King's Evangelical Divinity School

1 November 2009

Greek versus Jewish Mindsets

I've just finished another spy novel by one of my favourite fiction writers. In keeping with his style the climax is reached towards the very end of a highly convoluted narrative numbering various hundreds of pages. Actually, though, if you think about it, this emphasis on a climatic approach is very much the way we do things in Western Europe and the US, whether novels, storytelling, movies, indeed even academic research and scholarly papers. This is not a coincidence. Just last week I was reminded again of an important distinction between the Greek and Jewish mindsets when an authoritative Jewish Christian speaker, in an exposition of Isaiah 53, explained how the author sets out his stall from the outset and then spends the rest of the text marshalling his evidence in support of his initial declarations.

The fact is, Western society continues to be shaped by a Greek philosophical mindset stretching back several thousand years. Whether the approach of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, or this focus on climatic endings, we in the West are the product of Greek thought, which contines to pervade our society. To be sure, we must take care not to over-generalise. The Jewish approach is to blab the punchline at the outset then explain why, while the Greek (and his offspring) favour dragging out the story with a climatic building up of the tension so that the whole truth is only revealed towards the end. But of course there are exceptions to this generalisation. Modern Jewish society is increasingly influenced by the West, while here imaginative people think out of the box, that is, they think in ways other than they were conditioned to think. But this aside, the basic premise stands: Jewish (indeed Eastern) and Greek modes of thinking differ in approach, especially if we look to the expressions of thought in the first century. And this is important because it demonstrates how, as Greek offspring, we need to take care how we view and interpret the Bible, which is essentially a collection of Jewish writing. In short, it is a thoroughly Jewish book, divinely inspired to be sure, but expressed in the human language of Jewishness, and as such Western Christianity must take care not to impose upon it a Western mindset and thus interpretation.

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