The importance of different perspectives in the study of the Bible is crucial to a proper exegesis of Scripture. This is so because many people believe that they know exactly what the Scriptures say when in actuality they only know what they know. To explain further Richard Cunningham says, “Theology has been primarily the work of Western European and North American thinkers and Eastern Orthodox theologians” (“Theologizing in a Global Context: Changing Contours.” Review and Expositor 352). So, with the teaching and thinking of the Bible being by more predominantly “well to do” thinkers, there could be some emphases that are lacked in the study of Scriptures. This points back to the ones that only know what they know. This could easily be stated as they only know what they think they know. When in truth the interpretation of the text could be completely different when done by someone who has lived the life of true poverty.
Take the Gospel of Luke, for example. How can the Gospel of Luke be interpreted from Western and Eastern perspectives? The answer to this is, in short, they can interpret it very differently. This is, of course, rightly so because in the Eastern world things may have a completely different meaning. Such as the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-32. In this parable, the son leaves his father’s property with his inheritance in tow (vv.11-13). He then proceeds to blow all his money and becomes destitute having to survive by feeding pigs (v.15). In this story, though the son says “but I perish with hunger” (English Standard Version, Luke 15:17b). Many will say that he was hungry because he blew his money, or at least in America this is the answer. Yet upon further inspection, there are a few reasons he could be hungry. He blew his money (v.13), there was a severe famine (v.14), or because no one gave him anything to eat (v.16). The view taken here could be very easily seen differently by people from different areas and perspectives.
This is just one example of many that can have different views, with the same answer. The son in the story was hungry, the fact of how is not of importance. This is the reason that different perspectives can aid in the study of Scripture. If this parable has three different reasons for the son being hungry; then how much has been missed because of certain geographical circumstances clouding one’s eyes? Again, Cunningham states, “Given our history in the West, it is not surprising that after centuries of a broad tacit intellectual framework within Western Christianity, we should have easily forgotten the dynamic interplay between faith and its concrete cultural setting” (353).
If this is possible to have happened, then the necessity of receiving input from other interpreters is crucial in the study of the Bible. One does not have to be a formal theologian to grasp and teach what the Bible says. Gorden Doss wrote about how Malawian Christians, “not being formal theologians helped the group to do a better theology because they did not feel obliged to solve all of the ambiguities of human existence. . .” (“A Malawian Christian Theology of Wealth and Poverty.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 148). Doss also stated, “African Christians and Western Christians need dialogue that is characterized by mutuality and collegiality for the sake of our shared global mission” (148).
The last quote shows that as Christians every person’s view is of importance because all share in the mission of “making disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). And Christ calls all believers, or followers of Him, to “forsake everything” (Craig Keener, “When Jesus Wanted All My Money: And Everything Else. How I Learned He’s an All-or-Nothing Lord.” Christianity Today 48). This is a key theme throughout the Gospel of Luke. Jesus calls all to leave everything behind and follow Him (Luke 14:33). To some, such as half the world living on less than $2.50 a day (Keener 48), this could be the difference in their life or their death. Whereas, in Western societies, one can give away everything and still live a more comfortable life than those in Eastern societies. The differences in the Eastern societies and the Western society’s view of Luke may be significant just over this one area. In Eastern societies, if they follow Jesus, they give up everything whether they want to or not. Whereas, in Western societies, you can “give up” everything, but your life is not at risk as is the one’s from the Eastern societies.
The fact that different people interpret Luke in different ways should not scare or even bother one. This is a good thing. It does not allow for dogmatism on topics that should not have dogmatism. It in fact should make one “open to a new word from God or a new breeze of the Holy Spirit. . .” (Cunningham 359). It should make “the whole people of God willing to listen together and hear each other. . .” (Cunningham 359). The wisdom one can gain from other interpreters from different cultures can be invaluable to truly understand what the Bible is saying.
The thing that we have to keep in mind when reading Scripture is that it was written in a completely different culture than what we live in today. Even the culture of those who live in the area that Scripture was written in is different today. We must keep these thoughts in mind when reading and trying to discern what the text means. We need to remove our lenses and see what the text means. Sometimes this means reading other expositors from differing cultures to see the text from a different angle. This is said because as I wrote above, we may think we know what the text means only to find out we have imposed our culture on the text. Always read the text and study it for what it says. Look at the text spend time observing the text. Find out what is in the text. Just like the text from Luke about the prodigal son. Those three reasons for being hungry were observations about the text that many have missed, I know I did for a few years. So, always observe the text and find all the important thoughts, words, expressions, and anything else you see as Important before seeking to apply the text. If you do, you may be surprised at what the text says.