Cultural Context of the Gospels
by Bobby Bruno 4/05/2014 / Christian Apologetics
Political During Roman occupation of Palestine, taxes were taken for the first time. Tax collectors would often extort extra money out of the Jewish people, even if the collector was Jewish himself. Unbelievably, the Jews were allowed to keep their religious system to rule themselves, though the death penalty could only be given by the Romans. There was increasing tension amongst the Roman procurators and the Israelites because of the Romans' misunderstanding of the Jews not wanting to follow, or include their God in with the Roman gods.
Social The Jews were governed by the Priests and the Temple. Women and children were not treated as equals with the men, and women were not allowed to learn the Law of Moses and were not allowed to enter all the way into the Temple or synagogue. The Jewish people were divided into social groups: the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes. It was more of an honor for a man to be married than to stay single. But, as for divorce, there were two different schools of thought: the schools of Hillel taught that divorce was okay in certain situations, while the school of Shammai taught that divorce should only be allowed in the case of infidelity.
Cultural In the time of Jesus, in northern Palestine, Greek philosophies and ideas were the norm. Due to the Roman occupation, Greek became the common language, even though many Jews still spoke Aramaic, the language Jesus used to get His message across to the most common people of the land. The use of the Greek language by the Romans made it possible for Gentiles to hear the gospel in their own tongue. In this way, God used the Romans to help spread the gospel to all people.
Pharisees -- Pharisees strictly followed the Law of Moses, adapting and interpreting the Law to fit their own conclusions, especially in their legalistic use of it. Pharisees believed in life after death, angels, and divine spirits.
Sadducees Sadducees were less popular with the Israelites and followed only the Pentateuch teachings, believing that the Torah was the only law to be followed. Sadducees did not believe in life after death, angels, or spirits.
Essenes Essenes followed the same Law as the Pharisees, but appropriated a stricter use of it. The writings of this group contained a non-Messianic figure that they called "the Teacher of Righteousness", though the likeness to Jesus cannot be overlooked.
Zealots Zealots were a religious-political group who were against paying Caesar his tax, because they felt that all the money should go to God. Their revolt against the Roman occupation continued even after the siege of Jerusalem.
Jesus' younger years are not widely described in any of the gospel messages. But what we do know helps us to see that Jesus knew who He was at as young as the age of twelve, and knew what God had sent Him here to do. Jesus' miraculous birth set the tone for what God had in mind for His Son. Even from Jesus' birth, many of those who first saw Him knew that He was not only somebody special, but was also the Savior of the World. The shepherds knew from the angels, and the wise men knew first from the star, and then meeting the child for themselves in all His new-born glory. Also Simeon and Anna knew the babe to be the Savior upon first sight.
Outside of the two angelic visits on two different nights to each of them separately, we are not told exactly what Mary and Joseph thought of this baby that everyone was hailing and glorifying as King. It seems from the next thing we learn from the Gospel of Luke (2:42-50) is of the time Jesus "got lost" when the family was traveling back to their home after the Passover feast at the Temple. Both parents were confused by His disappearance and, by their words to Him of why He did by not following them home (2:48), felt that He was betraying them in some way. But, even after Jesus explained to them why He stayed at the Temple, Mary and Joseph could not understand what He was telling them (2:49-50). The miraculous birth of Jesus, and His teaching at the Temple at twelve years old, are important for us to understand, because they tell us that Jesus knew why He was here even at an early age, even if those closest around Him didn't understand why themselves.
So, we see, even from the other Gospels, that Jesus Christ knew who He was and why He came to earth to preach the Gospel message which would bring us back to God, who loves us dearly, and to suffer and die for the forgiveness of the sins of all mankind. The Gospel of John was written so that we would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was God in the flesh. Everything John proclaimed in his message was always pointing to the truth that Jesus was God and is God. Matthew's Gospel proclaimed Jesus as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah; Mark proclaimed Jesus as a Servant; Luke proclaimed Jesus as the Savior. But, John's gospel account was the first to simply say that Jesus was and is truly God; not only as God in the flesh, but God in Spirit and truth, as well. John's gospel helps us to better understand the Jesus of the other three, and gives us a different, better, and more eye-opening perspective on the fact that Jesus is all of the things the gospels were written to tell us the prophesized Messiah, the Suffering Servant, the Savior of the World, and, finally, the one, true God of all creation. John's gospel helps us to firmly believe that the truth of the relationship between the Father and the Son is perfect.
Guthrie, D. (1970). A shorter life of christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books/
McGhee, Q., Teague, W. (2005, 2006). Synoptic gospels: the life and teachings of christ. Springfield, MO: Berean School of the Bible, a division of Global University.
Bobby Bruno was saved 15 years ago in a way that left him no doubt that Jesus wanted him to reach others with His great and abounding love. He started writing at the age of 12 and hasn't stopped since. He achieved Associates Degree in Biblical Studies from Ohio Christian University in early 2014.