One of the most important things we must do whenever we read a particular passage of scripture is to disengage reading it through our modern 21st Century set of eyes and presuppositions and look at through the cultural lens of its Old or New Testament setting. The reader should remember that from the Book of Genesis through to the book of Acts and the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul that these books were written from a Middle Eastern and North African cultural world view. From Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts through Revelation these books were written primarily from a Mediterranean cultural point of view.
This passage of scripture is an actual event occurring early on in Jesus’ first year of ministry. He is going to leave Jerusalem, travel through Samaria stopping in Sychar, which no Jewish rabbi would ever consider doing, which will be explained in a later post, on his way north to lower Galilee.
Before we begin to engage with this passage of scripture and Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, let’s make sure we are knowledgeable of these cultural distinctions.
Here are some ways that the world of Jesus’ time differs from our western, North American culture and way of living, as you read this and other Bible passages.
- The world in biblical times was a Collectivistic Society of people and nations versus where we Americans live in the most highly individualistic nation on our planet. In a collectivist society, the emphasis is never on the individual, rather it is on the family, the tribe or village, the city or nation. Most of the nations in our world today are still collectivists.
- The biblical world, then as is a vast majority of our world today is an Honor & Shame Society or Culture. It is tied into the collectivist society idea and in an honor and shame society, the emphasis has been to never bring shame on yourself thus shaming your family, your tribe or village, your city or nation. One always has the bigger picture in mind.
- It was almost exclusively a patriarchal (male-dominated) society as is a majority of the nations in our world today.
- It was an oral society which for us living in our digital age is hard to comprehend, but interestingly enough a large part of our world today lives in an oral society.
A second post will follow in a few days as we continue to explore this fascinating story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Joseph’s well located approximately 1/2 mile outside of the village of Sychar where she lived.