In my last article, I talked about examining the historical context of a passage. Once we have done this, the next determinations we should make are about the author and the audience. If we would like to gain a clear understanding of a passage, it is critical to know who wrote it and to whom it was written. Knowing these two things can help us to comprehend why something was written and why certain emphasis was placed on the particular subject matter. This allows us to come to a fuller understanding of a passage.

Let us first examine the importance of an author to a passage. Writers will typically bring out subject matter that they feel particularly compelled about. The Holy Spirit uses the authors of the Bible in the same fashion. He uses their personal experience and expertise to shine a light on certain areas for others. One of the most unique facets of the Bible is the fact that so many different men wrote in so many different styles and never contradicted each other. It is intriguing to realize how much each writer’s own personality shines through even when his actual words have been guided by the Holy Spirit. Finding the background of authors can be a very tedious task; however, it is crucial. Sometimes, an author will identify himself, but sometimes, it will take some investigation to discover who wrote a book. If no author is evident, a Bible encyclopedia or dictionary can tell you who has written the book according to historical tradition. Keep in mind that this information, though probably well-studied, can be fallible.

Once you have discovered an author, a great place to start is with your concordance. Read each scripture that pertains to the author and keep a list of facts and personality traits you discover. Also, be sure to read any book that this writer has penned and record anything he says about himself. An excellent secondary resource is a Bible encyclopedia or dictionary; you may find some interesting cultural details. Make a list of as much useful information as you can about the author.

For our example, we will examine the book of Hosea. The author is Hosea, as stated in 1:1. “The word of the LORD which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, king of Israel.” Upon examining the Strong’s Concordance, we can see that the name of Hosea is used only once outside of the book of Hosea, in Romans 9:25. “As He also says in Hosea, “I will call those who were not my people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not, ‘beloved.’” This verse is a quotation regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles in the new covenant. While it may give us insight into what Hosea said, it doesn’t necessarily tell us much about the man himself.

The next step will be to examine the book of Hosea and determine what it says about him as a man. When reading through, especially the first three chapters, you will learn a lot about Hosea and the hardships he faced. God asked him to marry a prostitute, and then when she left him, he had to go and buy her back. This adds a new perspective when God tells him to go speak to the people about their spiritual adultery. Do you think he may have felt strongly about this issue after having experienced what he did? Do you think the people he was talking to, if they knew his personal story, would have paid a little more attention when he started to speak on the subject? It is necessary to understand what he went through to understand the power his words could have had on the people and to fully understand their implications for us today.

Knowing an author’s perspective can add great depth, insight, and power to a passage of scriptures. Of equal importance as knowing about the writer is learning what we can about the intended audience. The recipients of these writings were going through very particular struggles that the author may address. It is helpful to know not only what historical circumstances these people were in but also what they struggled with spiritually. The research for this portion can be treated very similarly to that of the writer. If a specific audience is given a great first place to look is in a concordance. Then, examine the text itself for anything the author says about the people themselves or the state of their spiritual condition. A glance at a Bible encyclopedia or dictionary may give additional clues to help you understand their culture.

Let’s look again at the book of Hosea. Here, we can use a little bit of the historical information we would have learned to determine to whom the book was written. Again, some important information is listed in the first verse:

“The word of the LORD which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, king of Israel.” It is important to notice here that the kings of Judah and the king of Israel are listed separately. If you have studied the books of Old Testament history (which we talked about as a cornerstone of good Bible study in an earlier article), then you will remember that the northern tribes and southern tribes of Israel split. Because of the two separate king lists, we can infer that this was written after that split. So, who is Hosea writing to? Is it the Northern Kingdom or the Southern Kingdom? Read through the text one more time.

Let’s look at Hosea 5:3: I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me; For now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot, Israel has defiled itself. We see here (and in many other places throughout Hosea) that the audience is referred to as Ephraim and Israel. When you look up the tribe of Ephraim in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, here is what you will find: “…and from the day of the disruption till the fall of the Northern Kingdom there was none to dispute the supremacy of Ephraim, the names Ephraim and Israel being synonymous.” Now, we have a good idea that Hosea is speaking to the Northern Kingdom. When we do a little reading and research about this nation and time, we can see that one of their main struggles was idolatry.

Upon reading through the book, we can plainly see that this is also Hosea’s primary concern for the people. He sees the spiritual adultery taking place and tries to warn them of their impending judgment. Once we have identified information about the audience, the next step is to begin to personalize it. What are the similarities between us and the intended audience? In what ways do we share the same struggles, in this case, spiritual adultery? Knowing about the people can help us to truly understand their battles and really relate to the things they went through. It also assists us in seeing what the Holy Spirit’s answers are too similar to situations we are facing. The more you practice your study skills, the faster and easier studying will become. As you retain the knowledge of different books of the Bible, this process will become much simpler and quicker. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t learn EVERYTHING at once; merely knowing a few essential facts can significantly increase your understanding.

Kristy Huntsman
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Kristy Huntsman is the editor-in-chief for Come Fill Your Cup and the author of three books in the Finer Grounds Bible Study series published by Kaio Publications. She and her husband Lance attend the Stonewall Church of Christ where Lance is the minister. She is a homeschooling mom of two sweet girls, Taylor (14) and Makayla (11). Kristy has a master’s degree in biblical studies from the Bear Valley Bible Institute as well as Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Music Performance. She continues her education by pursuing specialized certifications in biblical languages from the Biblical Mastery Academy.