Contextual Influences In Readings Of Nehemiah 5: A Case Study -- By: Gary R. Williams

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 53:1 (NA 2002)
Article: Contextual Influences In Readings Of Nehemiah 5: A Case Study
Author: Gary R. Williams

Contextual Influences
In Readings Of Nehemiah 5:
A Case Study

Gary R. Williams


A survey of the literature on Nehemiah 5 reveals how contemporary context influences the interpretation and application of the text, for good and for ill. Application must adapt to contemporary needs, but our context may blind us to a passage’s most obvious implications. Interpretation is both illumined and skewed by contextual concerns. Some principles are offered for reading aright the Scriptures in light of text, content and contextual differences.


How much does our context influence how we read the Scriptures? How big a role should it have? Should it shape applications only, or interpretation as well? If our readings are influenced by our particular world, how can we say that one reading is better than another? This article explores these and related issues through a survey of interpretations and applications of one chapter in the Bible—Nehemiah 5.

Contemporary context’s influence is most striking in the ways that some untrained people approach and apply biblical phrases and sentences, perhaps with little regard to the textual or historical context. However, this study will limit itself to published literature—exegetical, theological, homiletic, and devotional—on Nehemiah 5. Most of the works here considered were authored in the United States or Great Britain, but some originated in the Two-Thirds World. Most were produced in the second half of the twentieth century, but some are more than a hundred years old, and one was penned at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Contextual Influences On Applications Of Nehemiah 5

Context’s influence on the handling of the Scriptures is most evident in our applications. Differing contexts, each with particular concerns and problems, elicit a wide variety of applications from the same text. The literature that I have surveyed suggests at least 100 different applications from Nehemiah 5.1 Some of the older commentaries are veritable catalogues of exhortations stemming from the text.2

Such contextual influence is proper and necessary. The example of the NT authors indicates that if God’s word is to be living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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