To be able to understand any normal linguistic utterance, information
regarding the context within which it functions, is of decisive importance.
For that reason every exegete of the New Testament has to develop a broad
frame of reference regarding the Jewish and Graeco-Roman world within which the New Testament documents originated. In spite of various obstacles, our knowledge of that world has increased immensely over the
last century. The exegete should, however, also carefully distinguish between textual world, which is a construct of the author, and real world.
As illustration of the value of background knowledge Romans 13:1-7 is discussed. It seems that both anti-Roman tendencies in Palestine and dissatisfaction with the Roman taxation system led to Paul's admonitions in
this passage. It is also shown how several details of the text become transparent in the light of background information. The danger inherent in accentuating background study at the cost of the text itself is also