I appreciate ens's being here on the board, and welcome ens!
Similarly I appreciate the presence of biastai, and offer my welcome!
It's nice to have each of you here
and you make valuable contributions in your posts! Thanks!
However, I have some caution about the approach that each has put out.
Roughly, it seems to me that one has to be careful that this kind of talking about the need to read carefully, and appreciate the importance of original context, does not turn into an implied or unstated argument that we can't really know what the Bible says, or that what it plainly states is not what it really means, and -- especially -- that the way the Scriptures have been understood by Christians through the ages is to be thrown out on the grounds that they were influenced by their cultures. (Such an argument usually takes some contemporary context -- challenging the theology or ethical insight of the past -- as if were not itself a cultural context that was subject to a lot of distortion, or as if the thought of some few in one generation -- our own -- outweighed the biblical insight of the Christian community through the ages.)
How have past generations understood the Bible?
When we read the Bible -- or read or seek to hear any other message -- we do so through our own eyes and ears. Those eyes and ears are, in part, formed by the culture about us. (But of course, they may have many sources, innate, chosen, from culture, random, and so on.) That does not mean, however, that we are incapable of receiving new input.
When I discuss matters with a friend or loved one, or an acquaintance, stranger, or enemy, I am, in some measure, capable of hearing or assimilating the positions and viewpoints of the one I dialogue with.
Even just reflecting by myself, I might come to startlingly new conclusions -- just as Bartolomew De Las Casas, a 16th century Bishop in Spanish America did. When Bishop Bartholomew read the Bible and thought about what the Scripture said, he decided that the Spanish treatment of the inhabitants of Mexico and other New World possessions was contrary to justice and to what the Bible taught. So he started to defend indigenes, indians (amerinds) against exploitation by the Spanish conquerors, and to warn the Spaniards that they would face God's wrath for how they were treating the indians. (By the way, the entire Dominican order in Spain backed Bishop Bartolomew up, and agreed to his policies and ideas.)
Here's another example, which was contributed by a blogger about his ancestors when they confronted slavery.
My great-great grandfather, a second generation American who was a shopkeeper in Philadelphia, organized and partially paid for a rifle company at the outset of the Civil War. Like a lot of these volunteer groups, they drilled for a while, elected their own officers, did some marching around with the Union Army, and then were sent home before they could do the Union any serious harm. G-G-Grandad was 40, with a wife and a bunch of small kids at home. He didn't need to do this. He went on to serve for years as [an elder in a church] in Philadelphia, and his daughter, my great grandmother, is the source of my family's [Christian heritage]. She married into a fiercely abolitionist family who moved from upstate New York to Illinois partly to get at the rich farmland, and partly to guarantee that Illinois would come into the Union a free state. Downstate cousins who farmed along the Illinois river seem to have kept an Underground Railway station: other cousins died at Gettysburg and Andersonville. There's nothing really special about this history: it's typical, not unusual. They did what they could for the sake of freedom.The blogger writes this in response to some in his church who seem to feel that by publicly doing symbolic repentance for slavery and the part "the church" played in it they establish their credentials for revising historic Christianity. The implicit idea being promoted by these folks, against which this blogger argues, is that they are right in revising the historic Christian faith, and the plain meaning of the Scriptures, on the (implied, not stated) ground that all our Christian past and ancestry is corrupt and unreliable because "the Bible was used to promote slavery and racism."
(So, of course, was the Constitution -- but that's not a reason for giving up defense of the 1st amendment rights to free exercise of religion or freedom of speech!)
Therefore, I feel rather cautious about the line of argument put out in the OP here, and about Biastai's comment on it.
Neither Las Casas nor the blogger's GG-Gfather arrived at their biblical critique of wrong practices in their own times by means of trying to get in the mindset of 1st century palestinians. They read the basic messages of the BIble which were clear in opposition to exploitation of the weak.
Rhetoric of Change
In particular, there is a kind of rhetoric around now which says we can throw out the moral strictures of Biblical teaching because some find them burdensome, and that this is quite OK, or laudable, because past generations, allegedly, radically misunderstood the Bible.
In support of this is the notion that things such as slavery "were supported on Biblical moral grounds" and that such wrong readings were the exclusive or dominant ones "at nearly every instance of our national history." As contrasted with this problematic "inherited culture", are the "the revolutionary origins and implications of scripture itself" as "Jesus is understood [in Scripture] as the one who was to introduce the new age, a new and radically different culture from the one in which he lived and died, and his resurrection was the unambiguous sign that the new age had begun."
Note, ens, that the examples and vocabulary you use are ambiguous or one-sided. There's no attention to strong religious and biblical commitment which was on the side of the oppressed -- for instance, the abolitionists. There's no questioning of whether things like slavery that -- in your phrase -- "were supported on Biblical moral grounds" were, in fact, motivated by mistaken biblical conviction, or whether phony pseudo-biblical arguments were ginned up to support evil social systems the support for which actually arose from economic interest and the like. The vocabulary of "revolutionary" and "radically different culture" is one which could indicate, generically, fundamental change ("radical", or "from the roots"; "revolutionary" in the sense of a big upheaval of the existing order) but which has, also, specific connotations historically associated with various "left" causes, and which could, therefore, be making an illegit and tacit case that those kinds of changes in morals or doctrine advocated by some now considered "liberal" or "progressive" were the kinds of changes that characterized Jesus's teachings or praxis. Anyone is free to try to mount such an argument, of course, but the use of hinged terms -- which in one context can just mean very novel and fundamentally changing, and in another connote specific points on the contemporary ideological and political spectrum -- is not a logical or proper way to make an argument of that kind. In fact, in contemporary terms, the moral doctrine presented in the NT was, in many respects, radically "conservative" (in one meaning of that multi-valent term): emphasizing chastity, respect for parents and elders, frugality, and so on. Of course I'm not trying to suggest that your purposes in writing were askew, or that your understanding of what you wrote was subject to the possible errors I'm trying to guard against: I'm just trying to set out the possible pitfalls so I and all of us can avoid them. Liikewise, I'm not trying to sketch or suggest some theory of what the implications are for christian thought and practice, in general or in our day: just pointing out that one has to be cautious about accepting characterizations such as "radical" or "revolutionary" without further inspection.
The Center of NT Teaching is God as Our Father,
And the Reconciliation of Humankind to God by Jesus
Through His death on the Cross for Our Sins
Of at least equally great concern, your characterization of NT teaching -- both in Jesus and in Paul -- seems to place ethical and perhaps social and political reform at the center of the message, and to leave out, entirely, the aspects of repentance and the salvation from our sins wrought by Christ's death for us on the cross. [indent]Jesus is understood as the one who was to introduce the new age, a new and radically different culture from the one in which he lived and died, and his resurrection was the unambiguous sign that the new age had begun. All who followed him were citizens of that new culture. Paul tells us as much, when in Romans 12 he writes that we are not to be conformed to this world, but "be ye transformed by the renewal of your mind." Paul invocates the superiority of things that are unseen over things that are seen, for "the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal." [indent]The problem is not that the things you say cannot be understood in a way which accurately characterizes how Jesus was understood (they might be so understood) but that a natural reading of what you said (just quoted) -- especially in the context of your post -- makes it sound as if "a new and radically different culture from the one in which he lived and died" was the center of Jesus' message. But it seems a much more straightforward reading to think that Jesus was primarily concerned with our relationship to the Father, with the central role that He Himself had in reconciling us to God (though His death on the cross), our repenting of our sins, and the forgiveness of sins which is secured by His death and resurrection.
Also (though this is a lesser matter), there are certain ways in which the early Christians lived, and were taught to live, as part of "a new and radically different culture" and other respects in which they were taught to "be subject to every human institution" (Romans 13, cf. I Peter 2, etc.)