Do you ever read something in the Bible and think “what in the world does that mean”?
Do you ever read something in the Bible and think “that doesn’t sound right?”
Do you ever read something in the Bible and wonder “how does that fit in today’s society?”
Well – I have done all of the above.
Recently I read a book that really help shed light on why I do not always “get it” when I read God’s Word.
The book is called Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus. Written by Lois Tverberg, I highly recommend it if you want to gain a better understanding of what you read in the Bible. After earning a Ph.D in biology and teaching in college she started learning Hebrew and Greek, studying in the land of Israel and searching for more knowledge of the first-century Jewish world in which Jesus lived, died and rose again.
What she discovered was that not only are we thousands of years from the time the Bible was written but an even greater obstacle to our understanding is we are from a different culture.
She listed a few of the differences in our culture which I found very interesting and eye-opening. (The following is copied from her book.)
Our world: Thin is beautiful Biblical world: Fat is blessing, wealth
Our world: Youth is attractive Biblical world: Age is wisdom
Our world: Does God exist? Biblical world: Whose god is greatness?
Our world: Me – personal goals Biblical world: We – family legacy
Our world: Sunshine – happiness Biblical world: Rain – utter joy
Our world: Logic and reason Biblical world: Parable and prophecy
She pointed out that Bible translators have found that many cultures today have less difficulty understanding the Bible when it is translated into their language than we in the Western world do.
often the cultural issues we have with the Bible are not a problem for people elsewhere in the world. They’ve struggled with the Christian message as they’ve heard it filtered through the perspective of Western missionaries, but when it’s explained in its original non-Western setting, it makes much more sense to them.”
Perhaps the problem is not the number of years between us and the writers of the Bible as it is the number of miles between our Western culture and the Middle East culture.
I found a lot of her points in the list above to be true when I spent some time in the Philippines. Over and over people I met would say “you are fat.” (I am actually fat now but at the time no one in the USA would have considered me overweight.) Until I understood their culture I felt insulted and that they were the rudest people I had ever met. Only after living there a few months did I understand they meant that as a compliment. Clearly by not being very thin I obviously had plenty of money to buy food and was therefore a successful person.
Tverberg also explains how many Jewish words have so much depth and multiple meanings than our English words. Recognizing that really helps when we read things that tell us to “fear” God or when we forgive we must “forget.”
After reading this book, I am ready to do more studying on the Hebrews meaning of words and delving more into the Mid-Eastern culture.
Interested in learning more too? I highly recommend this book and follow her on FB at Our Rabbi Jesus (Lois Tverberg) where she breaks down the meaning of many Hebrew words to help us get a better understanding of exactly what the Bible means.
Check it out!