The New Testament came about in the cultural milieu of the First Century. It was a cosmopolitan world catalyzed by Eastern mysticism, cultural Hellenism, and hard-headed Roman engineering. These three cultures are found in the background of the New Testament.
Westerners have been raised with a Roman Greek bias in their thinking. Most of us do not recognize this bias until it is pointed out to us. Culturally, we have been trained to think like Romans and Greeks. We often find the Eastern—in our case, Hebrew—mindset difficult to understand.
Thus, it’s helpful to examine, briefly, the cultural differences between the three. Let’s say you buy a new car. You tell your friends about this new car. Cornelius, the Roman, asks, “how does it work?” Right? The Romans built aqueducts, water wheels and bread-making factories. Did you know the Romans had a coin-operated vending machine for dispensing perfume? They did. They were marvelous engineers and western civilization owes them a lot.
Your Greek friend, Aescalus, he has a different question for you. He wants to know, “what does your car look like?” Greeks are big into art, symmetry, form. That is their cultural bias and their first thought.
But Daveed, your Hebrew friend, he has a completely different question. He’s not interested in the mechanics of how your car works or the aesthetics of what your car looks like. Daveed has a highly practical question, “what is your car good for? What does it do?”
Our Greco-Roman cultural bias can be a hindrance when it comes to interpreting the Bible—both Old and New Testament. If we approach the Bible asking Greek and Roman questions: “What did Jesus look like? Exactly how does Christ’s death on the cross effect redemption?” we are asking the wrong questions. The Bible answers Hebrew questions: “What did Jesus do? Why did Jesus have to die?”
A road map does not tell you at what temperature to fry eggs. Ask the right questions if you want useful answers.