Over at the Gospel Coalition, there is a round table with Carson and Piper discussing how necessary it is to study the background culture and context for good preaching. This formed one of my criticisms of Piper in my recent JETS article in that I think Piper (needlessly) diminishes the value of historical study for preaching and teaching. Piper is unimpressed with the notion that one “must” be conversant with all these materials if one is to preach effectively. I understand his concern, I don’t want to say that unless you have a Ph.D ancient near eastern literature or Palestinian archaeology that you are unfit to interpret the text, but I think Carson is absolutely right, study of social, historical, and cultural contexts is a necessity and is not antithetical to concerted textual study of the passage. You have to know this stuff in order to explain veils, foot washing, etc. to your audience. If you’re preaching through 1 Corinthians, do 10 hours of study on ancient Corinth, read books by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Bruce Winter, and Gerd Theissen, check out some inscriptions if you can find them in print or on-line. Then launch into your study of Corinthians week by week, passage by passage, with a good historically sensitive commentary on hand like Anthony Thiselton, Gordon Fee, David Garlington, or Brian Rosner and Roy Ciampa.
D.A. Carson with John Piper on the Importance of Background