01 June, 2007

Inherent cultural relativism in the interpretation of the Bible

I've heard people talk about the Absolute of the Word of God. That may be so, but at what point does the Word of God cease being an absolute concept and is altered/changed/adjusted into a relativist concept? Some people talk about the Bible as the Word of God, does this mean the Bible is absolute? How can it be absolute when you have different translations of the original text?

This is my starting point for arguing that inherently the Bible is a cultural relative phenomenon that must be approached as such to understand the relevance and importance of its message. On the issue of translations, if the Bible were originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament) or Classic Greek (New Testament), how can we who read the translated English versions argue that what we are reading is the "truth"? Doesn't the actual process of translation make the end product an exercise in cultural relativism? You see the different translations, King James, NIV etc., why are these different? A translation will need to be approached in the context of the culture that it was written, and only then can a more-correct translation be made. If the text was an absolute, would it not require only a simple literal-translation of the words?

Language changes through time, this often is a reflection of reality or the way that reality is perceived shapes the language. If language is a direct reflection of our culture wouldn't the manifestation of The Word in our own language(s) be a step in the alteration of the Absolute into the relative. Cultural terms, phrases and sayings must be used to explain concepts that may not be fully understood in a different cultural context. So when the Bible was first written down, that would constitute an act of cultural relativism, whereby through its very nature as a written document, any Absolutism is lost. Therefore, we must approach older texts and even cross-cultural modern texts in the context of the author and the cultural setting to understand its meaning.

I'm not arguing that the Absolute cannot exist, but I argue that the Absolute does not exist in the context of people/human. It cannot exist in our minds, because we are cultural beings and will therefore be shaped and moulded in that form. The absolute can only exist in a non-cultural framework, but this can never exist. If people were a-cultural (without culture), that would make us just like the animals.

1 comment:

AD said...

Great post. I don't understand why people/Christians are so threatened by any mention of cultural relativism with Biblical interpretation. But, it's impossible to interpret anything outside of our own language and cultural lens.