Saturday, May 31, 2014

Using the Culture Key to Unlock the Meanings of the Words of the Bible


We all think, act, and communicate in ways
that are primarily predetermined by our culture.

We didn't choose our culture any more than we chose our parents.  We are born and immediately immersed in whatever culture we happened to live in. If you had been born in another culture – you would be a very different person than you are today.

Culture is the whole behavior and technology of any people that is passed on from generation to generation.  Culture consists of the knowledge, beliefs, morals, laws, religion, customs, concepts, habits, skills, institutions, and any other capabilities of a given people in a given period.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz provides additional information about culture:

A culture is more than a set of rules to guide behavior; it is a comprehensive worldview and way of relating to one's fellow human beings.  Like all complex cultures, Jewish culture does not spell everything out literally, but leaves much to inference.  A culture's strength lies not only in what it says, but also in what it chooses not to say, and this too must be learned.

Our culture shapes the way we think. We have acquired our cultural foundation by the time we reach adulthood. I think “American,” but none of the books of my Bible or the people recorded in it thought “American.”

● Abraham thought “Mesopotamian/Ur-Haran.”
● Moses thought “Egyptian/Median.”
● David thought “Judah/Bethlehem.”
● Jesus thought “Judea/Galilee.”
● Paul thought “Roman/Cilicia/Jew.”

The first step in accurately understanding the meaning of any message is to identify the culture of the source of the message, which means I must learn about their cultures and consciously guard against allowing my culture to override the source’s culture when I am reading their words. If we do not learn about their cultures and consciously make sure we are using the source’s cultural meanings when we read our Bibles, we will project our cultural meanings into their words.

The source’s culture is the standard that must be used to measure the accuracy of any translation or interpretation of the words of the Bible – or any other message.

Words are like secret codes and the source’s culture is the code book that you can use to unlock the meanings.

The more we learn about the source’s culture
the more accurately we understand his or her words.
The less we known about the source’s culture,
the greater the chances of error

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