Thinking Like Other People

“This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.” 1John 5:6

People from different cultures think about things differently.

I remember when I was a student missionary in South Korea we had an instance where I and the other teachers wanted to give some of the students that had been attending our week of prayer services a copy of the Desire of Ages, by Ellen White. For those who don’t know, this is a large book telling the story of the life of Christ.

The Korean staff told us we couldn’t give the book because “it was too expensive.”

We thought the problem was that the staff was unwilling to spend that much money on the students to give them something truly worth while. That’s what we’d usually have meant if we said something was too expensive. But that’s not what the staff was talking about. In Korea the value of a gift, given under these circumstances, is understood by the amount of effort given to earn it. In our case it was too easy to earn the gift and it wouldn’t have been properly appreciated.

For a short time all of the English teachers were angry with the Korean staff. It wasn’t until we had learned to think a little more like a Korean that our confusion was cleared away.

To understand our focus text we need to understand how Jewish theologians used metaphors and symbols because John, notwithstanding the fact that he’s writing in Greek, is a Jewish theologian.

Most English speakers follow a very strait forward approach to using and understanding metaphors, one symbol has one meaning. You can see this approach demonstrated in virtually all the commentaries endeavoring to explain 1 John 5:6. One group says that John, when he says that Jesus came with water and blood, is talking about Jesus baptism and crucifixion. A second group says that he’s referring to the blood and water that John says flowed from Jesus’ side on Calvary proving that he had really died on the cross.

But since John was Jewish there’s another possibility. One of my seminary professors, Dr. Jacques Doukhan, taught us that Jewish theologians of this period didn’t think in the isolated ways that people tend to think today. They would layer together two or more different understandings and so long as each was correct all were what was meant.

In the case of the Jesus coming by water and the blood I believe that John was referring to both interpretations because both are reasonable interpretations and the combining of them together would be something a Jewish theologian from his era might have done.

God’s given us a wonderful gift in the way different people think. It can be confusing to follow the paths others peoples minds follow but there can be great blessings for us if we will be patient with the process of learning and make the effort.

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