In order for cultural context to be applied fully to the text of scripture, it’s important to first understand what it is and why it’s important. To put something in its cultural context is the act of seeking to understand all of the variables that go into the formation of a culture; i.e language, values, norms, customs, habits. Cultural context, when understood correctly in the Old Testament, relays an accurate representation of Israel’s significant moral accomplishments and progress compared to the brutal and unforgiving Near Eastern culture that surrounded them. While Israel’s actions or laws in relation to Western culture may seem barbaric or primitive, Israel, in fact, was far more morally, economically and socially progressive than any of its Near Eastern neighbors. For example; a question typically raised by New Atheists, along with a good majority of critics, is why God would give Israel laws regarding Israelites treatment of slaves instead of banning o...
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...n children repeatedly. This is not to say that God did not love the Canaanites, or that they were without the ability to be redeemed, because not all of the Canaanites were wiped out and some were integrated into Israeli culture (i.e Rahab, an ancestor of Jesus Christ). But, the fighting force of the Canaanites was abolished for the good of Israel and their neighboring countries.
New Atheists cannot ignore the evidence that putting the Old Testament in its proper cultural context gives them; that Israel was the morally progressive outlier and far healthier than any of its ancient barbaric Near Eastern neighbors, regardless of whether it lines up with our even further progress Western culture. Through God’s steady hand and patience, Israel was able to succeed in being different from the cruel, violent and harsh cultures that she began in and reform.
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