God’s Word is a written Word, yet when we read it, we try to visualize it, to understand it in terms of our world and our lives. Jesus knew this and that’s why He taught with so many parables, or stories—stories about everyday things the people He was teaching could understand. A lost sheep, farming, celebrating, or working. When a message is put into terms an audience can really “get their arms around,” we say that that message is contextualized. That’s why the Guidelines Commentary is translated into different languages with different teaching illustrations. And that’s why a study bible, God’s Word explained through African eyes is needed, says my guest today, Laura Livingston of Oasis Publishing. Welcome, Laura.
Laura Livingston: Thank you, Bonnie.
Bonnie Sala: Laura, can you explain for us how the cultural setting that a person comes from informs how they understand and relate to Scripture?
LL: Think about, for example, the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says we’re the light of the world or we’re the salt of the earth. Those are passages we all know really well. We know light shows the way, makes it clear, shines in the darkness. And we’ve all been taught we’re the salt of the earth because salt preserves. Salt gives flavor. We’ve heard those sermons over and over. But supposed I look at that from some African context instead of my own and I start to think, “What does salt do?” Well, in an African village monkeys know where the water is and they can lead people to water—but, of course, they don’t cooperate by leading humans to water. But if you feed the monkey salt and make it thirsty, it’ll go straight to the water. Then you’ll be able to find your way to the water. So from that context, I might understand that being the salt of the earth means I’m to show the way, to give direction, to point to where your thirst can be satisfied, which actually parallel a lot better with light of the world than our understanding of it. So the context I live in helps me understand the teaching I find in God’s Word.
BS: Can you give us another example of what you might call a highly contextualized theme that might be close to the heart of Africans?
LL: One thing that’s really important in many African context is community. We’re much more individualistic in the West and tend to think individualistically. Whereas in any African context, people define themselves and think in terms of community, which actually fits well with the concept of the Church, the body of Christ. For instance, the Africa Study Bible is full of proverbs and traditional wisdom and connects with God’s Word, and one of those, the Lega of Congo, says, “One hand does not play the drum.” What’s easy see how that connects—we function our best in community. And that’s the note that’s in Titus 1:5, where Paul tells Titus to organize the church in Crete, and appoint elders. And we highlight that by saying, “One hand doesn’t play the drum.” So the traditional wisdom can help us to understand God’s Word.
BS: What do you think this Bible’s impact will be on the African church?
LL: I think it’s going to be huge on every level. First, the individual who picks it up and it’s at a level they can read easily and it has all of these helps to help them understand and apply what they’re reading. But, then in terms of the church, it’s going to give the pastors materials to help them preach more richly and disciple people. And then in terms of the larger community, as that church begins to be challenged to impact the society as a whole. What do we do with widows and orphans? How do we handle bribery and corruption? I think it has the potential to start with the individual and even impact the societies.
BS: The great preacher Dwight L. Moody is known to have said, “The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation.” May the Africa Study Bible do just that!
Resource Reading: Joshua 1:6-9
Text: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
GUIDELINES with Harold Sala – March 14, 2017