Friday, December 15, 2006

Cross Cultural (mis)Understandings



When I first moved to Spain and began learning Spanish, one of the first things I remember about language learning is how I would literally translate things in my head. I would take Spanish vocabulary and put it into and English sentence structure. If people could understand what I was saying they would giggle. More often they had trouble understanding me at all. Then when you add facial expressions, body language, colloquial expressions, and cultural assumptions it makes communicating an even more complicated process.

Imagine if we take that process and added to it multiple cultures spread over a couple thousand years. It leaves a lot of room for misunderstandings. That is something that we need to keep in our minds as we approach the Bible. It takes place in various languages (Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew), across multiple cultures (Hebrew, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, Babylonian, etc...) and spans thousands of years from the Patriarchs to the Apostles. With such a broad range of cultures, languages, and time we cannot simply approach the scripture out of our own cultural context and come away with an accurate understanding of what the writers (and ultimately God) are trying to communicate.

With language I believe there are at least two parts to learning and communicating in another language. First, being open to the Spirit's leading as we are sensitive to him in what we do and don't say. Second, is study. The more we study and learn the more we improve our handle on the language and it's nuances. When we read the Bible I believe that we need to both have things revealed to us by the Spirit and be life long students of the cultures and peoples and places that make up all of the stories in the Bible.

Why Bother? It sounds so complicated, why would any one ever want to go through the hassle of even trying to understand the Bible.

For me, as I read through these books written by so many authors across so many cultures I am amazed by the consistency of the story. It is like watching a big jig saw puzzle being put together in front of you. Pieces, that by themselves seem irrelevant lock into the place and become key pieces in the big picture. It is a mystery to me how authors across so much time and space could write a collection of books that have such a coherent message. It is a miracle to me that the lives of so many people across history could be so intertwined in such an intimate way. That to me is the beauty of the Bible and what makes it worth the the study and propels me on to understand it better.