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Bible Reading is Cross-cultural Communication

Communication at its most basic is the use of symbols to affect the understanding of another. The symbols at a communicator’s disposal are both verbal and non-verbal.

Verbal tools are spoken & heard symbols that represent ideas. Non-verbal tools are unspoken symbols that represent ideas.

  1. Phonology—uses words (individual sound bites) that a community agrees will represent certain things.
  2. Syntax—combines words into a community’s agreed upon patterns to express whole thoughts.
  3. Semantics—chooses words artfully in context to nuance meaning.
  4. Paralanguage—uses sounds (sniffle, hum, tsking, etc.) or inflection to communicate meaning. Frustration & flattery are often intoned more than articulated.
  5. Artifact communication—things that have shared meaning to a community, like hand cuffs, yamakas, heavy make-up, bridal gown,  etc.
  6. Kinetic communication—movements that have shared meaning to a community, like rolling the eyes, giving a thumbs up, and strutting.
  7. Tactile communication—touch that has shared meaning to a community, like back rubs, putting the back of a hand to a forehead, nudging someone with an elbow, etc.Communication model phone circuit 3

This gets interesting when combined with definitions of culture. Culture represents shared systems of communication, values, worldviews, and patterns of life. Shared systems of communication, what is called a semiotic (sign system), is the primary means of expressing and participating in the values, worldviews, and patterns of the community.

Culture is learned at the earliest ages, virtually absorbed, becoming almost instinctual, the primary framework of one’s mind, only one step removed from the genetic wiring that makes us human. Culture is a powerful force in the mind, filled with urges only slightly less demanding than our foundational human drives to survive, to nourish, to protect, to copulate.

Cross-cultural communication takes place when the sender’s “primary mental framework” is from one culture and the receiver’s “primary mental framework” is from another. To one degree or another, the communicator’s instincts are to use symbols in a different way than the receiver of his message. The communicator’s worldview, values, and way of life are different, even if just slightly, from the one to whom he or she seeks to impart understanding.

Cross-cultural communication is always difficult, filled with pitfalls and traps, rife with misunderstanding. It demands the full attention of all involved. It demands that both communicator and listener be aware of the problem, and the means of overcoming it.

Now, think about reading the Bible. The stories, poems, laws, parables, proverbs & letters in Scripture are anywhere from 2000 years old to 4000 years old. While the Bible is the most translated book in human history, its languages are ancient Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Most of the content of the Bible is drawn from cultures around Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Italy, Ethiopia, Yemen, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Cypress. The geography, climate, architecture, governmental and legal systems, worship systems, family and gender interactions, and financial structures are radically different.

Yet, carried along by the Holy Spirit, these ancient prophets and poets and story-tellers and scholars wrote messages to particular groups of people about particular groups of people, that were adopted and collected, forming the official sacred literature of Israel and the Church. They wrote, which is one step removed from face to face communication, lacking the advantage of tone and inflection, and facial expression and movement in the talking. They wrote into one world and have the fortune and misfortune to be read yet in hundreds of other cultures and times and places.

I say, fortune, because those writings, the etchings of supposed backward, uneducated, country bumpkin prophets are the most influential literature in the history of the world. I say, misfortune, because the act of cross-cultural communication that Bible reading has become leads to a myriad of misunderstandings, which they, being dead, cannot work to overcome.

The onus for proper understanding of their message falls upon us as readers. We are called upon by all that cross-cultural communication is, and by all that inspiration of these texts makes them, to outdo ourselves striving to cross the gulf that stands between us and them in order to turn miscommunication into communication. So that with our Bibles open before us, we too can say to the Lord, “Speak, for you servant heareth.”

2 thoughts on “Bible Reading is Cross-cultural Communication

  1. John Gilkenson says:

    Great thoughts. I think I will share this on a history group page even though it’s not directly history related in conventional sense but many will find in interesting and helpful.

    1. every share is a win for me. thanks.

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