When studing Scriptures, how much should you take into account the culture that the original writer lived?
Culture does have a profound influence on the way we think and write, and thus on how understand and respond to the teaching of the Bible. We tend to think in a more Western fashion, for example, while much of the Bible was written by those with an Eastern frame of mind. There are some very helpful books available on Bible background, manners and customs of the Bible, and so on. Then, of course, the commentaries often provide some helpful insights, too. A great deal of information is available from the Bible itself, if we just stop to think about what we are reading. While extra-biblical literature and materials can be very helpful, we need to be careful not to spend too much time outside the Bible. If something is absolutely critical to our understanding of the Bible, then I believe God will have supplied that information in the Bible. A man with only his Bible is not that handicapped. We need not despair if we do not have access to as many helps as we would like. Background information on culture, as well as insights from the original languages can be helpful, but remember that the Bible was written to and for common people, with the expectation and assurance that with the help of the Holy Spirit they could and would understand it. When I went off to seminary, I got a little “heady” about all the things I’d learned. My grandmother (now 101) helped put this into perspective. She said to me, “Your grandfather and I don’t know Greek or Hebrew, but we find that its quite a task just doing what we know from our English Bibles.”
By the way, there are some things that we would like to know just to satisfy our curiosity, but that God has kept from us. We need to keep the words of Deuteronomy 29:29 in mind as we read the Bible. What it does not say may not be that important.