the visible and gruesome public crucifixions. Rome ruled with an iron fist and Caesar Augustus was seen by many as a god-man and even "savior of the world" as he was given credit for establishing peace and prosperity during the "pax romana." Understanding Jesus accurately requires a comparison of his message and actions with Rome. For example, Jesus' main message was his announcement that the kingdom of God was at hand, or coming. The gospels and later letters by Paul and Peter reveal that Jesus claimed to be King, the true king of the Jews, but also the King of Kings, higher than any other authority. All of this was a clear way of stating that Jesus was the true king, savior, and ruler, and Caesar was not. Jesus gives numerous parables in the gospels explaining that his kingdom is not like any other and in doing so highlights the utterly different nature of his kingdom compared to Rome. For example, in God's kingdom the first shall be last, those who are least valued by societies standards are most valued by God, love overcomes evil, persuasion, service, and grace expand the kingdom and not coercion, violence, and force. Another example of the importance of considering the political realities of the day is the ramifications of the early Christians referring to Jesus as Lord. This was a direct way of stating that Caesar was not, and resulted in many persecutions.
Historically, it is vital to take into account the various empires that ruled over Judea and affected Jewish thought and understanding of what the long-awaited Messiah was going to look like. The OT includes prophets speaking of God liberating his people and reigning from Jerusalem over all the kingdoms of the world. Jews experienced foreign pagans taking over the Promised Land and subjecting the Jews to their rule. Although most invaders allowed the Jews the freedom to practice their Torah observances without much interference, the fact that pagan rulers were in control meant that the Jews had not yet experienced true liberation. At times, such as before the Maccabean Revolt, they were not even allowed to worship in the Temple. As a result of losing the most sacred symbol of Judaism and experiencing periods of intense persecution, Judaism fragmented into several different sects as they tried to interpret what God was doing and what he was going to do in the future. This is where you get the various groups Jesus dealt with such as the Saducees, Pharisees, and Zealots. Each had different interpretations of how the Kingdom of God was going to be ushered in.
Greco-Roman culture had a profound affect on Jewish and Gentile philosophies. One major philosophical shift drew from Plato and other Greek thinkers and clashed with classical Jewish paradigms. Plato emphasized a dualistic universe where most aspects of life fell into simple categories such as body and spirit, good and evil, and temporal and eternal. Nt writers operated more on a Hebrew worldview. A major part of historic Jewish thought was the acceptance of seemingly paradoxical realities such as God's transcendence and immanence, the overlapping of heaven and earth in the Temple, and the valuableness of body and spirit.