How God Speaks to His People Across the Ages


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Jan Paron, PhD | 2014

Hesselgrave defined communication related to culture as “the transfer of meaning through the use of symbols.”[1] Then, for a person to internalize communication, the received message must be processed from the listener’s understanding. Whether verbal or nonverbal symbols, Nida proposed that symbols come from culturally-prescribed artifacts, words, phrases, gestures, or behaviors.[2] If one culturally determines symbols from their location, then these symbols may influence interpreting God’s Word.

Scripture shows God communicated to His people in the Old Testament using multiple means of expression so people would understand Him and make meaning of His message. He used verbal, visual, tactile, aural, and experiential modes relevant to the cultural context of individuals across the two testaments. In doing so, God varied His message indigent to the listener’s (or receiver of the message) beliefs, values, norms, social practices, surrounding circumstances, geographic location, and historical events.

The listener must process a sent message through culturally determined symbols to understand and then internalize the given communication. Since a people group or individual determine symbols unique to their understanding, then these symbols may influence how a person or people interpret God’s Word in the communication modes.[3] Though believers in Christ cannot replicate God’s divine communication means, they can look to them for guidance when speaking to others.

The Adamic, Edenic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants each show examples of how God communicated His purpose and promise of salvation for humanity. God always has had a passion for communion and relationship with humanity desiring to transform them into His image as holy (Rom 8:29). The Creator does so through the covenantal language of redemption emanating from love for His creation. By examining each of the covenants, one sees instances of His expressional communication modes to individuals and collective bodies.    

Edenic Covenant (Genesis 1:26–31)

God made the Edenic Covenant with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before sin’s entrance. God revealed His purpose in Creation with this covenant (Gn 1:1; 2:25 ). Greene explained the Genesis author wrote the Creation account in the context of the ancient Israelites’ language, using cultural symbols the original audience would understand.[4] During the Edenic Covenant, communication shows God’s verbal, visual, and aural communication with Adam and Eve.

Set to the backdrop of the mist that went up from the earth, Genesis provides metaphorical language describing the perfection of God’s work (2:6–7). One reads in 1:26–31 how God created man in His image and likeness as the centerpiece of all He created. He formed Adam from the dust of the ground (2:7a), and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (v. 7b). Then, the first Adam became a living soul (v. 7c). 

As the Creation account continues in the Edenic Covenant, the author recorded God’s first words to humankind between the Lord and Adam. God stated His command to Adam in simple and direct terms: Freely eat of any tree in the Garden, but not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or Adam would die (vv. 16–17). The statements, in fact, reflect the terms of the Edenic Covenant. The tree of life itself standing in the middle of the Garden represents a visual symbol of the covenantal seal. 

Through the unfolding covenant, one reads of close and intimate dialogue between God and Adam. God told Adam he needed a suitable “help meet” (2:18b) and then brought him all the animals and birds to search for his companion, only to find none suitable. Therefore, God created woman and fashioned a wife called Eve from Adam’s rib (v. 22). The serpent (symbolic of Satan) then comes on the scene (3:4) and successfully tempted her with fruit from the forbidden tree. She ate the fruit, and gave one to her husband (v. 6). Now disobedient, God’s next communication to His Creation was aural. The Amplified Version tells Adam and Eve heard the “sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (v. 8). Then God calls out to Adam, “Where are you?” (v. 9) and followed it with a series of reprimands. One might imagine God as the disappointed parent standing face-to-face with His unruly children. God’s communication ended as it began—simple and direct to make Himself clear.  

Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3:14–19)

While God made the Edenic Covenant with Adam and Eve before sin’s entrance, He established the Adamic after it. God revealed His purpose in redemption. Here, God communicated verbally and visually. When God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the two moved eastward from it (3:24). Eastward represented prosperity that Adam and Eve lost from the Fall.[5] When Cain fled after murdering Abel, the nomadic son traveled further east to Nod and built the city of Enoch (4:16-17) signaling a greater loss of prosperity. If a picture portrays a thousand words, then God verbally painted a grim image of the land outside the Garden of Eden. He promised receiving judgments of cursed ground (3:17b), working land that would produce thistles and weeds (v. 18a); eating herbs of the field (v. 18b); sweating and toiling of the cursed earth until death; and returning to dust  (v. 19a). To add to this visual imagery, after God expelled Adam from the Garden He placed “Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way” to keep and guard the tree of life (v. 24). Though Adam and Eve lost close fellowship with the Lord, God gave humankind the promise of redemption to restore them to a covenantal relationship. Along with the curse, God gave the seed promise (3:15a), bruising the serpent’s head—a messianic prophecy God would reveal progressively through the Old Covenants and fulfill with the New (cf. Mt 1:20; Lk 1:30–31; Gal 4:4; Heb 4:14–17; 1 Jn 3:8). God communicated a vivid picture of life to come for Adam and Eve because of their disobedience.

Noahic Covenant (Genesis 8:20–9:6)

God’s covenant with Noah after the flood involved all future generations of humankind and every creature on earth. Through it, He confirmed His purpose in redemption with a new beginning by replenishing all flesh by a covenant of grace. He spoke to Noah with instructions to follow in preparation for the Flood (Gn 6:13; 7:1; 8:15-17) and again to elaborate His covenant afterward (9:8-17). The Lord also displayed a rainbow to communicate the seal between Him and humankind in remembrance of His everlasting covenant (9:15; cf. v. 17).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

The Lord communicated to Noah in different forms such as visuals with the water and dove. Could one have been experiential, too? How did Noah know to build an ark that would save future generations from the Flood? Lee proposed God communicated non-audibly since the Garden of Eden, meaning not all conversations between God and His people in biblical accounts were in out loud vocal mode.He based this on the meaning of ‘amar (Hebrew: אָמַר) translated to English as the word said. Lee felt ‘amar can take on a range of meanings including “say in the heart.”[6] Further, he theorized Noah sensed or heard God’s voice in his heart and followed through by the condition of faith. His theory could be true since God chose Noah because he found grace in the Lord’s eyes (6:8). Further, the Scripture described him as perfect in his generations and one who walked with God (v. 9). Noah stood on faith when he carried out God’s command to build an ark to save him and his family along with specified species from a flood that would destroy every living thing of all flesh (7:4). 

God’s command to build an ark further showed social and geographical factors connected to His directives and Noah’s obedience. Within a social structure, Noah ranked as a patriarch.[7] The early patriarchs headed single-family units, having a special relationship with God.As a patriarch, Noah retained the responsibility of heeding the voice of God for direction. Geographically, the waterways from the Near East and Mesopotamian region where the early patriarchs resided more than likely could not have held a boat the proportion of the ark.[8] The ark size measured well beyond the size of a normal shipping transport. Taking into consideration the scope of the command, God’s possible inaudible voice, and social and geographical circumstances, this communication mode shows that faith plays a role in how God speaks to His beloved. Despite adaptations that give meaning to the promises of God, humankind must stand on God’s Word by faith. “For we live by believing and not by seeing” (2 Cor 5:7 NLT). 

Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-4)

The Abrahamic Covenant concerned the nation of Israel, the seed Messiah, and believers of all nations. The people having been scattered across the earth and experiencing their language confounded as a result of disobedience at Babel (Gn 11:7-8), had developed families into nations at the time of Abraham (11:10–28). Abraham, much like Noah, had to walk in faith because of the words God spoke to him (Heb 11:8). How did God communicate with Abraham? God gave him direct verbal commands, such as departing from Haran to an unknown land with the promise of a great nation (11:31; 12:1), promise of the entire land of Canaan (13), promise of an heir (15:2; 18:10), and sacrifice of his son (22:2). Also, God appeared to Abraham in some type of divine manifestation when He said, “I will give this land to your posterity” (12:7 AMP), and a vision regarding the Lord as Abraham’s shield and great reward (15:1). He also spoke to Abraham through other people. A pharaoh asked Abraham, then Abram, to leave the country when God brought down plagues on the Egyptian and his household after he took in Sarai to his harem misled she was Abram’s sister (12:15). God additionally used imagery to make His message meaningful, comparing Abraham’s seed to the dust of the earth (13:16). In one last form of communication, God spoke to Abraham experientially through tests by living through famine (12:10), being asked to sacrifice his son (22:2) and surviving war (14:16). God did not limit the use of communication symbols to convey a message that Abraham would understand, all revolving around the Promised Land.  


Burning Bush: ShareFaith

Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19–31)

The Lord made the Mosaic covenant with the children of Israel after God delivered them from Egypt. This schoolmaster covenant was a shadow of better things to come for Israel in Jesus Christ. God spoke to Moses as well as Israelites in this covenant. People in this covenant experienced all forms of communication including verbal, visual, tactile, aural, and experiential. To bring back the wayward Israelites into relationship with Him from sin, God caught their attention. He came down in a cloud, which He announced with lightning, trumpet’s noise and a smoking mountain (Ex 19:16-19). This covenant records multiple conversations between God and Moses. It also shows God revealing Himself in the burning bush in a theophany (3:2). The Lord spoke to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (33:11; Dt 5:4 NIV). 

In contrast to God’s arresting communication with lightning, trumpet’s noise, and a smoking mountain (Ex 19:16-19) that made the Israelites fearful of the Lord, Moses’ conversation with the Lord demonstrated the intimacy that comes with friendship. Moses’ encounter with God differed from everyone else’s. Only Moses had this direct access to God. The Lord’s communication during this covenant characterized wide-ranging symbols from the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night that signified His presence to the children of Israel in the departure from Egypt (13:21–22)  to the intricacies of the Tabernacle of Moses. Even the ten plagues on the Egyptians and the starkness of the desert reflected God’s communication. Perhaps, God communicated in a demonstrative fashion to Moses and these first-generation children of Israel who provoked Him ten times and wandered in the desert to their death because of their disobedience (Nm 13–14:22).  

Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 28–30)

Whereas the Mosaic Covenant was between first-generation children of Israel, the Palestinian dealt with the second generation. It amplified the Mosaic Covenant with moral and civil codes as conditions for living in the Promised Land. This covenant pertains to the land. Much of the language relates to the land, mentioned about 180 times in the book of Deuteronomy.[9] The land showed a much different future. Rather than stark desert conditions, it promised milk and honey. These were visual symbols to the children of Israel of forthcoming prosperity. During this covenant, Moses spoke for God to the children of Israel. Moses himself conveyed the covenant (Dt 29:1; 29). God continued to dialogue with Moses. While He showed Moses the whole land, He would not allow him to cross over into it (34:1-4). 

Moreover, as the children of Israel went into Canaan to conquer the land under Joshua’s leadership, the Ark of the Covenant went before them (Jo 1-3). It symbolized new beginnings. However, the Israelites did not keep their conditions, and God expelled them from the land. During the period of the judges, Scripture communicated what awaited them as sickness, plagues, and cast out status (Dt 29:16-29; Lv 18:24-28).

Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:11–15)

In the last Old Testament covenant, which extends the Mosaic and Palestinian Covenants. God promised kingship from the lineage of David and the House of Judah with a messianic nature. This covenant shows some different patterns of communication. First, David enquired of the Lord and the Lord, in turn, answered Him (1 Sm 23:2–4). The response did not have the same tone as the intimacy shown with face-to-face dialogue between Moses and God (Ex 33:11; Dt 5:4), but David did communicate directly with Him. The Davidic Covenant also foretold the language of redemption with a number of seed promises (e.g., Is 7:13–14; 9:6–9; Jer 25:5–6; 33:15). Additionally, the sacrificial animals and blood typed greater spiritual sacrifices and atonement to come in the New Testament (e.g., burnt offerings to the Ark of the Covenant; 2 Sm 6:17, Chr 16:1–3). The seal was another symbol of the seed with the sun, moon, and stars as signs for the seasons, days, and years. While the heavens remained, the sun ruled the day, and moon and stars the night David’s throne would exist (Jer 32:35–37; 33:19–26). Jesus fulfills the seal.  

New Covenant (Isa 11:1; Matt 1:1; John 1:17; Acts 2)

With the New Testament, Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone—God manifested in flesh walked and talked among the people freely teaching, healing, and preaching among the marginalized. He reached the multitudes with stories, parables, and symbolic illustrations. When the Fulfilled Law outpoured His promised Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, there came a sound from heaven like “a mighty rushing wind” (Acts 2:2a KJV). Then, “cloven tongues like as of fire” (2:3) settled on each disciple, and the Holy Ghost filled them. Each spoke as He gave them utterance (v. 4). Those dwelling in Jerusalem heard these utterances. The scattered with their confounded language (Gn 11:7-8) now understood what the disciples said each in their own dialect (Acts 2:6 AMP). These expressions exemplify multisensory modes of communication by Jesus and through His Spirit. They serve to witness who Jesus is. The Holy Spirit continues today to manifest His presence through the speaking of tongues in believers. 

Biblical Implications

The children of Israel despite their promise to obey God repeatedly turned from Him in the Old Testament, while the crowd rejected Jesus as the Messiah in the New. Scripture contains the hidden things God’s indwelt Spirit reveals in the fullness of Godhead through His special revelation that intent to reach a diverse population for spiritual transformation utilizing intentional signs and symbols that promote sense-making meaning between the source and receiver anchored in a Christian perspective in both theological function and principles. Five axioms drive transformational communication during discipleship: (1) supports God’s purpose and plan; (2) revolves around unconditional love; (3) generates from the Holy Spirit; (4) brings meaning; (5) and unifies the Body in diversity. These can serve as a starting place for reaching the nations through witness. spiritual man discerns (1 Cor 2:6-13; Col 2:9). Conner compared these symbols to Jesus’ parables. While the crowd who listened to Jesus heard them as the language of Creation, the disciples understood it as the language of redemption.Thus, people in their natural cannot perceive the spiritual things of God.[10] Also, learned behaviors such as beliefs, values, norms, and social practices behaviors people acquire from a host of associated cultural groups, from family members to workplace colleagues affect how they make meaning. These behaviors influence how they perceive and interpret events, situations, and communications including the Gospel. How do leaders address the cultural perceptions of the listener, yet communicate in a way that spiritually transforms them? God contextually communicated with humankind in the Old and New Testaments using multidimensional methods to transmit messages appropriate to the peoples’ context to transform them to holiness in redemption from salvation through Jesus Christ. Ministerial leaders should exemplify this same. 


[1] Hesselgrave, D. (1991). Communicating Christ cross-culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1991), 55.

[2] Eugene Nida, Message and Meaning: The Communication of the Christian Faith (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), 65.

[3]  Nida, Message and Meaning: The Communication of the Christian Faith, 65.

[4] T. S. Greene, The metaphorical language of Creation. Greene’s creationism truth filter. 2000, Retrieved from

[5] James Martin, John Beck, and David G. Hansen, A Visual Guide to Bible Events: Fascinating Insights into Where They Happened and Why (New York: Baker Books, 2009), 15.

[6] D. Lee, God Did Not Speak Out Loud to the Old Testament Saints, (2012) Amazon eBook. Retrieved from

[7] Israel Finkelstein and Neil A. Silberman, The Bible unearthed: Archeology’s new vision of ancient Israel and the origin of its sacred texts. (New York: Touchstone, 2001), 27.

[8] Stephen. M. Miller, Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible (Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing, 2004), 287.

[9] Kevin Conner, Interpretation: The Symbols and Types. Portland: Bible Temple Publishing, 1980), 52.

[10] Conner, Interpretation: The Symbols and Types.

Ezekiel 37:1-14: Receptive Reading


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Jan Paron, PhD | September 14, 2021

The oracle of the dry bones represents the restoration of a future, united Israel (Ez 37:1-14). Set in the context of the Babylonian exile (1:1-3), Ezekiel prophesied the oracles to the captured Judahites between approximately 585 BC and 573 BC.[1] Through the word of the Lord, Ezekiel announced multiple prophecies for the exiled about their future (37:1-14) amid what appears as three main: “you shall live” (v. 6); “brought you up from your graves” (v. 13); and “place you in your own land” (v.14).[2] The Lord made promises to the exiled that would change their captured state to one delivered from the Persians and then restored as a nation in their land. The clauses denote purpose that results in Israel knowing that “I am the Lord” (vv. 6, 13, 14).

 You Shall Live (Ez 37:6)

Listening to Ezekiel’s initial recounting of the valley from Ez 37:6, the exiled may have envisioned a scene marked by death and impurity rather than one of restored life. The area contained a great many dried, scattered, and disjointed bones that had laid there awhile (v. 2). The Jews had specific purification customs for a corpse before its burial. Further, the corpse rendered anything touching it unclean.[3] Therefore, the exiled possibly viewed the bones and land as desecrated. The unclean, dry bones might further represent a larger defilement between the Judahites and their failed relationship with the Lord (Ez 43:7).[4]

Babylonia’s second deportation of Israel resulted in Jerusalem’s destruction and its temple’s razing (2 Kgs 24:10-16).[5] If Ezekiel spoke the dry bones prophecy between 585 BC and 573 BC, then the first-wave deportees lived in exile for twelve years and the latter second wave two years at the time of the oracle.[6] For the first-generation Judean exiles, no doubt bitterness and trauma existed. Indeed, they voiced the dried-out state that produced feelings of being cut off (Heb: gāzar) from their parts (Ez 37:11). The NLT indicates gāzar as a finished nation.[7] The feelings of despair and desperation from hopelessness in a desecrated and dead condition (37:11) could have left them questioning God’s promise of “you shall live” (v. 6e). 


The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones Engraving: Gustave Doré

Brought You Up from Your Graves (Ez 37:13)

The latter part of Ezekiel 37:13 refers to the Lord’s action of “brought you up from your graves.” His promise may speak to a physical and/or eschatological restoration for the house of Israel. Ezekiel 37:1-14 portrays the exiles’ cultural state with the stripping of their identity reflected in a very (ESV) or great many (NIV) bones now scattered from their homeland in a severely deteriorated, dry state (37:2). The exiled experienced economic, political, and spiritual losses that left them feeling shame during capture. 

Since Israel broke covenant with God by continuing in sin, the Lord allowed two deportations to Babylon.[8] The second-wave capture exiled most of the Judahites 1000 miles away to Mesopotamia.[9] This dislocation deprived them economically. Loss of property left them without their possessions, and more importantly, the temple and land so closely connected to their social and religious identities. Consequently, political fallout ensued from a lesser standing among the surrounding nations,[10] which laughed (Ez 25:3) and mocked (25: 8) the exiled Israel. In tandem, they further experienced a broken relationship with Yahweh. The Judahites expressed covenant through obedience, worship, rites, and sacrifice to God. Covenant loss more than likely additionally contributed to a sense of shame.

Nonetheless, the Lord extended His assurance of hope to them. Despite Israel’s disobedience, the Lord addresses them as “O, my people” (v. 12). Quite possibly, their despair may have overridden the Lord’s promise to bring them up from their graves (37:14). However, Ez 37:13 could provide a clue suggesting cause and effect. When the Lord brings them out of their graves, then they will know He is the Lord.[11]

Place in Your Own Land (Ez 37:14)

In the last verse in the passage (v. 14), the Lord mentions “place in your own land” (v. 14). The last verse also culminates the process of restoration to Israel encompassing sinews→flesh→skin→breath→live→land. As in the previous verse (v. 13), the last verse of the dry bones segment utilizes a cause and effect again as if to highlight knowing that He is the Lord (v. 14). However, in this instance, it predicates Him having spoken and performed his promises

Well into captivity, the exiled more than likely saw the realities of their changed existence. Upon hearing Ezekiel’s oracles, they may have Dry even asked themselves, can these bones live? However, the Lord leaves them with reaffirmation as His people and promises of restoration and revival. From prior practices over concern for Israel’s own self-interests, it’s difficult from the dry bones narrative to ascertain whether they grasped the fullness of His promises. He desired to sanctify His name’s sake, which Israel profaned among the nations (cf. Ez 36:22-24).


[1] Lawrence Boadt in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2, D-G, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York, Doubleday, 1992).713.

[2] Unless otherwise specified, this writing will quote scripture from the New King James Version.

[3] A.P. Bender. “Beliefs, Rites, and Customs of the Jews, Connected with Death, Burial, and MourningConnected with Death, Burial, and Mourning.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 7, no. 2 (January 1995), 259-269. The Jews had specific customs for purification of a corpse prior to burial such as cleansing, dressing, and posturing it,  which left anything touching it unclean as well.

[4] Marvin Sweeney, Reading Ezekiel: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys, Publishing, Inc., 2012), 44. 

[5] L. D. Tiemeyer, L. D, “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, ed. Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012) 214. Ezekiel delivered the oracles in chronological order with Ez 37 following 35:1 to 36:15. While experiences from deportation remained more recent for the second-wave Judahites than the first, nevertheless, t. 

[6] Walther Zimmerli, A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 25-48 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 234.

[7] Cut off may suggest multiple levels of separation: God, the nation, Jerusalem, and their temple. Possibly, it builds upon another word for cut off (Heb: kāraṯ) associated with punishment by death (Nm 9:13)

[8] When King Jehoiakim continued in the footsteps of Manasseh, the Lord sent other nations to destroy Judah for the sins of Manasseh (2 Kgs 24:3). Then, the Lord chastised Israel in the 12th year in exile (Ez 33:21) after Jerusalem’s fall for their continued sins.

[9] Paul M. Joyce, Ezekiel: A Commentary (New York: T & T Clark, 2007), 7.

[10] Nebuchadnezzar reigned over Syria and Palestine from the Euphrates to the Egyptian frontier (2 Kgs 24:7), and Judah became a Babylonian province, weakening the standing of Israel in the eyes of surrounding nations.

[11] Saul M. Olyan, “Honor, Shame, and Covenant Relations in Ancient Israel and Its Environment.” Journal of Biblical Literature 115, no. 2 (1996): 201.


Ackroyd, Peter R. Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B. C. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986.

Allen, Leslie C. Ezekiel, Vol. 29. Word Bible Commentary. Edited by John D. W. Watts and James W. Watts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

Bender, A. P. “Beliefs, Rites, and Customs of the Jews, Connected with Death, Burial, and Mourning.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 7, no. 2 January (Jan., 1995):  259-269:

Bimson, John J. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Boadt, Lawrence. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol D-G. Edited by David N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

__________. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press, 2012.

Brett, Mark G. ed. Ethnicity and the Bible. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002.

Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. 17th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Eichrodt, Walther Theology of the Old Testament. Translated by J. A. Baker. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

Fox, Michael, V. “The Rhetoric of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Valley of the Bones.” Hebrew Union College Annual 51, (1980): 1-15.

Greenberg, Moshe. Ezekiel 21-27. Anchor Yale Bible. New York: Yale University Press, 2010.

__________. The Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration.” Interpretation 58, no. 4 (2007): 585-625.

Goldingay, John A. “Ezekiel.” Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Edited by James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Joyce, Paul M. Ezekiel: A Commentary. New York: T & T Clark, 2007.

Kamsen, Joel and Tihitshak Biwul. “The Restoration of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis.” Scriptura 118 (2019:1), pp. 1-10.

LaSor, William Sandord, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, and Leslie C. Allen. Old Testament Survey: The Message Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, Co. 1996. 

Lee, Lydia. Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles Against the Nations. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016.

Longman III, Tremper. The Message of the Prophets: A Survey of the Prophetic and Apocalyptic Books of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

Mein, Andrew. Ezekiel and the Ethics of Exile. Oxford Theological Monographs. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2006.

Miller, Maxwell J. and John H. Hayes. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. 2nd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Mendenhall, George. “Covenant.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol A-C. Edited by David Freeman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Margaret S. OdellEzekiel (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary).

Olyan, Saul M. 1996. “Honor, Shame, and Covenant Relations in Ancient Israel and Its Environment.” Journal of Biblical Literature 115, no. 2: 201. 

Pearce, Laurie E. “Identifying Judeans and Judean Identity in the Babylonian Evidence.” in Exile and Return: The Babylonian Context, edited by Jonathan Stökl, Caroline Waerzeggers, and Jonathan Stökl. Berlin: CPI Books, 2015. 

Qubt, Shadia. “Can These Bones Live? God, Only You Know.” Review and Expositor. 104, Summer, 2007.

Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks: A Complete Survey of Old Testament History and Literature. New York: HarperOne, 2000.

Serfontein, Johan and Wilhelm J. Wessels. “Communicating Amidst Reality: Ezekiel’s Communication as a Response to His Reality.” Verbum Eccles 35, no. 1 (2014): 

Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. A Biblical Theology of Exile. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

Staples, Jason A. The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Stökl, Jonathan, and Caroline Waerzeggers. Exile and Return : The Babylonian Context. (Beihefte Zur Zeitschrift Für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 2015): Volume 478. De Gruyter. 

Sweeney, Marvin. Reading Ezekiel: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Reading the Old Testament.) (p. 44). (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc.)

Tiemeyer, L. D. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets. Edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012.

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Zimmerli, Walther. Ezekiel 2. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

Valley of the Dry Bones: Contextual Background


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Jan Paron, PhD | September 4, 2021

The vision of the valley of the dry bones (Ez 37:1-14) stands amid a collection of oracles from Ezekiel addressed to the exiled during the Babylonian captivity. Ezekiel transmitted the words of the Lord to the exiled as their watchman and prophet.[1] In 37:1-14, he oracled renewal and restoration that included a united Israel (vv. 15-21) as part of the book’s primary purpose of judgment and salvation for Israel and the nations. What occurred in the background that tells the behind-the-scenes story of the exiled in Babylonia? An overview of the historical, cultural, geographic, and economic contexts provide an initial glimpse into their captivity.

A historical overview of exile for the divided kingdoms reveals deportation for both but at different points. In 721 BC, before the Babylonian captivity, the Assyrians took the Northern Kingdom captive (2 Kgs 14-20). Babylonian captivity followed about 100 years later in two waves. The first wave in 597 BC resulted in the capture of King Jehoiachin and leading citizens of Judah including Ezekiel.[2] The second occurred in 587 BC when Babylon razed Jerusalem and its temple after Jerusalem’s second rebellion. It forced Jerusalem’s surrender and deported its king and Judean notables to Babylon (2 Kgs 24:10-16).[3]


To grasp the fullness of the dry bones prophecy, a glimpse at the circumstances before exile places the word of the Lord in perspective. Several events led up to the Babylonian exile. While King Josiah pleased the Lord during his 30-year reign by walking in the ways of David,[4] Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim marked a return to acts of evil in the Lord’s sight (23:37). After Jehoiakim rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Lord sent bands of Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and children of Ammonites to destroy Judah for the sins of Manasseh (24:3). Nebuchadnezzar then reigned over Syria and Palestine from the Euphrates to the Egyptian frontier (2 Kgs 24:7), and Judah became a Babylonian province. Finally, the Lord chastised the people in the twelfth year of Babylonian exile (Ez 33:21) after Jerusalem’s fall for their continued sins.[5]

The Lord did not leave the exiled without His guidance. While in captivity, God called Ezekiel to the office of prophet. Among the deportees, Ezekiel recorded a series of visions from the Lord while exiled in Babylon during King Jehoiachin’s captivity in the diaspora community by the River Chebar (Ez 1:2). His oracles conveyed God’s redemptive plan for Israel and the nations about judgment and restoration.[6] He specifically spoke to the Judeans and first-generation exiles after the fall of Jerusalem as a voice from the exiled.[7]

He prophesied his first vision about the throne room in chapter one (1:4). The writer did not say whether it took place during its actual delivery versus writing at a later date.[8] If he prophesied the first vision at the start of his captivity, then, as Boadt noted, it occurred in 623-622 BC when 30 years old (1:1).[9] Tiemeyer concurred with a sixth-century BC dating since it supports Neo-Babylonian sources.[10]Allen dated his prophetic call to 593 BC.[11]

In terms of dating the Ez 37 prophecy, the preceding may give a clue as to the timeline. Zimmerli dated passages 35:1-36:15 to after 587 BC since it recalls the dispute between the Judahites who remained in Jerusalem with neighboring peoples over Jewish claims to the land.[12] As Ezekiel ordered the oracles chronologically, this may imply that chapter 37 occurs later in the 70-year exilic period. Further, if Ezekiel delivered the dry bones prophecy around 585 BC, then the lesser first wave lived in exile for twelve years and the greater second wave two years.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 portrays the cultural state of the exiled through symbolism reflected in the very many or very great many dry bones in the valley or open valley (37:2). In essence, Babylonian captivity stripped them of their identity and left a collective society now scattered from their homeland in a severely deteriorated, dry state. Psalm 137:1 expresses the sorrow and mourning the exiled Judeans had felt in oppression: “By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion” (NKJV). Written in retrospect of exile, this psalm reflects the wounds of separation from Zion, the holy dwelling place of God, at the hands of the uncircumcised heathens who had plundered it.

Since the Babylonians captured Ezekiel during the first wave, the prophet did not directly experience Jerusalem’s fall.[13] Nevertheless, God chose him as His spokesperson to the exilic community living among the refugees in their trauma culture. The book of Lamentations records the very depth of their sorrow, suffering, and abandonment. They also experienced shame from exile. Ezekiel 25 records the surrounding nations laughing (25:3) and mocking (v. 8) the exiled house of Israel. In the wake of their feeling of grief, the Lord’s message sought to give them hope in captivity.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Exile geographically impacted the Judahites as well. The Babylonians transported most of the captured 1000 miles to Mesopotamia during the second wave of capture.[14] The exiled came from an urban environment in Jerusalem and relocated to what Joyce described as “ghetto-like settlements” such as Tel-abib described in Ez 3:15. The elders could gather with each other, though (8:1; 14:1; 20:1).[15] Ezekiel himself lived among the exiled in a community by the river Chebar in Tel-abib 100 miles south of Babylon (Ez 1:1; 3:15).  

Pearce noted that the term exile suggested movement away from a native land.[16] Economically, that movement away from the homeland took a toll on the diaspora. Taking a closer look at the exile reveals the extent of the destruction by the captors on the captives. The Babylonians physically dislocated Judeans from their homeland, deprived them economically of their possessions, and left them spiritually depleted without their temple. To the Jews, the losses affected their identity closely tied to the promised land, the Davidic throne, Jerusalem, and Lord’s temple. Second Kings 25:1-21 describes in vivid detail the fall, capture, and destruction of Jerusalem: forced famine; murdered military officials, king’s associates, townspeople, and priests; burnt structures, and pillaged house of the Lord. The captors left only a small remnant of the very poor behind. The resettlement in Babylonia resulted in a starting over so to speak of the exiled. 

In all, perhaps at the very heart of God’s mission to His people lies the events that preceded exile and the losses they experienced. He would allow them to experience death in the valley, only to bring them life out of the valley. “Then you shall know that I am the LORD,” (Ez 37:6, 13, 14).


Ackroyd, Peter R. Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B. C. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986.

Allen, Leslie C. Ezekiel, Vol. 29. Word Bible Commentary. Edited by John D. W. Watts and James W. Watts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

Bimson, John J. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Boadt, Lawrence. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol D-G. Edited by David N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

__________. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press, 2012.

Brett, Mark G. ed. Ethnicity and the Bible. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002.

Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. 17th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Eichrodt, Walther Theology of the Old Testament. Translated by J. A. Baker. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

Fox, Michael, V. “The Rhetoric of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Valley of the Bones.” Hebrew Union College Annual 51, (1980): 1-15.

Greenberg, Moshe. Ezekiel 21-27. Anchor Yale Bible. New York: Yale University Press, 2010.

__________. The Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration.” Interpretation 58, no. 4 (2007): 585-625.

Kamsen, Joel and Tihitshak Biwul. “The Restoration of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis.” Scriptura 118 (2019:1), pp. 1-10.

LaSor, William Sandord, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, and Leslie C. Allen. Old Testament Survey: The Message Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, Co. 1996. 

Lee, Lydia. Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles Against the Nations. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016.

Mein, Andrew. Ezekiel and the Ethics of Exile. Oxford Theological Monographs. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2006.

Miller, Maxwell J. and John H. Hayes. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. 2nd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Pearce, Laurie E. “Identifying Judeans and Judean Identity in the Babylonian Evidence.” in Exile and Return: The Babylonian Context, edited by Jonathan Stökl, Caroline Waerzeggers, and Jonathan Stökl. Berlin: CPI Books, 2015. 

Qubt, Shadia. “Can These Bones Live? God, Only You Know.” Review and Expositor. 104, Summer, 2007.

Serfontein, Johan and Wilhelm J. Wessels. “Communicating Amidst Reality: Ezekiel’s Communication as a Response to His Reality.” Verbum Eccles 35, no. 1 (2014):

Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. A Biblical Theology of Exile. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

Staples, Jason A. The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Stökl, Jonathan, and Caroline Waerzeggers. Exile and Return : The Babylonian Context. (Beihefte Zur Zeitschrift Für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 2015): Volume 478. De Gruyter.

Tiemeyer, L. D. “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets. Edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012.

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Zimmerli, Walther. Ezekiel 2. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

[1] Michael V. Fox, 1980. “The Rhetoric of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Valley of the Bones,” Hebrew Union College Annual 51(1980):1. Fox described the prophet’s audience in 37:1-14 as first-wave deportees from his immediate location and generation.

[2] Daniel L Smith-Christopher, A Biblical Theology of Exile (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002). Historians differ in the Babylonian captivity dates. Daniel Smith-Christopher supports 597 BC for the first capture and 587 BC for the second. Paul M. Joyce, Ezekiel: A Commentary, 3 (New York: T & T Clark, 2007), 5. .Joyce recorded Ez 1:2 as 593 BC and then onwards. 

[3] L. D. Tiemeyer, L. D, “Book of Ezekiel.” in The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, ed. Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012) 214.

[4] King Josiah died in battle at Megiddo at the hand of the Egyptian Pharoahnechoh (2 Kgs 23:29). Jehoahaz then took his father’s place as king. His tenure marked a return to evil in the sight of the Lord. After a short reign, Pharoahnechoh put Jehoahaz in bonds at Riblah and replaced him with Jehoiakim (Josiah’s son Eliakim). 

[5] “The Sovereign Lord commanded the prophet to tell the people “You eat meat with blood in it, you worship idols, and your murder the innocent. Do you really think the land should be yours? 26 Murderers! Idolaters! Should the land belong to you!” (33:25-26 NLT). Further, 28 “I will completely destroy the land and demolish her pride.  Her arrogant power will come to an end. The mountains of Israel will be so desolate that no one will even travel through them. 29 When I have completely destroyed the land because of their detestable sins, then they will know that I am the Lord” (vv.28-29). 

[6] Lawrence Boadt in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2, D-G, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York, Doubleday, 1992).713.

[7] Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, vol. 29 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic), xx.

[8] The New International Version (NIV) prefaces the dating with “my” indicating the prophet’s age (v. 1a). Reading on, the next verse adds clarification as to the time in captivity as the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile (v.2). If that the thirtieth year holds true, then it places the timeline at about 598 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon (2 Kgs 24:15). 

[9] Boadt, Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2, D-G, 713.

[10] L. D. Tiemeyer, “Book of Ezekiel,” 214-215.

[11] Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, xx.

[12] Walther Zimmerli, A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 25-48 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 234.

[13] Smith-Cristopher, Biblical Theology of Exile, 75. 

[14] Joyce, Ezekiel: A Commentary, 3.

[15] Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, 184.

[16] Laurie E. Pearce, “Identifying Judeans and Judean Identity in the Babylonian Evidence,” in Exile and Return: The Babylonian Context,ed. Jonathan Stökl, Caroline Waerzeggers, and Jonathan Stökl (Berlin: CPI Books, 2015), 7. 



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Daryl O. Cox | August 3, 2021

“Hear O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD” (Dt 6:4 KJV). Taken from the Torah, Jews called this verse the Shema.[1] A prayer and Judaism’s confession of faith, it proclaims belief in the one true God of Israel. Historically, Jewish rabbis based the Shema exclusively on verse four, but later rabbis came to include several other verses in this prayer which observant Jews cite twice daily, early morning and late evening (Dt 6:4-6; 11:13-21; Nm 15:37-41). In Jesus’ day, Israel called the Shema the first commandment (v. 4). A young scribe asked Jesus to identify the first commandment. Jesus responded by quoting Dt 6:4. However, Jesus recognized a second commandment, a verse not found in the Shema, saying to love thy neighbor as thyself (Lv 19:18; Mk 12:31). The commands to love God and our neighbor reflect the whole of the inspired Law, for they define humanity’s relationship to God and one another. In a corporate setting, observant Jews cite them as prayer during liturgical services. All four passages encompassing the Shema address three areas of life: God, His Word, and human relationships. By daily recitation, this act fulfills Moses’ command to teach and integrate its central truth into Jewish society (Dt 6:6-9). Jesus acknowledged in His day the Pharisees adorned themselves with phylacteries (small cases enclosing Scripture) on their arm. These cases contained scripts of Dt 6:4 as a reminder of Israel’s commitment to God (Mt 23:5). 


The word shema means to hear or listen with the intent to embrace and do. Observant Jews pray the Shema’s words daily as a reminder of their commitment to God and His truth. This prayer embodies the officially inspired statement of truth about God. When embraced, it leads one from false worship to recognition of the true God and obedience to His required truths. According to Jewish Targum, verse four recognizes the kingship of God. He alone reigns as absolute sovereign over Israel and creation. If one embraces the Shema, they submit to God’s kingship over their life. Deuteronomy 6 presents a covenant confession: it declares one God exists whom individuals embrace as their God, the God of Abraham. This statement gives rise to another truth, the messianic kingship promised in Scripture, for this verse also looks forward to God’s coming kingdom on earth. Deuteronomy lists other shemas throughout, but this paper will focus on the one central to Judaism’s confession of faith.

The Shema uses the Lord in place of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) just as all passages of the Old Testament do. The Tetragrammaton comprises four consonants, YHWH, which forms the Old Testament name of God but without an exact pronunciation. Israel lost the exact pronunciation centuries ago believing the name too sacred to speak except by the high priest during Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). To regain its pronunciation, scholars combined vowels from the Hebrew Adonai (lord) with the four consonants. By combining the vowels of Adonai with the consonants of YHWH, the closest pronunciation becomes Yahweh. The Jewish world continues to reserve speaking the name of God out of reverence.

Finally, in preparation for the Messiah’s coming, Dt 6:4-6 places emphasis on a monotheistic devotion to Yahweh, which excludes worship to all other gods laying the foundation for a life filled with spiritual growth and moral development. The Shema teaches the importance of love to God and man making these points the first two great commandments in Scripture (Mk 12:28-31). Moses commanded the Israelites to teach these words to their succeeding generations safeguarding them from idolatry and immorality. 

A Fresh Perspective on Deut 6:4-6

The Shema declares a monotheistic faith in the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and gives prophetic enlightenment concerning God’s incarnation in Christ, the son of King David. This provides the basis for the New Testament confession of Jesus as Lord. The Shema’s unique wording identifies the New Testament doctrine of the Incarnation of God in Christ, looking forward to His plan to come, redeem His creation from sin and death, and later establish His Kingdom on earth. Detailed considerations about the Shema led to a monotheistic incarnational view of Jesus Christ. First, Jesus’ own interpretation of Old Testament Scripture sets forth this perspective. Second, the meaning and use of the Hebrew echad identifies the incarnation in the Shema. Finally, the prophets, represented in Zechariah, reveal a prophetic kingship fulfillment of the Shema prior to the coming kingdom of God on Earth. These considerations establish conclusively that in addition to proclaiming Judaism’s historic monotheism, the Shema reveals the incarnational union of Yahweh the God of Israel in Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ Interpretation of Old Testament Scripture

Jesus’ own words present an inspired perspective on how to view the Old Testament writings, which include the Shema. He gave an understanding concerning the Old Testament saying its Scriptures testify of Himself (Jn 5:39). Concerning Moses, who authored Deuteronomy, Jesus said He Himself is the chief subject of his writings (vv. 46-47). On the morning of His resurrection, Jesus expounded on the Law (the Shema), the Prophets, and the Psalms to His disciples saying they concerned Himself, (Lk 24:27,44). The whole of Old Testament theology defines Jesus and the Gospel.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus gave evidence of a greater truth in the Shema by His response to a young scribe leading to a greater understanding of God’s Oneness. After the young scribe summarizes the verses, Jesus responded saying, “thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk 12:28-34). The scribe correctly stated his response, but Jesus’ implication says these verses give a greater understanding that leads to entrance into God’s kingdom: Yahweh stood before this young scribe as Jesus of Nazareth without recognition! Believing in Jesus as Lord and Christ enables a person to repent, experience remission of sins through baptism in Jesus’ name and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Jn 3:5; Acts 2:38). In essence, the Shema laid the foundation for the Israelites to recognize and receive Jesus as Messiah.

More than just inspired stories and teachings, the Old Testament Scriptures give witness to Jesus Christ.[2] They testify of His identity and mission meaning the reader must view scriptural testimony from an incarnational perspective, which identifies both His deity and human life. This perspective states the incarnation as the union of God the Father and man in the person of Jesus Christ (Jn 10:30). The apostle John calls this union the Son of God (v. 36). Scripture also presents this union as both revelatory and redemptive in God’s purpose providing a complete picture of the Messiah (Col 1:12-16). In providing a foundational witness, Scripture gives students a principle to guide their study when reading both testaments. Readers will receive a clear understanding of the incarnation and its related teachings recorded by the apostles. This perspective comes from a spirit of wisdom and revelation revealing God and His purpose in the Messiah.[3] The testimony of Jesus becomes the guiding principle for understanding the Shema.

Peter said believers are currently established in the present truth of the New Covenant implying the themes of the Old Covenant stood prophetic as truth awaiting fulfillment (2 Pt 1:12). Without the Messiah, the Law remained an incomplete truth having an inferior confession and experience with God and not the fullness of grace Jesus provided for the New Covenant. Jesus also said He came to complete its revelation and establish a new relationship and experience between God and man (Mt 5:17). Although the Shema gives a great confession of the oneness of God, Jesus’ coming established the incarnation of God in Christ as its fulfilled truth (Jn 1:1,14; 14:6). 


The Shema uses echad translated as one to declare faith in the one personal God revealed from a composed unity. Jesus’ teaching on the Old Testament gives further understanding on echad to reveal the incarnational unity of God in Christ. Echad translates as one in the following expressions one Yahweh or Yahweh is OneThese expressions read from the Torah and King James Versions of Scripture. Echad means one in the numeral sense as well as to unite properly as one. The Shema’s official pronouncement declares God as one being. Echad’s former use exclusively rejects recognition of all other gods in favor of Yahweh while recognizing His distinct names stated in Scripture (Ex 6:3). He has a singular identity composing the sum of His revelation. Deuteronomy’s use of echad shows one God who gave a progressive revelation of Himself culminating in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.

Moreover, the word recognizes a divine-human union in Yahweh pointing to the incarnation. Although Christ’s birth occurred centuries later, God foreordained His revelation and redemptive work in Him before creation (1 Pt 1:18-20). This union composes the image of God consisting of the Creator and the Seed of the woman who suffered death but bruises the serpent’s head by resurrection (Gn 1:26; 3:15). Paul, in the New Testament, calls the image of God Christ recognizing and establishing the unity of God defined by echad (2 Cor 4:4-6). The Shema calls the union of God and man Yahweh, an identity to be fulfilled in the coming Messiah-King (Ps 118:26-28; Jn 1:14). The Lord Jesus Christ stands as the fulfillment of the Shema for all New Testament believers.

In making a monotheistic confession, the Shema combines God’s diverse revelation under one name. Moses recorded distinct names and titles for God throughout the Torah (first five books of Scripture) to reveal progressively God’s character in relationship to His people and creation (Ex 6:3). David also recognized this truth when he wrote that he will praise God for His truth and kindness “for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name (singular; Ps 132:2b). God’s singular identity unifies His distinct names recorded in Scripture. Genesis 1:26 unifies the subject-plural pronouns us and our with the image of God (Christ). Similarly, echad unifies God’s complete revelation as one. To insist echad defines God as a unity of distinct persons misleads the understanding. The term three distinct conscious persons gives room for a perspective suggesting God is a council of divine beings, a diversion from echad’s actual meaning and use in the Shema. Moses used echad to unify the Lord’s distinctive revelation as one, leading to His ultimate revelation in His Son Jesus who died for all.

The Shema identifies the fullness of God’s revelation in the Messiah who was yet to come. Jesus identified Himself with echad using the Greek word heis for one saying “I and my Father are one” (Jn 10:30). Heis translates into the number one. The incarnational union of the Father and Son compose the one person of Jesus. Echad presents both an exclusive and composed meaning while heis focuses on the singular exclusive. Jesus draws priority focus to Himself as a man revealing an unprecedented unity with His Father, an Incarnational union. His use of I declares a singular identity of the Father and Son leading to recognition of God in Christ. For this reason, the Jews wanted to kill Him for in their minds, Jesus being a man made Himself God (v. 33). The Apostle John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the Jews shows the Shema identifies the incarnational union of the Father and Son in the person of Jesus Christ. 

A study of the Shema and the incarnation requires an explanation of the biblical expressions Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in relation to echad. In addition to an exclusive one being, Echad’s meaning reveals a unified one. The use of these terms originates from Mt 28:19. However, other New Testament passages use them to show God’s activity towards humanity. The Apostle Paul described the Godhead as belonging to a singular being when he used the pronoun His in relation to God. He describes the Godhead as God the Father, eternal and powerful in His fullness, fully expressed in the person of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:20; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 2:9). It goes against Scripture to say the Godhead consists of three eternally distinct persons, for its fullness describes the Father as the Word and Holy Spirit. The expression Son of God involves a God-human union for divine visitation and redemption purposes. The terms do not speak of distinct persons in God’s nature, but they reveal three designations of the one God in relationship to humanity; furthermore, these expressions reveal the means by which God established salvation in the Earth (1 Pt 1:2). 

Matthew 28:19 reveals a singular name for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In verse 18, Jesus declares Himself Sovereign of heaven and Earth saying, “all power is given unto me in heaven and Earth.” This statement led to a Christo-centric understanding of the name in verse 19, for the apostles, beginning on the Day of Pentecost, baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:6). These designations describe Jesus as the singular name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, viewed scripturally from this perspective in light of the Incarnation. Scripture calls God the Father of the human nature of Christ (not His divine nature), the Father of creation, and the Father of New Covenant believers. Furthermore, it also calls God the Word who was made flesh as the Son of God, and finally, God actively exists as the Holy Ghost who continues to work throughout human history and now dwells and continues to work in His people (Eph 1:3; Jn 1:1, 14; 14:16). 

Interestingly, 1 Pt 1:2 presents the whole act of salvation, election and sanctification, as the exclusive work of God, the Father. God chose His elect before creation in Christ, then sanctified them through the outpouring of His Holy Spirit and the sprinkled blood of Jesus, God–the Father incarnate. God used the Incarnation and the subsequent shedding of Jesus’ blood followed by the outpouring of His Spirit to sanctify His elect. Three separate divine persons did not act on distinct occasions to establish deliverance for everyone. However, in each step of redemption, the same God Peter calls the Father acted to bring salvation to humanity. God has more designations than these three titles in Scripture, but they describe Him in relationship to humanity and their redemption. This passage and its interpretation stand consistent with the Shema’s confession concerning one God.

When the Shema says one Lord, it sets a monotheistic incarnational focus upon Christ by calling Him Yahweh. God’s fullness of being has an ultimate expression, the person of Jesus Christ (Jn 1:14; Gal 3:20). On the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed to his Jewish audience Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Immediately afterwards, he defined Christ’s lordship in terms of the Shema saying “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (v. 39). The lordship of Jesus, raised from the dead, identifies Him as the God of Israel the Lord our God in flesh. Peter’s anointed statement, which should have incited a violent response for seemingly violating Israel’s confession of faith, instead brought conviction and a radical conversion of about three thousand souls to Jesus Christ. This account shows the Acts 2 experience, the baptism of the Holy Ghost speaking in tongues, confirms the lordship confession of Jesus Christ. It gives a divinely personal and public witness to a new confession. The new confession gives a renewed understanding of the Deuteronomy passage without denying its inspired truth. Using Scripture from Psalms, Peter called Jesus of Nazareth Lord and Christ. His identification of the incarnation shows how essential its acceptance is to reconciling echad’s use in the Shema.

Peter gave further witness to Jesus’ lordship confession fulfilling the Shema by calling Him “our God and Savior” (2 Pt 1:1-4 NKJV). He declared it to persecuted Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire. He exhorted they have in possession a precious faith that makes them partakers Christ’s divine nature through “exceedingly great and precious promises” (v. 4). In declaring their faith in the deity of Christ, Peter acknowledges a wisdom and “knowledge of God, and Jesus our Lord” leading to this profound confession (v. 2). Originating from the Holy Spirit, this knowledge reconciles the uniting of God and Jesus from an incarnational perspective without denying the inspired confession of the Mosaic Law. More than identifying Jesus as the God of Israel, Peter calls Him Lord, God, and Savior for believers of all nations. This confession moves biblical Christianity beyond the boundary of a Jewish faith to a universal monotheistic faith for all races. These statements further show New Testament Christianity continued to embrace the Shema’s core belief but in light of Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. Echad’s compound unity declares the God of the Old Covenant revealed in flesh as Jesus Christ and not as three distinct persons. 

The four gospels present the narrative of Jesus’ life from His birth throughout His ascension into heaven. They also identify His messiahship and deity. The last gospel, written by John, not only presents a strong showing of Jesus as Son of God but the establishment of a new confession that includes the incarnation and recognizes the oneness of God declared by the Shema. Eight days following His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples with Thomas being present. The unbelieving apostle sees and experiences the resurrected Messiah and makes a profound confession that stands as the bedrock of Jesus being the Son of God. Thomas calls Jesus “My Lord and My God” (Jn 20:28 KJV). His confession, recorded by John concludes the presentation of Jesus in the gospels, leaving humanity with a decision to make. 

Thomas’ recognition of Jesus becomes the definitive hallmark of the New Covenant confession, Jesus is Lord. Jesus’ response to Thomas’ shows the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old. First, Thomas makes His confession in light of Christ’s resurrection and conquest over death. Second, Jesus’ resurrection reveals He is not only human but the one Lord and God spoken of in the Shema. Third, in light of Thomas’ confession, Jesus pronounces a blessing to those who believe and embrace who He is without having seen Him. The promised blessing comes as the baptism of the Holy Ghost speaking in tongues, a transforming encounter with Christ that confirms His resurrection reality to all believers who do not physically see Him as Thomas and the disciples did. This experience and confession sets the New Covenant on a higher spiritual level than the Old Covenant. 

Thomas’ confession not only concludes the fourfold presentation of Jesus Christ in the gospels but it flows from David’s prophetic words: 

“Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD. God is the LORD (Messiah), which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar. Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Ps 118:26-29). 

Concerning the Coming One, David identified Him as Messiah who comes in the name of the LORD. David called Messiah the Blessed One, for He has Yahweh’s identity (name) and therefore God’s people worship Him in the house of Yahweh. Next in verse 27, David calls the coming one Yahweh; whose coming reveals New Covenant light. He says, “God is Yahweh.” Prophetically, God’s identity lies in the person of Messiah and not separate from Him. David says the Messiah presents the revelation of God in person revealing the one Yahweh described in the Shema. Further, in response, David calls the Messiah His God whom He worships and exalts in the Psalms (v. 28). The Messiah’s coming will require a new faith confession by fulfilling the old confession. The last verse (v. 29) ends with a well-known acclamation of praise mentioned for the first time in Scripture. David ascribes this praise to the Messiah’s identity only to develop it further in another psalm (Ps 136). David’s recognition and praise to Christ stands prophetic today of Jesus’ identity and Thomas’ words. They bring a conclusive reconciliation of the God of the Old Testament with Jesus the Lord and Messiah of the New by recognizing the incarnation reflected in Dt 6:4. The Shema prophetically teaches the incarnation and in light of the gospel narratives and outpouring of the Holy Ghost present a greater confession, Jesus the Lord God Almighty in flesh.

Understanding the use of echad to address the incarnation provides a solid basis for interpreting Scripture throughout both testaments. Jesus’ own interpretation of the Old Testament concerning the Shema set boundaries. First, it affirms God as one solitary being who revealed Himself in many ways throughout biblical history. Secondly, Jesus remains the central subject of all Scripture and the ultimate revelation of God. Next, the testimony of inspired writers from Scripture demonstrates how the Shema stands fulfilled in Christ. It begins as a personal confession of Yahweh as our God beside whom there exists no other and leads to a personal embracing of Yahweh in the Messiah.

Prophets Revealed a Future Prophetic Fulfillment of the Shema

“And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one” (Zec 14:9).

In addition to announcing a confession of faith for the Jewish race, the Shema requires a prophetic fulfillment by Christ. Its statement of faith awaited greater fulfillment by God’s coming in flesh to redeem not only Israel but also all races of people from sin and death. Zechariah the prophet revealed a future day when Yahweh, the messianic King of Israel, will reign as one. The formation of the incarnation, the conception and birth of Christ, will precede Christ’s reign on earth (Lk 1:31-33). Further, Jesus did not want people to think His coming and teachings sought to render the law of Moses void and incorrect. He came to fulfil it (Mt 5:17). Specifically, the Shema awaited the Messiah’s coming. Jesus Christ fulfills the Shema as the God of Israel in flesh. Zechariah’s inspired statement shows the promised king of the Davidic covenant will be the union of God and man, one.

Zechariah also uses echad to identify the incarnation with God’s one incarnational name, Jesus. The kingship of God identified in the Shema expands to include the son of David, the king of Israel. Zechariah’s use of the word reveals God will have a name reflecting His fullness and demonstrating His remarkable act in uniting himself to man. The name of Jesus reveals God in flesh (Jn 14:7). It means Yahweh has become my salvation; The God and king of Israel becomes humanity’s offering for sin and its gift of righteousness. Furthermore, Jesus’ name collectively fulfills the diverse revelation of God throughout the Old Testament, effectively establishing Jesus as the sovereign Lord and Christ of the New Testament (Ps 118:26). Paul says the fullness of the Godhead now dwells incarnate in Him giving full expression of the one true God (Col 2:9 AMP). 

Within this vein of thought, another version of truth emerges. Isaiah 12:2 says “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid: For the LORD Jehovah is my strength and song; He also is become my salvation” (KJV). Salvation comes from the Hebrew Yeshua. This name gives the Jewish pronunciation for Jesus (Yahweh has become my salvation). It shows Yahweh becoming our offering for sin, whose life the Holy Spirit imparts to believers. The name of Jesus (Yeshua) identifies Messiah as both Yahweh and His coming Davidic king shown in the Shema. It unites monotheism with messianic hope and redemption under one name. Without violating monotheism, the name of Jesus stands as the testimony and name of Yahweh giving a scripturally clear and balanced understanding that connects both testaments. This means the people of God now scripturally confess and worship Jesus as Lord to the glory (recognition) of God, the Father in Him (Phil 2:9-11).

Zechariah’s prophecy further reveals before God sets up His kingdom on Earth, He will return in judgement against all nations seeking to destroy Israel (Zech 14:2-4). “His feet shall stand in that day (Day of the LORD) on the mount of Olives” (11:4a). In coming to Earth against the nations gathered against Israel, Zechariah uses God’s human feet standing on mount Olivet to make a divine and human connection, the incarnation. Here, God returns as the rejected son of David in judgement of the nations and proceeds to reign over them afterwards (v. 9). This imagery and understanding stands confirmed by the prophet Isaiah (Is 7:14; 9:6). A virgin-born son becomes King, reestablishes the throne of David over Israel, and possesses a human name that fulfills Yahweh’s identity recognized by His people. Zechariah’s prophecy, in light of other prophetic writings, reveals a divine-human union that reconciles prophecies concerning the messianic son of David and king of Israel with the God of Israel. This picture shows the name of Jesus belongs to Yahweh completing His revelation to His people.

Although the Shema declared God as one, the incarnation remarkably fulfills it by identification, the union of the son of David and God of Israel in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s distinct purposes concerning the Shema awaited completion by the first and second comings of Jesus. His two comings will personally reveal the one true God and fulfill the seven major covenants of the Old Testament under a new and better covenant established by His death and resurrection. The confession of Jesus as Lord does not reject the command of the Shema found in Dt 6:4. It sustains its truth in Christ. Paul acknowledged he continued to worship the God of His fathers by His confessed faith in Christ (Acts 24:14). His worship of Jesus found its basis in the Scriptures of the Law (including the Shema) and prophets. The incarnational perspective makes such reconciliation possible. 


The Shema stands as the basis for the New Testament confession: Jesus is Lord. God intends for biblical Christianity to inherit Old Testament monotheism before a polytheistic world. New Testament belief in the lordship of Jesus requires a monotheistic resolution of the Old Testament to include the incarnation with a Christ-centered focus. The deity of Jesus Christ fulfills the Shema’s monotheistic confession. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob now has come and revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, humanity’s Redeemer. His death and resurrection brought the Old Covenant to its determined end to provide the life changing experience of salvation. God inspired the Shema text and gave it to the Jewish race. Centuries later, He proceeded to fulfill it by manifesting Himself in Flesh, and through human death on a cross established it as a universal confession of Jesus Christ’s lordship for all nations who believe. 

Once individuals accept God in Christ and understand the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, they begin viewing Old Covenant truths, which include the Shema, with an enlightened understanding from the indwelling Holy Spirit. They see these truths fulfilled with better realities and truths in Jesus Christ. Paron wrote “in this context, the Holy Spirit illuminates the eyes of a believer’s understanding.”[4] Moreover, “when spoken to others, their spiritual understanding shows a demonstration of the Spirit and power rather than persuasive words of human wisdom.” The Holy Spirit’s anointing enables human understanding to comprehend and speak the wisdom of God’s revelation in Christ, and when shared with others manifests the wisdom of His Spirit with life changing results. Jesus’ enlightenment of the Scriptures to His disciples and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost led to a new faith, which completes and upholds the old faith with a greater personal experience with God and revelation of Him.

The Shema teaching demonstrates a strong witness of the Spirit of God, which leads to a greater knowledge of God in Christ and the fulfillment of His covenants. Jesus’ own words concerning the Shema, Zechariah’s prophecy, and the Hebrew word echad, all lead to a monotheistic, Christ-centered perspective the Church embraces. If the Church holds to this truth, its witness will stand more distinguished from a polytheistic world. Just as the Shema unifies the nation of Israel in faith, the Church will stand united and freshly anointed ministering the gospel with a greater demonstration of spiritual wisdom and power. A Christ-centered perspective on the Shema leads to a greater understanding of Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost resulting in a more powerful experience with Christ through baptism in Jesus’ name and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost as the apostles and the first century church did. The resulting baptism of the Spirit provides the greatest experience one can have with God in this world. 

In sum, the Shema provides a powerful witness and fresh understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, God manifested in flesh to the church and the world erasing centuries of misconceptions. “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;” (1 Tm 2:5).

[1] Means to hear, which has a deeper, more inclusive meaning than listen. The Torah includes six shemas in Deuteronomy: 4:1; 5:1; 6:4; 9:1; 20:3; 27:9. Together they present a redemptive narrative about Israel’s covenant with Yahweh.

[2] Daniel L. Segraves, Reading Between the Lines (Hazelwood, Word Aflame Press, 2008).

[3] Jan Paron, “Spiritual Wisdom and Revelation Knowledge,” Perspectives 12 (blog), July 27, 2020, 

[4] Paron, “Spiritual Wisdom and Revelation Knowledge.”


  • Bernard, David K. Oneness of God. Hazelwood, Word Aflame Press, 2006.
  • Campbell, David. The Eternal Sonship: A Refutation According to Adam Clarke. Hazelwood, Word Aflame Press, 1978.
  • Paron, Jan. “Spiritual Wisdom and Revelation Knowledge.” Perspectives 12 (blog). (July 27, 2020).
  • Reeves, Kenneth. God in 13 Dimensions. Inspirational Tapes & Books, 1986.
  • Segraves, Daniel L. Reading Between the Lines. Hazelwood, Word Aflame Press, 2008.
  • Urshan, Andrew Bar David. The Almighty God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Apostolic Book Publishers, 1983.

Exegeting the Salt Covenant


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Jan Paron, PhD | July 26, 2021

Though Scripture cites the word salt 31 times in the Old Testament, it mentions salt covenant three (Lv 2:13; Nm 18:19; 2 Chr 13:5). The Ancients considered salt a precious commodity because of its scarcity. (1) In terms of an agreement initiated by God, salt symbolized preservation of covenant with Him against corruption. The Bible links salt with the making of agreements or contracts. This essay exegetes the textual meaning of the salt covenant under the microscope of person, event, symbols, places, and prophecy looking at three occurrences in the Old Testament. It seeks to uncover its meaning and application 

Photo by Castorly Stock on

The notion of a salt covenant appears in Nm 18:19-32 as one of the three covenant methods for confirmation (cf. blood covenant, Gn 15:7-17; shoe covenant, Ru 4:7-9). This instance of the salt covenant contextually relates to the Aaronic call to the priesthood of the tabernacle (Nm 17). Aaron’s rod had budded, blossomed, and brought forth almonds signaling the Lord’s approval for him and his descendants’ rights to the tabernacle priesthood. In chapter 18, the Lord recounts to Aaron alone, the priesthood service rewards providing him and his descendant Aaronides a continual allotment from the Israelite offerings and sealing the provisions with “an everlasting covenant of salt”(18:19a KJV). Ancient Israelites always added salt to sacrificial offerings to the Lord as a preserving agent. 

“You shall season every grain offering with salt so that the salt (preservation) of the covenant of your God will not be missing from your grain offering. You shall offer salt with all your offerings (Lv 2:13 AMP). Salt in in Lv 2:13, stands for that which preserves against corruption, an essential ingredient in offerings made to God. It conveys the image of permanence and God’s eternal covenant with Israel. On the other hand, leaven symbolized the spread of sin and honey likewise fermentation of it. The mineral’s ability not only to ward off decay but also to preserve made it an excellent symbol to represent the perpetual agreement between God and his people.

In 2 Chr 13:5, Scripture shows a second instance of the salt covenant: “Ought ye not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David for ever, even to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt?” Similar to Lv 2:13, a covenant of salt conveys a descriptive image of a permanency because salt preserves. Since the Bible links salt to the making of agreements or contracts, it showed itself an ancient symbol of unbreakable friendships and enduring alliances.

In like manner, the salt covenant in Nm 18:19 has characteristics of indissolubility indicating permanency and irreversibility. The allotment consisted of the holy gifts to the Lord, which He in turn gave to Aaron and His descendants as a God-commanded portion—His gift to them. Since the Aaronides had no property, they depended on God alone for their portion through His provisions. 

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Mt 5:13). Refrigeration as a means of preserving large quantities of food did not begin to grow until the latter part of the 19th century. One of the most common ways of preserving food before this time (including the period of the Old Testament) was to use salt. This property of physical preservation led to this mineral being used in terms to symbolically represent preservation in general. 

Taken together, a ‘covenant of salt’ means an agreement or contract between parties that endures regardless of the circumstances. Such agreements form a solid, unbreakable and everlasting bond.


(1) Bullinger, 1999, p 207.

Cultural Landscape Mapping in Ministry


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Jan Paron, PhD | July 17, 2021

Cultural Iceberg Model

When an iceberg floats on water, ten percent rises above the surface visible to the naked eye while the remaining ninety percent hides submerged below sea level. Without sonar equipment, the seafarer cannot realize the iceberg’s girth or understand its nature. Culture resembles an iceberg in appearance, dimension, and attributes. Edward Hall in his seminal work Beyond Culture (1976)[1] likened a society’s culture to an iceberg with some aspects visible above the water and larger hidden beneath the surface. He called the external aspects of the cultural iceberg as surface culture and the internal as hidden culture (Figure 1.1). Based on the premises of Hall’s surface and hidden cultures, a cultural landscape map of a given population guides the ministry practitioner across the wide-ranging effects of the two composite cultures.

Figure 1.1

Hall’s Cultural Landscape Model

External: Surface Culture

The external or surface part of culture lies at the iceberg tip. When first engaging with a particular culture, one experiences only the surface ten percent of a given culture. These characteristics demonstrate the surface level behaviors a culture exhibits—the see, hear, and touch behaviors and rules group membership teach and reinforce in their culture. A given culture may change expectations for behavior over time, i.e., generation to generation. Further, a person may culture surf adapting to the culture at hand.)

One acquires cultural behaviors and rules through explicit[2] learning. Members of a given people group consciously learn rules and customs within the culture through experiences from others within the group. Surface-level behaviors consist of habitual patterns that manifest in a group’s daily culture (Kraft, 2008). Regardless of the societal culture, a person gains knowledge of surface culture consciously and purposely. 

People often misjudge a culture, whether an individual or collective, by making assumptions the visible ten percent defines the totality of a culture. However, the sum of a culture’s parts equals a more developed framework. To grasp a culture in totality, one also must investigate its hidden dimensions. Culture does not remain static nonetheless since individuals and people groups change, thereby culture continually fluxes. When cultures and societies interact, each mutually influences the other. Cultures leave their distinct flavor in a population, changing its overall dynamics. Thus, while a person gains a more holistic understanding by learning cultural surface and hidden dimensions, one constantly must interpret it through the lens of change.

Internal: Hidden Culture (Also Called Deep)

The internal culture (hidden or deep culture) lies below the surface of a society comprising ninety percent of culture. It undergirds external behaviors. These encompass norms for rituals, language, roles, ideologies, philosophies, values, tastes, attitudes, desires, assumptions, and myths. The most hidden dimension of culture comprises one’s worldview. Kraft (2008) defines worldview as “the totality of the culturally structured images and assumptions in terms of which a people both perceive and respond to reality.”[3] Most important, worldview structures culture’s deepest level with presuppositions and mental images upon which people base their lives. Since cultural worldview remains hidden, one cannot observe it. Hidden dimensions of culture occur through implicit learning. Worldview forms unwritten, usually invisible norms for behavior that guide appropriate or inappropriate behaviors expected for that culture.

Schein (2008) defined the mechanics of culture as the “shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptations and internal integration…to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.”[4] While cultures explicitly teach rules for engaging life, an individual’s personal hidden dimensions of culture determines how one integrates external adaptations with internal integration. The aggregate emotional components of hidden dimensions drive how one responds to a culture’s dos and don’ts. Internal culture found below the surface runs unconsciously on subjective knowledge.

Cultural Landscape Mapping

Cultural landscape mapping provides a neutral analysis of an intended population’s ethos (worldview, values, and external practices) by gathering cultural data for supporting discipleship across cultures. The map helps a ministry leader respond to culture based on the biblical disciple model adapted to human needs applying principles of grace-filled leadership.

The process of cultural landscape mapping displays cultural patterns from both surface and hidden cultures of an individual as well as the collective body. It gives a working portrait of what motivates surface (external) and hidden (internal) of behaviors, feelings, judgments, and mental constructs from cultural learning and interactions with various group memberships. The leader must understand one’s own and team culture in comparison to the aggregate and individual cultures of ministry participants. 

As you approach cultural landscape mapping, keep in mind a few key thoughts from anthropological, missiological, and theological perspectives. Each carries a distinct focus, yet all converge to provide a comprehensive body of knowledge when approaching cultural landscape mapping. Anthropologists study culture from seen and unseen cultural patterns and experiences apparent in human culture; missiologists view culture from its interaction between God’s mission and humankind’s nature; and theologians look at culture through biblical lenses emphasizing ethics. Ministry heads combine all three perspectives as practitioners in grace-filled leadership with the goal of discipling across cultures. 

Three Levels of Cultural Landscape Mapping

The cultural landscape map includes three levels of culture: level one culture (external practices), level two culture (unspoken rules), and level three culture (unconscious rules). The levels increase in complexity from external practices, to unspoken rules, and ending with unconscious rules associated with worldview. Although every level stands independent of the other, in turn, each also affects it (See Figure 1.2). One’s experiences and encounters with culture shape worldview in the level three culture of unconscious rules, which in turn, influences level two unspoken rules that comprise values and then drives level one culture visible in external practices.[5] (Figure 1.3) 

Figure 1.2

Cultural Landscape Mapping Level Influences

(Based on Morris Opler, 1945)

Level One Culture (External Practices: See, Hear, and Touch Behaviors)

This level orders a specific society through visible external practices of historical patterns, values, societal arrangements, manners, ideas, and ways of living. Members of a given culture know the rules that guide their external culture. Surface culture may include language, food, music, art, power distance, dance, dress/clothing, greetings, esthetics, etc.

Level one culture has a relatively low emotional load. Therefore, if the source culturally miscommunicates a message or action with the receiver, one can correct it without extensive damage. For example, ministry leaders at the Lighthouse Church of All Nations, a multicultural church in the Chicago metro area, consistently greet newcomers with the love of Christ. Showing love through words (Praise the Lord!), gestures (handshake/hug), and other actions govern leadership behaviors that encompass the external or surface church culture at the church. If a leader gives a hearty welcome to a visitor unaccustomed to it, the gesture may make the person uncomfortable. With quick adjustments on the leader’s part with a different greeting, more than likely, one can turn around the cultural differences. Again, the emotional load carries low baggage.

To create a cultural landscape map of the level one external practices requires careful observation and research of an aggregate people group to determine their cultural patterns. Do remember that people may code switch to adapt to various subcultures. For example, a person might converse with an informal vernacular among friends, but change to one more formal when interacting with colleagues in a work culture. So, what the observer sees in a given people’s encounter with a particular environment changes with another. Further, bear in mind visible external practices and invisible worldview assumptions connect. One’s underlying worldview often manifests itself in external practices. Thus, patterns in visible actions provide clues as to the way people think. Communication, in particular, helps one understand how people perceive life. Hiebert related the interrelationship between language and worldview “opens the door into the way people think because words are one of the primary ways in which people communicate their inner thoughts.”[6] In other words, external practices demonstrate cultural signs of the deepest held beliefs about life contained in worldview. 

  • Language (Oral and written). The cultural influence on linguistics includes what you can hear or read such as dialect, speech patterns, jargon, tone of voice, pitch, silence, rate of speech, accent, pronunciation, punctuation, vocabulary, grammar, style, facial expressions, academic vocabulary, vocational vocabulary, religious vocabulary, family vocabulary, speech impediments, generational differences, text, E-mail, social media, cell, face-to-face, memory loss, phrases, first language, second language, prayer language (or no prayer), etc. To note, the United States does not have an official language, while 28 states named English as their designated languages including Hawaii identifying English and Hawaiian as its official.[7]
  • Food. By observing the comprehensive aspects of food, one learns about culture reflected in different facets of life. Though taken for granted as a daily necessity, consider food’s multiple dimensions. Examples: time spent eating, dine in or out, eat with others or alone, dining times, food tastes, food preparation, diet, food to express emotions or celebrations, food determined by wealth, prestige foods, ethnic foods, clean/unclean rules, organizational food (church, family, business, etc.), healthy vs. unhealthy, hot vs. cold foods (Asian and Mediterranean), food cures for disease, prepared food vs. fresh food, availability of food, etc. 
  • Dress. External culture also encompasses dress, a personal expression of self or group identity or utilitarian fashion. Examples: style, generational differences, organizational affiliation, national culture, covered/covered, class, blend in/stand out, tattoos, formal/informal, color for men/color for women, color in general, work; etc. 
  • Music. What role does music play in culture? Humankind incorporates music into the fabric of life from mile markers to worship to entertainment. Examples: Taste, selections, church/secular, music as part of storytelling, extent played, leisure-time pursuit, way of life, lifestyle, worship, music as language; weddings and funerals; graduation; war; sports; dinner etc.
  • Visual Arts. (Drama, fine art, and dance) Visual arts influence society throughout the ages such as chronicling history, illustrating social change, providing political commentaries, and communicating creative expression. Examples: color palette; podcasts, YouTube; storytelling through drama, mystery, or comedy; political cartoons; drawings in the bathroom, doodles on a napkin; religious art forms; praise dance; sermon illustrations; theater; house decorations; magazines, digital art; poetry, proverbs, etc.
  • Literature. Literature serves different purposes in various cultures. Examples: types of literature read (Bible vs. Science), tracks/pamphlets, propaganda, literary level, oral storytelling vs. written narrative, folklore, reading in multiple languages, literary genres, literary vs non-literary text, social media, business languages, role of literature, and symbols associated with text, etc. 
  • Games. Entire scholarly journal exists exploring games and culture, most notably the social, economic and political aspects of their mutual interaction. Examples: interactive media, military games, cards, video games, sports, or toys (across generations)
  • Celebrations or Rites. Cultural celebrations reflect rituals that contain specific meaning and sustain culture. Examples: birthday parties, Bar or Bat Mitzvah, Christmas, weddings, death rituals, cleansing, fasting, goal targets (Weight Watchers), family reunion, marks on a wall marking a child’s growth, etc.

Level Two Culture (Unspoken Rules: Values)

The second level of culture comprises unspoken rules directly below the visible level of culture’s surface. This level has a higher emotional load than the previous focusing on values. While first level features the see, hear, and touch external practices, the second level encompasses values. Pludeddemann described values as “cultural ideals link abstract philosophy to concrete practices.”[8] He furthers explained that values are subconscious assumptions about how people address power, time, personal space, individualism, and status.[9] Values also include conversational patterns, rules of conduct, nonverbal communication, patterns of handling emotions, eye contact, concept of beauty, courtship practices, and notions of leadership. Misunderstandings in addressing culture at this level carry a high weight because it has a high emotional load. Thus, it can cause mix-ups and tensions. 

Actions include:

  • Power Distance: Small Power vs. Large Power Distance. Hofstede defined power distance as “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutes and organizations within a country expect and accept power is distributed unequally.”[10] People from cultures which function in small power distance relate to one another as equals regardless of position, have decision-making responsibilities, contribute and critique decision making of those in power, participate in consultative or democratic power relations, like rewards, and value a flat organizational culture.[11] Those from cultures with a dominant large power distance show centralized authority, paternalistic management style, institutionalized inequalities, highly structured vertical organization, power and authority, and status and rank (Hofstede, 2005; 2013). Examples: (Large Power Distance) people who function well in a traditionally organized academic setting, prisons structure, factory settings as opposed to (Small Power Distance) technology industry, open classroom, collaborative communities, etc. 
  • Personal space (Proxemics) Personal space involves a group’s rule on use of space and its effects on behavior, communication, and social interaction.[12] It includes subcategories of haptics (touch), kinesics (body movement), vocalics (paralanguage), and chronemics (structure of time). Hall emphasized the interrelationship between space and communication in culture.[13] Examples: Preference of distance between people; working space; office size; living; social order; public spac; personal space; confinement; space location; geographical locale; space in moral, formal, and informal situations; sacred space; post modern view as fragmented, chaotic and disorder; modernity as ordered and structured; unity between people vs. separation; etc.
  • High vs. Low Masculinity. According to Hofstede,[14] a High Masculinity culture is more competitive. It measures the dimension’s extent to (1) ego-driven social norms, in which work and material needs take precedence (2) conflict resolution by force, (3) high regard for religion, (4) male dominated leadership roles in which women have a lesser presence, (5) failure not optional, and (6) gender traditional roles and expectations like men don’t cry,[15]  Low Masculinity indicates a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, and quality of life.[16] People from this culture work to live with a preference for working less hours, elevatating quality of live and placing people over work. It measures the dimension’s relational capacity with respect to (1) relationship-driven social norms, (2) work to live with people and quality of life important (3) conflict resolution by negotiation, (4) lesser emphasis on religion, (5) both genders serve as leaders, with more women in leadership roles, (6) failure not critical, (7) nontraditional gender roles and expectations.[17]Examples: Concept of pain, self identity, male/female roles in society, parenting, paternal/maternal households, gender pay, long work hours vs. quality of life, (status) servant of the Lord, etc. 
  • High Individualism vs. Low Individualism. Hofstede noted individualists from High Individualistic societies have loose ties with individuals and expect everyone to look after themselves and their immediate family. Their allegiance forms to the self than group, looking at the individual as the most unit in any setting. They stress independence rather than interdependence, and reward individual achievement. People tend to belong to many groups, and change membership as it suits them.[18] Low Individualism measures preference towards the we dimension of culture. It reflects a central focus on (1) reliance and support for an in-group, (2) emphasize on views, needs, and goals of the group rather than one’s own, (3) support for an in-group in exchange for their loyalty, (4) trust on a group’s decision over the self, and (5) group harmony over individual competition.[19] Examples: attitudes towards elders, prefer independence or shared experiences, rewards, concept of self (we vs. I), patterns of decision making (group vs. individual), nature of friendships, social interaction rate, etc. 
  • Time Ordering (Polychronic vs. Monochronic). People orient themselves around time. Polychronic Time holds characteristics of multiplicity and flexibility. People have various activities taking place at one time, without a fixed schedule. They are flexible with time, and easily can do multitask. Also, people move slower in decision making. Monochronic Time typically emphasizes doing one thing at a time during a specified time-period, working on a single task until it is complete. Further, monochronic people are inflexible, seeing time as divided into fixed elements and sequential blocks that can be organized, quantified, and scheduled. They change tasks after one task is completed and are uncomfortable moving to another.[20] Examples: nursing homes keep structured schedules to give participants a sense of time. 
  • High/Low Context. In Low Context cultures, people value clear meaning, high verbal interaction, and explicit codes.[21] (People communicate with one single meaning, give very specific detail, stress written or spoken message over nonverbal cues, and emphasize the verbal codes because it contains meaning.)[22] With High Context cultures, people leave many things unsaid using fewer words and nonverbal codes to communicate.[23] They interact with each other knowing the preferred meaning beforehand; communicate information with different meanings according to context; already understand the context of the current situation; place a large emphasis on nonverbal codes; and one party assumes the other understands the shared meaning.[24]Examples: (High Context) high non-verbal methods to relay meaning, non-verbal more important than words, and develop relationship before business transactions¾(Low Context) meaning in words, straightforward communication, and rules spelled out.

Level Three Culture (Unconscious Rules–Worldview) 

Deeply hidden and invisible to the eye, level three holds unconscious rules associated with worldview. It has an intense emotional load. Worldview relates to “beliefs about the deepest meaning of life and assumptions about the nature of reality”[25] In this level, worldview helps people make order of their lives through foundational cognitive, affective, and evaluative rules (or assumptions).[26] Worldview informs internal values and external practices. Ministry leaders seek to determine and sift out cultural worldviews not in alignment with the Gospel with whom they disciple. 

Worldview comprises:

  • Myths. Myths display the overarching narrative believed to be true based on the interpretation of history and stories of human lives and memory of a community. Myths define moral boundaries to its members.[27] The Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt forms the basis of God’s deliverance of the Israelites. It orders how people view time, sin, and redemption.[28] Examples of myth possibly include biblical narrative of redemption, Jesus’ divine healing and miracles, Jesus’ messiahship, witchcraft dependency on the occult; etc.
  • Ideology. This dimension deals with ideas about how things are or how they ought to be. Examples: capitalism with equal opportunity, communism with distrust of established government, Marxism with humans in an idyllic world of equality, socialism with an element of state distribution of wealth, Darwinism, mercantilism, classical liberalism, kinship, definition of obscenity, attitudes toward dependents, definition of insanity, and mutual care. Ideology also may address systemic rules about generational poverty, caste systems, class, roles related to age, gender, ethnicity, concept of beauty, and notions of cleanliness and smell, etc.
  • Teleology. Teleology comes from the Greek telos (end) and logos (reason). It defines a final destiny in terms of the purpose phenomena serves rather than the cause by which it arises. It seeks to answer three questions: “(1) Does the universe have a purpose?…(2) If the universe has a purpose, whose purpose is it?…(3) What is the purpose of the universe?”[29] Examples: Concept of past and future, God as Elohim, Who created something from nothing with a divine design in mind (Everything that has a beginning has a cause. The universe has a beginning, and therefore, one can posit the universe has a causer-a creator. The creator of the universe created with design and purpose. God fine-tuned and designed the universe for the existence of life, just for us);[30] scientific big bang theory; and mythology about god/goddesses in the creation of the earth/universe.
  • Epistemology. Epistemology pertains to how people distinguish justified beliefs from opinions. It relates to what you believe about knowledge and affects what you accept as valid evidence and particulars. This cultural value dimension asks the question, “What is the basis for knowledge?”[31] It affects the relative significance you ascribe to authority, empirical evidence, reason, intuition, and revelation. It affects how certain you can be about any knowledge and therefore what risks you will take in acting on that knowledge.Examples: modernity (sought order and fulfillment in the world, scientific knowledge mirrors reality and gives access to the external world); post modernity (sees reality as unordered and unknowable, no one truth rather constructs of individuals and groups); and spiritual (based on a scriptural viewpoint and one biblical truth of redemption).[32]

Cultural Landscape Mapping Considerations

Humans behave according to cultural orientation resulting from their interactions with worldview, values, and external social practices from various group memberships. Combined, the three elements represent individual or group ethos. Culture encompasses a wide range of people groups with each representing their own complex ethos. A person shares ethos with multiple groups and has one’s own set. Thus, one’s culture does not remain fixed, rather changes as a person’s interacts with new cultures. Consider the many facets of cultural landscape mapping.

First, an observer cannot see a person’s culture directly on display, although it may become evident through what people say or do. Nevertheless, a leader must decipher and understand surface and hidden cultural patterns to respond to them appropriately. 

Second, culture strictly informs human behavior insofar as patterns and structures people follow. However, people make choices that govern their actions. While they behave according to surface-level cultural patterns, they unconsciously look to hidden, below level culture to structure and interpret their actions. 

Third, while people learn above surface cultural patterns and draw from hidden culture to structure their actions, they make choices regarding how they behave. Culture reflects the script people follow. People think, feel, and evaluate culture resulting in revisions to worldview as people make readjustments and new interpretations to unconscious assumptions. Thus, the script remains in a fluid state and changes.

Figure 1.3

Cultural Landscape Mapping Level Influences

(Based on Morris Opler, 1945)

Steps in Cultural Landscape Mapping

The process of cultural landscape mapping requires mindfulness to analyze a ministry’s intended population and understand the three levels of cultures (external practices, values, and worldviews). Creating a cultural landscape map of a ministry population requires the observer to do more than spend one hour to complete a chart. Rather, it necessitates taking on new roles as a missiologist, anthropologist, and theologian with the approach of mindfulness: a developed awareness of culture through mindful listening, mindful seeing, mindful thinking, and mindful discerning. The practice of mindfulness while engaging culture enables one to detect surface and hidden dimensions of culture. The practice of mindfulness includes the following steps when cultural landscape mapping.

  • Be a learner of culture.
  • Realize the observer’s cultural landscape map differs from a given ministry population since one holds a distinct formation of surface culture, unspoken rules, and unconscious rules. At the same time, the observer, ministry population, and individuals within it share common cultural norms. Seek to understand. 
  • Review the sample maps from prison and elder care ministries your teacher will distribute in class. These provide starting examples to assist in developing a new cultural landscape map. 
  • Research the cultural value dimensions of the given population. Review online authoritative and reliable articles, journals, and books; talk to people in the assigned ministry including its leaders and members (with permission from the ministry head) and read available material from your assigned ministry.
  • Fill in the cultural value dimensions for each of the three levels of the aggregate ministry participants. The lower the culture level lies below the surface culture, the more challenging to detect. Level one behaviors give clues to probable level three.
  • Level three unconscious rules drive external behaviors. Sift worldviews that do not align with Scripture, but contextualize the Gospel to communicate truth. A leader must appreciate the diversity of God’s creation, while at the same time supporting transformation for Christian spiritual formation. 


[1] Hall, Beyond Culture.

[2] Explicit learning rests on concrete, observable knowledge. Luzbetak describe explicit culture as the “who, what, how, when, what kind, and where” that make up a specific people group’s norms ( Luzbetak, L. (1996). The Church and Cultures: New Perspectives in Missiological Anthropology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

[3] Charles Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness (10th ed.) (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2010).

[4] Edward Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 18.

[5] Adapted from Morris Opler “Themes as Dynamic Forces in Culture,” American Journal of Sociology, 51 (3), 198–206.

[6] Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 91. 

[7] Dine Racoma, “What is the Official Language of the US” [cited 18 May 2012]. Online:

[8] Plueddemann, James E. (2009). Leading across cultures: Effective ministry and mission in the global church. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, p. 69.

[9] Plueddemann, Leading Across, 69.

[10] Hofstede, Cultures and Organizations, 46.

[11] Paron, Communication Across. Please read pages six through eight in the Communication Across Cultures Reader 2 for additional information. 

[12] Nina Moore, Nonverbal Communication: Studies and Applications. New York: Oxford University Press. 2010.

[13]Edward T. Hall (1963). “A System for the Notation of Proxemic Behaviour,” American Anthropologist. 65 (5): 1003–1026. doi:10.1525/aa.1963.65.5.02a00020. 

[14] Hofstede, G. “Dimensions,” The Hofstede Centre. Online:

[15] Hofstede, G. “Dimensions.”

[16] Hofstede, G. “Dimensions.” 

[17] Hofstede, G. “Dimensions.”

[18] Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences, 76.

[19] Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences.

[20] Hall, Beyond Culture and Dance of Life: Other dimension of Time (Garden City: Anchor. 1984); Paron, Communication Across. 

[21] Samovar, L., Porter, R., & McDaniel, E. (2010). Communication between cultures (7th ed.). Boston, MD: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.p. 254.

[22] Hall, 1981; 1984

[23] Samovar, L., Porter, R., & McDaniel, E. (2010). Communication between cultures (7th ed.). Boston, MD: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.pp. 110-1

[24] Hall, 1981; 1984

[25] Plueddemann, James E. (2009). Leading across cultures: Effective ministry and mission in the global church. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, p. 69.

[26] Hiebert, P. (2008). Transforming worldviews: An anthropological understanding of how people change. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[27] Hiebert, Transforming worldviews, 27 

[28] Hiebert, Transforming worldviews, 60

[29] Ken Funk, K. What is worldview? (21 March 2001) Online:

[30] Ana Harbin, “Apologetics: Arguments,” Walking Through the Word 2, Session 6. Alsip, All Nations Leadership Institute, 2012.

[31] Funk, What is worldview?

[32] Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 216-17

From: Paron, Jan. “Discipling Across Cultures as a Grace-Filled Leader.” In Leading in a Diverse Church Two, Reader One: 2019, 9-20. Alsip, IL: All Nations Leadership Institute Press, 2019.


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Augsburger, Bennett, M. (2004). Becoming intercultural competent. Portland, OR: Intercultural Development Research Institute.

Boas, F. (1940). Race, language and culture. New York, NY: MacMillan Company.

Bennett, M. (2004). Becoming intercultural competent. Portland, OR: Intercultural Development Research Institute.

Brislin, R. & Yoshida, T. (1994). Intercultural communication training: An introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 

Bureau, U. S. Census. 2000. State and county quick Facts, 2000 census of population, 

Cardon, P. A critique of Hall’s contexting model: A meta-analysis of literature on intercultural business and technical communication. Journal of Business and Technical Communication. 22, 391-428. doi: 10.1177/10506551908320361

Carter, C. (2003). Legacy of inadequate Christology: Yoder’s critique of Christ and culture. Mennonite Quarterly Review

Chan, F. (n.d.) Theology of cultural diversity. Nyack College. Retrieved

Challies, T. (2011). Life and faith after next: Digital explosion story. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervon. Conner, K. (1980). Interpretation: The symbols and types. Portland, OR: Bible Temple 

Conner, K. (1980). Interpretation: The symbols and types. Portland, OR: Bible Temple Publishing.  

Creswell, J. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Danesi, M. & Perron, P. (1999). Analyzing cultures: An introduction and handbook. Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press.

Deyoung, C., Gafney, W., Guardiola-Saenz, L. & Tinker, G. (eds.). (2009). People’s Bible, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2009).

Hall, E. T. (1991). Beyond culture. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.

Hall, E. T. (1984). Dance of life: The other dimension of time. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.

Hall, E. T. (1969). Hidden dimension: An anthropologist examines man’s use of space in public and in private. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books.

Hall, E. T. (1959). Silent language. New York, NY: Doubleday Dell Publishing Groups.

Hall, E. T. & Hall, M. (1990). Understanding cultural patterns: Germans, French and Americans. Boston, MA: Intercultural Press.

Hauerwas, S. and Willimon, W. (1989). Resident aliens : life in the Christian colony. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Hesselgrave, D. (1991). Communicating Christ cross-culturally (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.      

Hiebert, P. (1983). Cultural anthropology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Hiebert, P. (2008). Transforming worldviews: An anthropological understanding of how people change. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Hibbert, E. (2016). Training missionaries: Principles and possibilities. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.

Hofstede, G. (2010). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGrlllaw-Hill. 

Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations. Thousand Oakes: CA: Sage Publications.

Kirby, A. (2009). Digimodernism: How new technologies dismantle the postmodern and reconfigure our culture. New York, NY: Continuum. 

Kraft, C. (2010). Anthropology for Christian witness (10th ed.). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 

Kraft, C. (1992). Christianity and culture (10th ed). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Kraft, C. (1974). Ideological factors in intercultural communication. Missiology. 2, 295-312. doi: 10.1177/009182967400200304

Kraft, C. (2016). Issues in contextualization. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.

Kroeber, A. L. (1952). The nature of culture. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Lane, P. (2002). Beginner’s guide to crossing culture. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 

Lingenfelter, S. (1996). Age of transformation: A guide for effective cross-cultural ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Lustig, M. & Koester, J. (2005). Intercultural competence (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson. 

Luzbetak, L. (1996).  Church and cultures: New Perspectives in missiological anthropology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 

Menuge, J. L. (n.d.). Niebuhr’s Christ and culture reexamined from Christ and culture in dialogue. Management Technique Incorporated. Cited on October 22, 2013 from 

Moore, Nina (2010). Nonverbal communication: Studies and applications. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Newbigin, L. (1983).The other side of 1984: Questions for the churches. Geneva: World Council of Churches.

Newell, Martin, J. (2016). Crossing cultures in Scripture: Biblical principles for mission practice. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Nida, E. (1954). Customs and cultures. Joanna Culter Books.

Nida, E. (1960). Message and meaning: The communication of the Christian faith. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Niebuhr, H. R. (2001). Christ and culture, expanded edition. New York, NY: HarperCollins, Publishing.

O’Keefe, D. J. (1990). Social judgment theory. In Persuasion: Theory and Research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Opler, Morris E. (1945). Themes as dynamic forces in culture. American Journal of Sociology. 51 (3), 198–206.

Paron, J. (2014). Communication across cultures reader two. Alsip, IL: All Nations Leadership Institute Press.

Pashman, M.P. (2018, February 22). “Evangelist to the Masses.” Chicago Tribune

Plueddemann, James E. (2009). Leading across cultures: Effective ministry and mission in the global church. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

Schein, E. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Smith, D. (1992). Creating understanding: A handbook of Christian communication across cultural landscapes. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Smith, R. A. (2007). Worldview and culture: Interacting with Charles Kraft, N. T. Wright and Scripture. Global Missiology English

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Van Engen, C., Whiteman, D. & Woodberry, D. (Eds.). (2008). Paradigm shifts in Christian witness. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 

VanGelder, C. (2000). The essence of the Church: A community created by the Spirit. Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Academic.

Van Rheenan, G. (1996). Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

Wan, E. (2004). A critique of Charles Kraft’s use/misuse of communication and social sciences in biblical interpretation and missiological formulation. Global Missiology, Research Methodology.

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Wright, N. T. (1992). The New Testament and the people of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Jonah and Schein’s Three Levels of Culture



Jan Paron, PhD | June 27, 2021

The book of Jonah opens with the messenger formula “The word of the Lord came to Jonah” to cry out against Nineveh (Jon 1:1).[1] Though the passage does not name Jonah as a prophet, the formula verifies God’s appointment for him to prophesy to Nineveh (1:2). Second Kings also affirms his status referring to Jonah as a prophet to King Jeroboam II (14:25). Despite the word of the Lord, Jonah fled to Tarshish (Jon 1:3) seeking to escape his call. Later, Jonah submitted to God’s call, and He returned him to Nineveh to carry out the mission (3:3). Jonah prophesied to them, “forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (3:4 New American Standard Version).[2] The Ninevites repented, and thus God spared the city (vv. 6-10). However, God’s extension of mercy to Nineveh angered Jonah, and the prophet asked to die (4:1, 3). Jonah could not accept His action with the pagans; nonetheless, God justified His decision because of His concern for the more than 120,000 Ninevites (v. 11).[3]


Perhaps, Jonah reacted negatively towards Nineveh repenting because he did not want to see its pagan inhabitants turn from their sin, a city that would eventually destroy the Northern Kingdom. Since the author structured the book as a biographical sketch of Jonah,[4] it allows for a cultural analysis of the prophet’s artifacts, values, and assumptions to provide insight into the whys behind his external behaviors. In particular, his actions gave rise to several queries to answer. How did Jonah’s contextually embedded factors[5] affect his attitude towards Nineveh and readiness to accept their repentance? Further, how did Jonah’s roots grounded in a Hebraic social identity play a role in his outlook? This essay seeks to prove how Jonah’s worldview assumptions set within Israel’s broader cultural nationalism influence his attitude toward Nineveh and drive his resistance to change. In doing so, it uncovers Jonah’s internal values, beliefs, and underlying assumptions behind three of his external artifacts: disobedience, selfishness, and self-exile.

Accordingly, this writing examines Jonah through Schein’s organizational culture theory to explain how Jonah’s cultural context affected his worldview about Nineveh and attitude toward change. The Schein model analyzes three categorical levels of culture: artifacts, espoused beliefs and values, and basic underlying assumptions.[6] While the Schein three-tier model uncovers culture insofar as group dynamics to support strategies for organizational change, even called the onion model for that purpose,[7] the framework adapts well to exposing layers of an individual’s culture within a larger people group’s context. Thus, it blueprints Jonah’s surface and hidden cultures that undergird his architectural framework. In turn, the blueprint provides an anthropological lens through which to view his macro and micro cultural layers allowing for a peeled-back glimpse into the inner workings of Jonah’s conflict and change that drove his responses to the prophecy for Nineveh (Jon 1:3). Thus, its macro culture represents Jonah’s intrinsically formed, nationalist views inherent to and embedded in pre-exilic Israel during the eighth century BC—Yahweh’s disobedient and impetuous wife breaking the covenant marriage vow to her desires and will. At the same time, the micro reflects his beliefs, values, norms, thought patterns, and myths that interact with yet remain separate from the macro.[8]

In considering Jonah’s culture in the context of Israel, the date of which the Nineveh setting takes place holds significance as culture changes over time. Since Israel’s pre-exilic period has a wide date range, its social location and identity contribute to its worldview formation. The tensions and conflict surrounding Israel, including foreign interactions, even may create multiple worldviews.[9] To understand Jonah’s motives, one must peel away the outer layers to expose the inner assumptions. It requires analyzing Jonah in the context of Israel with the proper social location. Thus, dating the narrative takes on significance. Having said this, the book of Second Kings gives a clue as to the time frame that provides at least a window within which to date Jonah insofar as his prophecy to Jeroboam II during the eighth century BC, before the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrian Empire. Stuart lists other factors that support eighth century BC dating, such as Aramaisms in language, motifs from Jeremiah, verbs from Joel, and Nineveh as a possible alternate capital of the Assyrian Empire during the first half of the century.[10] Matthews believes it occurred from 850–605 BC with the book’s composition during the post-exilic period, after 500.[11] Richter projects the first half of the eighth century (800-745BC) when the Jeroboam-Uzziah alliance gave rise to wealth and influence, and Tiglath-pileser III ruled Assyria.[12] For the sake of this essay, it will focus on pre-exilic Israel within approximately the 850-605 BC period, even though it encompasses a broad period.

Disobedient Anti-Prophet

Jonah’s disobedient approach to his prophetic commission to cry out against Nineveh surfaced immediately in the narrative’s onset (Jon 1:2-3), demonstrating one of Jonah’s first of the three critical external artifacts (disobedience, selfishness, and self-exile). Further, it previews actions to come fueled by the prophet’s beliefs, values, and assumptions related to the Ninevites.[13] While the text does not describe Jonah as a prophet, Yahweh’s commission to Nineveh suggests it. Second Kings 14:25 confirms Jonah’s call as a prophet concerning his prophecy to King Jeroboam II. Jonah stands among the Twelve in the Old Testament, though not a standard prophet.[14]

To understand the depth of Jonah’s disobedience, one must examine it in light of a prophet’s role. Prophets acted as spokespersons for God’s divine message to the people in Ancient Israel, though not exclusive to Israelites. They received and announced God’s divine will, intentions, purposes, or future from a prophetic utterance.[15]. Disobedience to the call could result in death such as the man of God in Bethel (1 Kgs 13:26). Despite the responsibilities of the office, Jonah chose not to follow the Lord’s three commands: (1) ‘Arise,’ (2) ‘Go at once to Nineveh,’ and  (3) ‘cry out against it’ (Jon 1:3). Instead, he acted contrarily with three, self-determined directions: he (1) ‘got up to flee to Tarshish’ (1:2), (2) ‘went down to Joppa,’ and (3 ‘found a ship that was going to Tarshish’ (v. 3). Although the narrative sets the scene for what follows, it does not establish why Jonah did not carry out the Lord’s message. However, the text immediately portrays him as disobedient to the word of the Lord in his prophetic office. To note, as Jonah followed his personal agenda with the initial decision not to confront Nineveh about its wickedness, in essence, he questioned the Lord’s authority over His creation.

Schellenberg fittingly describes Jonah as an anti-prophet[16] pointing out his atypical stance as a prophet and its complexities in that role. Jonah almost shows a combination between open disobedience and subtle disengagement with Yahweh. For instance, the narrative opens with Jonah fleeing to Tarshish by boat (v. 3). Once on the ship, the Lord sent Jonah so great a wind threatened to destroy the boat making the sailors each cry out to their god, instead, Jonah went below and fell sound asleep (vv. 3-5). He did not call on God (v. 6); but asked the shipmen to throw him overboard to calm the seas (v. 12). Immediately, a great fish God had prepared swallowed up Jonah (v. 17). Once encompassed in its belly for three days, Jonah prayed to God without any apparent remorse for his actions seemingly with a victim mentality (2:3). Another occasion of a posture antithesis to a prophet occurred after Jonah prophesied to Nineveh. While its inhabitants covered themselves with sackcloth and cried for God’s mercy in repentance; in contrast, Jonah sat sullenly withdrawn to the east of the city (3:8-10; 4:5). He showed avoidance and an inappropriate approach to his call. His anti-prophet behavior and responses run throughout the story in different variations.

The question remains as to what beliefs and values behind his disobedience caused a reaction so adverse to Nineveh that he would risk separation and subsequent punishment from God? The Lord commanded Jonah to go to city and cry out against it because of its wickedness (1:2). Matthews describes the Lord’s call as so strong that a prophet ultimately must address it, including preaching judgment as the Lord commanded Jonah. The prophet could try to flee from God and his commission but could not escape it. He could hide but not run.[17] Jonah realized he had to fulfill the command to the Assyrian city of Nineveh (vv. 13–17).

Given the prophet’s strong call to duty, why did Jonah not fulfill the Lord’s command immediately? It was not until a large fish swallowed him up that he understood his duty would not go away (2:1-9). Further, how did Jonah rationalize running from it? Tarshish (modern-day Spain) In his mind, the city may have represented the farthest point to flee, the ultimate hiding place. Physical distance resulting from his sin of disobedience suggests alienation from the presence of the Lord. The ideology from humanity’s sinful nature historically results in separation from God. Metaphorically speaking, it brought Jonah east of Eden like Adam and Eve (Gn 3:23–24) and Cain (4:16),[18] instead hurled to the sea and then into the belly of a large fish appointed by the Lord (Jon 1:15-17). At this juncture, the text did not indicate why Jonah so aggressively avoided Nineveh but does show the effects of decisions that run contrary to God. 

Quite possibly, it may have had to do with the Northern Kingdom’s liminality upon entering a period of prosperity. In other words, Jonah looked out for Israel. In his eyes, he may have wanted to see continued prosperity. Isaiah (Is 7:17—8:28) and Hosea (Hos 9:3; 10:6; 11:5) both prophesied the Assyrian invasion of Israel. God told Jehu his sons would rule Israel for four generations, meaning until Jeroboam II (2 Kgs 10:30). During the era of Israel’s kings, Jeroboam ruled the Northern Kingdom while Uzziah reigned over Judah.[19] King Jeroboam II had restored Israel’s boundaries to those under David by reconquering the Transjordan in 760 BC (14:23-29, Am 6:14). His reign from 786-746 BC reflected peace and expansion for Israel.[20] Further, the annexation of Gilead, Lo-debar, and Karnaim enabled Israel to gain control over the major trade route connecting the Tigris-Euphrates to Egypt through the King’s Highway. Sole control over the trade route gave rise to Israel’s newfound wealth. Israel and Judah regarded Nineveh as its greatest enemy. Estelle added that Israel’s collective conscience could not view Assyria with neutrality because of recent memories associated with it.[21] Did Jonah think he could stop the Assyrian invasion if he allowed God to destroy Nineveh?

Selfish Prophet

In addition to being a prophet, albeit disobedient, 2 Kgs 14:25 describes Jonah as a servant of the Lord, the God of Israel. Servants serve, yet scripture shows another artifact of Jonah as selfish. Named as a servant of the Lord, he stood in the company of Old Testament patriarchs, prophets, kings, and the faithful of Israel.[22] The Old Testament first mentions servant of the Lord in Gn 26:24b, referring to Abraham in the possessive form, “my servant.” They serve God and His desires for the kingdom, not the world nor its influences (Gn 24:2). Paron emphasizes that a servant of the Lord carried out God’s requests “based on faith in God’s covenantal promises for Israel, generation to generation.”[23] Thus, they fulfill God’s heart assignments for His people. Nevertheless, God gave His servants a choice to obey his commands, decrees, and instructions (49:15). While scripture calls Jonah a servant in Second Kings, he elected not to follow the Lord’s instructions in the case of Nineveh. So, why did it refer to him as a servant of the Lord, the God of Israel (2 Kgs 14:25)? Jonah showed himself as selfish rather than selfless, running in opposition to God’s directions. If Jonah had fled from his hometown Gath Hepher (14:25) to Tarshish, he would have traveled 3,000 miles to the westernmost point away from Nineveh to distance himself from God. In addition to a disobedient nature in his office of prophet, the text reveals him as selfish.[24] Jonah did not consider his duty to serve in a prophetically forth-telling capacity to Nineveh as God’s messenger.

Nineveh’s wickedness may lend an understanding of Jonah’s beliefs leading to his disdain for Nineveh and subsequent decisions (Jon 1:2). Even though the book did not elaborate on wickedness, Jonah may have understood it without explanation. Nahum remarked about Nineveh’s endless cruelty after Jonah: “Who has ever escaped your endless cruelty” (Na 3:19 New Revised Standard Version). The passage suggests Israel knew of Nineveh’s oppressive severity. Unconsciously, Jonah may have had an ingrained belief that the Ninevites did not deserve a second chance from God. 

Grant-Henderson brings up the point related to Israel’s post-exilic view of outsiders as nations exclusive to God’s mercy. She posits a strong statement relative apropos to Jonah: “If a foreigner can repent so quickly and receive the compassion of God, then surely the Israelite nation that is God’s chosen one will be able to receive the same care no matter how far they strayed.”[25] She tied this assertion to Israel’s self-centered view that the God of Israel only bestows grace to His people, from a collectivist perspective only to insiders, not outsiders. Judah may have viewed God granting mercy to a foreign nation as injustice when Israel itself experienced pain and hardship. An Exodus 32 redux?  Though the Northern Kingdom prospered during the reign of Jeroboam II, the political engine distributed kingdom wealth disproportionately to the connected. Most people lived in poverty, not luxury.[26] Judah did not fare as well as its northern neighbor. Therefore, the self-centered Israelite mindset that permeated their values propagated the underlying assumptions of forgetting God as sovereign. Even though Jonah referenced God as “gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in mercy” (Jon 4:2b), he may well have directed it only towards Israel, as the “Lord my God” (2:6), literally meaning the Lord God who belongs to Israel.

Self-Exiled Prophet 

Nineveh’s willingness to repent presents an ironic contrast to Israel and Judah’s reluctance to do so the same.[27]Upon Jonah’s recommissioning to Nineveh (3:1), he walked to the city from where the fish spit him out. Then, he cried out and said, “Forty more days, and Nineveh will be overthrown” (v. 4). From the least to the greatest, the Ninevites believed the word of the Lord. The king issued an edict that everyone must turn from their evil ways (v. 8). Jeremiah virtually preached this same message to Israel (Jer 25:5).

Their repentance angered Jonah; thus, he placed himself in exile outside the city. Jonah figuratively went east of Eden away from the presence of God in self-imposed isolation out of anger when left to go east of Nineveh. “So now, Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life” (Jon 4:3). Once again, Jonah physically placed himself out of the Lord’s presence, demonstrating the antithesis of a prophet’s expected behavior, and experienced another punishment as God appointed a scorching east wind against him and heat of the sun beat down on him (4:8). 

While Nineveh hoped that God would change His mind and not destroy them, Jonah feared a gracious and merciful God (v. 2). He knew God’s character.[28] The same mercy God showed Jonah throughout the story, He also would demonstrate to Nineveh. Just as Israel repeatedly operated in the mindset of covenant breakers with Yahweh, Jonah approached God much the same way when he placed himself in exile and pouted. The allusion to Israel’s exile bookends the story, beginning in his flight west to Tarshish and ending east outside Nineveh. Did Jonah, who rudely argued with God over sparing Nineveh forget God rescued him from the belly of the fish even though he did not repent of his disobedience? (v.9). As a type for Israel, Jonah likewise foreshadows the mercy God gave His chosen upon restoration from exilic Israel and again to eschatological Israel (Rom 9-11).

Conclusion: Change and Conflict in Nineveh

Poole and Van de Ven view organizational change as occurring in cycles driven by four forces of change related to goal implementation in an entity.[29] The forces include life cycle, dialectical, teleological, and evolutionary. Each force, in turn, affects the implementation of the organizational mission. Of the four forces, teleological change comes to mind in the case of Jonah because God implemented part of His predetermined plan for redemption in Nineveh. He needed the city as part of Assyria to later invade the Northern Kingdom

Teleological change involves intentional and purposeful goal implementation to drive change, dependent upon constituents working together for its fruition. However, like any change, it can provoke conflict. Indeed, Jonah having had to prophesy to Nineveh gave rise to conflict for him. The tension stemmed from the collective Hebrew community, which in turn influenced his social identity. Their broader social sphere included the political, economic, cultural, and religious mores of Israel’s society, of which Jonah had a membership.[30] Therefore, he functioned as a prophet guided by espoused beliefs and ethical rules from his ethnic roots that formed boundaries for his behavior. God’s desire for Nineveh to repent triggered Jonah’s resistant behaviors that manifested in disobedience and selfishness to Yahweh and isolation from His presence. 

God’s nature does not change, remaining immutable: “For I, the Lord, do not change (Mal 3:6a; e.g., Num 23:19; Isa 46: 9-11; Jas 1:13).[31] Rather, how He deals with people does. He bestowed mercy upon Nineveh and later destroyed them because of their continued wickedness. However, God also demands change from His people. He challenged Jonah’s existing social standards. As the Creator of humankind and a sovereign God, He alone determines mercy. In this case, it pertained to exclusion versus inclusion of grace for a foreign nation. 

Believers in Christ can learn from Jonah’s mistakes of disobedience, selfishness, and self-isolation that interfere with spiritual growth and call to mission. Yahweh desires intimacy with His children to shape and form them that only comes from remaining in His presence in covenant and walking in His Spirit. In its absence, the flesh gives sin a place to dwell. Sin cannot reside where restoration should take place as His tabernacle abides within His image-bearers. 

Perhaps, the most significant point to remember comes with one’s high calling from God. Jesus commanded His disciples to take the Gospel to the nations (Mt 28:19) without exclusion showing unconditional love (Mk 12:31; Jn 13:34). Like Jonah, God makes His followers messengers of His grace and mercy. In a divided society permeated with judgment fueled by hate, much like Israel and Gentiles cultures, the Body of Christ must reflect on the past and self-evaluate whether it sits east of Nineveh pouting. Does it self-determine who stands worthy of the Gospel? The Church must rise up and actively become coyotes crossing into alien territory, bringing the message of hope of salvation in mission—Become border crossers for the kingdom! 

[1] The book narrates Jonah’s experiences surrounding his call by God to prophecy repentance to Nineveh, an urban center of Assyria. Jonah hailed from Gath Hepher, a border town in ancient Israel, a village near Nazareth in Israel (2 Kgs 14:25) in the northern kingdom, in the area known as the district of the Gentiles (Is 9:1). Dates vary on the event’s time of occurrence and the book’s writing. 

[2] Unless otherwise specified, this writing will quote scripture from the New American Standard Version.

[3]  Daniel J. Hays and Tremper Longman III, The Message of the Prophets: A Survey of the Prophetic and Apocalyptic Books of the Old Testament (Downers Grove, Zondervan, 2010), Kindle. Though Nineveh repented, it soon returned to its former evil state. Assyria rose in power to dominate the Ancient Near East (ANE). The Lord used the empire to judge the Northern Kingdom. Nahum prophesied Nineveh’s destruction after Jonah.

[4] Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, vol. 31, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, ) 537.

[5] Communication occurs in context, which affects how a person decodes any given verbal or nonverbal message. Existing factors such as cultural (learned values, beliefs, and behaviors), historical (expectations and motivation), psychological (emotions, intentions, mood, power/authority, and judgment), occasion (place, event, situation, and relationship), environmental (locale, space, setting, time, and spiral of silence) and number of people (individual, group, or multitude) all play a role in establishing context. (Noelle-Neumann, 1984; O’Keefe, 1990; Rogers and Steinfatt, 1999; Samovar, Porter and McDaniel, 2010).

[6] Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership (San Francisco: Wiley, 2010), 22-23. See also Hall’s theory of culture:  Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture (Garden City: Anchor, 1981), 16. Hall devised a similar framework to describe innate cultural characteristics, interrelated cultural factors, and common boundaries in a person or people group.

[7] Gamze Yilmaz, (2014) “Let’s Peel the Onion Together: An Application of Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture” Communication Teacher, 28:4, 224-228, (July 2014), 224. DOI: 10.1080/17404622.2014.939674.

[8] Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 55. He states “To fully understand what goes on inside the organization, it is necessary to understand both the organization’s macro context, because much of what you observe inside simply reflects the national, and the interplay of subcultures because they often reflect the primary occupational cultures of the organization members. 

[9] David Naugle, Jr., Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publisher, 2002. Naugle contends a person has more than one worldview, a multiplicity, meaning they evolve dependent upon their impermanent nature due to the intermingling of life experience, sentiments, and ideas against historical periods and context.

[10] Douglas Stuart, “Jonah,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, eds. Daniel Reid and Allison Rieck (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2012), 457, 460-461. Stuart provides other datings to support the eight century BC period. The term king of Nineveh may connote a somewhat generic label in the book’s context suggesting an Assyrian king may be present in nineveh early in the eighth century BC where or not Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. 

[11] Victor H. Matthews, The Hebrew Prophets and Their Social World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 26.

[12] Sandra Richer, “Eighth-Century Issues: The World of Jeroboam II, the Fall of Samaria, and the Reign of Hezekiah,” in Ancient Israel’s History: An Introduction to Issues and Sources, eds. Bill T. Arnold and Richard Hess (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 320.

[13] Dennis Tucker, Jr., Jonah: Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible (Waco: Baylor University, 2006. The discourse marker ‘and’ translated in the interlinear (wayyiqtol form) from Hebrew provides the reader with a signal. It precedes in the first of sequential events to describe how “the word of the Lord came to Jonah” (v.1). References to a word of the Lord coming to a prophet include 1 Kgs 13:20, 16:7: Jehu; 1 Kgs 19:19: Elijah; Jer 33:1, 39:15: Jeremiah; Hos 1:1: Hosea; Mic 1:1: Micah; and Zeph 1:1, 7:12: Zephaniah. Second Chronicle 11:3 in the case of Samuel says “according to the word of the Lord by Samuel” 

[14] Matthews, The Hebrew Prophets and Their Social World. Standard prophets include Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. During the destruction and exile of Judah. Their prophetic themes included (1) Israel must repent, (2) without repentance judgment will follow, and (3) hope lies beyond judgment for a restored future for both Israel/Judah and the nations.

[15] Daniel G. Reid and Allison Rieck, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2012), 587.

[16] Schellenberg, “An Anti-Prophet among the Prophets? On the Relationship of Jonah to Prophecy,” 355. 

[17] Matthews, The Hebrew Prophets and Their Social World, 201. 

[18] Constantin Oancea, “Imagery and Religious Conversion: The Symbolic Function of Jonah 1:13.” Religions 9 (3): 1–9. doi:10.3390/rel9030073.

[19] Bruce E. Willougby, Amos, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol A-C (New York: Doubleday), 205. King Jeroboam II ruled from 786-746 BC, while Uzziah from 783-742 BC. Both held lengthy reigns resulting in peace and expansion for both the northern and southern kingdoms. 

[20] Willougby, Amos, 205-206. 

[21] Bryan Estelle, Salvation Through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel According to Jonah (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishers, 2005), Kindle.

[22] According to Paron in “Uncovering the Servant of the Lord” in some of the Old Testament servants of the Lord included “Abraham (Gn 26:24), Moses (Ex 14:31; Dt 34:5; Josh 1:2, 13), Joshua (Jo 24:29; Jgs 2:8), Hezekiah (2 Chr 32:16), Isaiah (Is 20:3), Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon (Jer 25:9), Zerubbabel (Hg 2:23), prophets as a group (2 Kgs 17:13; Am 3:7; Jer 7:25; 26:5), and the faithful ones of Israel (Is 49:1-6).”

[23] Jan Paron, “Uncovering the Meaning of Servant of the Lord,” Perspectives 12 (blog), August 19, 2014.

[24] Removing oneself from the presence of the Lord in disobedience can bring judgment. Adam and Eve hid themselves from God’s presence among the trees of the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden tree of knowledge (Gn 2:17; 3:8). For breaking His command not to eat of the tree, He removed them from the garden. 

[25] Anna Grant-Henderson, Inclusive Voices in Post Exilic Judah (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2002), 103.

[26] Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, vol. 31, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 1988), 516.

[27] Jan L. Paron, Study of Selected Cultural Value Dimensions from Edward T. Hall and Geert Hofstede for Bridging Communication in an Urban, Multiethnic Church (Marrion: Wesley Seminary, 2014).Paron points out that “Culture reflects the elements of worldview (beliefs or thinking), values (feeling), and external practices (behaviors) each people group teaches and reinforces to its members. 

[28] Bryan D. Estelle, Salvation Through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel According to Jonah, Kindle.

[29] Marshall Poole and Andrew Van de Ven, eds., Handbook of Organizational Change and Innovation, 1st ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, Kindle.

[30] Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 26-27.

[31] Jan Paron, “Doctrine of Immutability,” Perspectives 12 (blog), November 13, 2017.


Allen, Leslie C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans, 1976.

Andrews, Michael W. 2018. “The Sign of Jonah: Jesus in the Heart of the Earth.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 61 (1): 105–19. 

Arnold, Bill and Richard Hess. Ancient Israel’s History. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.

Brett, Mark, G. ed. Ethnicity and the Bible. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002.

Bright, John. A History of Israel. 4th ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000. 

Boeckel, Peter B. “The Polyvalence of Atonement in the Old Testament: A Wesleyan Reflection on Leviticus and Jonah.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 50 (1): 116–33. 

Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. 17th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

De la Torre, Miguel. Reading the Bible from the Margins. Maryknoll, Orbis Books, 2002.

Ellis, Robert R. 2016. “A Word about … the Sign of Jonah for Our Culture.” Review & Expositor 113 (4): 443–46. doi:10.1177/0034637316665181.

Estelle, Bryan. Salvation Through Judgment and Mercy. Phillipsburg: R & R Publishers, 2005.

Freedman, David, N., Gary A. Herion, David F. Graf, and John D. Pleins. eds. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol A-C. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Fuhr, Richard A. and Gary E. Yates. Hearing the Voice of the Minor Prophets: Message of the Twelve. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016.

Grant-Henderson, Anna. Inclusive Voices in Post Exilic Judah. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2002.

Hays, J. Daniel and Tremper Longman III. The Message of the Prophets A Survey of the Prophetic and Apocalyptic Books of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Hall, Edward T. Beyond Culture. Garden City: Anchor, 1981.

Hiebert, Paul, G. Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

Joseph, Abson Prédestin. “Shaping Prophetic Voices for the Public Sphere.” Christian Scholars Review 49, no. 4 (July 15, 2020):


Kaplan, Jonathan. “Jonah and Moral Agency.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 43, no. 2 (2018): 146–62. doi:10.1177/0309089217725258.

Kelsey, Marian. 2020. “The Book of Jonah and the Theme of Exile.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 45 (1): 128–40. doi:10.1177/0309089219864607.

LaCocque, Andre and Pierre-Emmanuel Lacocque. Jonah: A Psycho-Religious Approach to the Prophet. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1990.

———. Jonah: The Jonah Complex. Atlanta: John Knox, 1981.

Mann, Steven T. “Performative Prayers of a Prophet: Investigating the Prayers of Jonah as Speech Acts.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 79, no. 1 (January 2017): 20–40.

Matthews, Victor H. The Hebrew Prophets and Their Social World. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.

Meredith, Christopher. 2014. “The Conundrum of Ḥtr in Jonah 1:13.” Vetus Testamentum 64 (1): 147–52. doi:10.1163/15685330-12301143.

Miller, Maxwell J. and John H. Hayes. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. 2nd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Naugle, Jr., David. Worldview: The History of a Concept. Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publisher, 2002.

Noelle-Neumann, E. The Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion — Our Social Skin. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1984.

Oancea, Constantin. 2018. “Imagery and Religious Conversion: The Symbolic Function of Jonah 1:13.” Religions 9 (3): 1–9. doi:10.3390/rel9030073.

O’Hanlon, G. F. The Immutability of God in the Theology of Hans Urs Von Balthasar. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

O’Keefe, D. J. Social judgment theory. Persuasion: Theory and research. Newbury Park: Sage, 1990.

Oxley, Simon. “Certainties Transformed: Jonah and Acts 10:9-35.” The Ecumenical Review 56, no. 3 (July 2004): 322–26. 

Paron, Jan. Discipling Across Cultures as a Grace-Filled Leader, Reader 1. Alsip: All Nations Leadership Press, 2019.

———. “Doctrine of Immutability.” Perspectives 12 (blog). November 13, 2017.

———. “Reconciliation in Corinth, Pt. 2: Biblical History & Forces of Change.” Perspectives 12 (blog). August 10, 2012.

———. “Uncovering the Meaning of Servant of the Lord.” Perspectives 12 (blog). August 19, 2014.

Poole, Marshall and Andrew Van de Ven, eds. Handbook of Organizational Change and Innovation. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Reid, Daniel G. and Allison Rieck, eds. Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Richer, Sandra. “Eighth-Century Issues: The World of Jeroboam II, the Fall of Samaria, and the Reign of Hezekiah.” In Ancient Israel’s History: An Introduction to Issues and Sources, edited by Bill T. Arnold and Richard Hess, 319-349. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.

Rogers, Everett M. and Thomas M. Steinfatt. Intercultural Communication. Long Grove: Waveland Press, 1999.

Ryu, Chesung Justin. 2009. “Silence as Resistance: A Postcolonial Reading of the Silence of Jonah in Jonah 4.1-11.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 34 (2): 195–218. doi:10.1177/0309089209356410.

Samovar, Larry A., Richard E. Porter, and Edwin R. McDaniel. Communicating Between Cultures. 9th ed. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2017.

Sasson, Jack N. The Anchor Yale Bible: Jonah. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990

Schein, Edgar H. Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Wiley, 2010.

Schellenberg, Annette. “An Anti-Prophet among the Prophets? On the Relationship of Jonah to Prophecy.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 39, no. 3 (March 2015): 353–71. doi:10.1177/0309089215577593.

Shepherd, Michael B. A Commentary of the Book of the Twelve: The Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018.

Slade, Carol, William G. Campbell, and Stephen V. Ballou. Form and Style: Research Papers, Reports, Theses. 9th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.

Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. A Biblical Theology of Exile. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

———. Jonah, Jesus, and Other Good Coyotes: Speaking Peace to Power in the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2007.

Stuart, Douglas. Hosea-Jonah, vol. 31. Word Biblical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 1988.

Timmer, Daniel C. A Gracious and Compassionate God: Mission, Salvation, and Spirituality in the Book of Jonah.Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Tucker Jr., Dennis.  Jonah: Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible. Waco: Baylor University, 2006).

VanGemeren, William A. Interpreting the Prophetic Word: An Introduction to the Prophetic Literature of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Wendland, Ernst R. 2018. “A Discourse Structural Overview of the Prophecy of Micah.” The Bible Translator 69 (2): 277–93. doi:10.1177/2051677018785213.

Whitesel, Bob. Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church. Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007.

Wolff, Hans Walter. “Jonah: The Messenger Who Obeyed.” Currents in Theology and Mission 3, no. 2 (April 1976): 86–97.

Wrogemann, Henning. Intercultural Theology, Volume One. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Yates, Gary E. 2016. “The ‘Weeping Prophet’ and ‘Pouting Prophet’ in Dialogue: Intertextual Connections between Jeremiah and Jonah.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 59 (2): 223–39. 

How to Title a Passage: Learning to See Biblical Text (James 1:2-4)


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Jan Paron, PhD|June 22, 2021

2My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Jas 1:2-4


  • Carefully read and observe the passage.
  • Next, jot down your thoughts about what the title requires.
  • Then, narrow down your thoughts to the most critical.
  • Finally, narrow the most critical to one thought that applies to your passage title.

(1) What did the text mean to the biblical audience?

This title asks the reader to determine what the passage meant to the biblical audience according to culture, language, circumstances, period, or covenant.

Possible titles: (1) Command to respond to trials of faith with joy or (2) Command to let patience have her perfect work

(2) What theological principal does the text hold?

For this title, determine what the author intended the passage to mean.

Possible title: (1) God tries faith in Christ to perfect it with patience and completeness

(3) What does the text say about general-to-specific?

With this title, you focus on a passage that features text from general to specific. Thus, an author will introduce an idea, and then explain it with specific details.

Possible title: Patience in trials of faith produces Christian maturity

(4) What does the text say about its purpose statement?

You can title a passage that includes a purpose statement. Generally, a purpose statement follows a conditional clause (begins with if, when, whenever, since, because, and in order to). The words that, in order that, or so that introduce a purpose statement.

Possible title: That you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing

(5) What means does the text tell about accomplishing something?

In this manner of titling, you write the means brought about by the purpose, result, or action.

Possible title: God accomplishes His purposes through our trials

(6) What does the text reveal about the actions of people or God in the passage?

When titling for actions focus on the actions of people or God in the passage. Keep the actions of people separate from God.

Possible titles: God maturing His children in Him and growing them into His likeness or Believers must practice spiritual toughness in troubled times

Adapted from Duvall, J. S. and J. D. Hays, J. D. Grasping God’s Word. Grand Rapids: MI, 2005.

Contextual Study: Exegetical Method


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Jan Paron, PhD|June 15, 2021 

Hermeneutics deals with the field of biblical study. One of its fundamental tenets includes the context principle. Context connects thoughts running through a portion or whole of Scripture to reveal the original intent of God’s truth. One interprets a word or verse keeping in mind the surrounding content, historical, and cultural contexts of the passage, book, testament, and Bible. The God-inspired text speaks for itself in context, rather than the reader injecting ideas into it.

Exegesis Chart

Contextual Principle: Exegetical Method 

Step 1 (Read and Reread)

Read and reread the passage both silently and aloud. Take time to hear it. Remember, the Bible’s early audience utilized the text as spoken word. Take caution when listening, however, not to inject contemporary meaning into the ancient text. The current social location and cultural identity differ from the original audience.

Do not rush the process. Pray for understanding and meditate on the Word. Allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate its meaning. Remember, a quality study takes time. 

Step 2 (Ask Questions)

A context study should make the reader ask questions and extend thinking about the text. While reading, write down open-ended questions about the verse and words. Begin by formulating who, what, when, where, why, how, and for what reason questions with an open-ended nature. An open-ended question suggests more than a yes or no response; rather, it requires digging for the answer. Look at Jas 1:2. The author in this verse remarks, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;” (KJV). James conjugated the word ‘count’ as a command. What events transpired that necessitated James to command the readers to ‘count it all joy’? How do we understand ‘divers temptations’ in the context of the early church? What might Jesus say to His followers today through this passage?

Step 3 (Research Behind the Text)

Find out what occurs behind the text for its situational contexts. When studying the passage behind the text, investigate the passage and the book. Learn about the overall book, passage, and surrounding verses to the passage/s of study. Find out such information as the book’s author, audience, dating, purpose, themes. To understand the background of the scattered, the reader must trace the historical events from the book of Acts that led to scattering the church. What religious, political, economic, social, and ethnic factors created a tension that resulted in their scattering? Where did the diaspora settle? How did living in a different locale away from the synagogue, family, and community affect their spiritual walk?

James, the brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem church, wrote the book in the form of a letter. He addressed it to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (Jas 1:1). The expression ‘twelve tribes’ applied to Jewish Christians. After Stephen’s death, believers from the early Jerusalem church scattered as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Syrian Antioch due to persecution (see Acts 8:1; 11:19). As the leader of the Jerusalem church, James wrote as their pastor to instruct and encourage his dispersed people in the face of their difficulties as aliens in a foreign land. The nature of displacement accounts for James’s references to trials and oppression, his intimate knowledge of the readers, and the authoritative nature of the letter in providing moral direction. 

Step 4 (Investigate Within the Text)

Go within the text and determine its literary features. Look for context clues to help define a word. Begin by reflecting upon how the passage connects to other verses in the chapter, book, and testaments. Notice the surrounding words in the sentence and paragraph and how they affect word meaning. 

Parts of speech additionally shine a light on meaning. Does the word appear as a noun, adjective, verb, adverb, conjunction, etc? Consider ‘divers temptations’ in Jas 1:1. The plural adjective divers modifies and describes the plural noun temptations. When defining temptations, describe it by including the meaning of divers. Also, look for the verbs in a passage, especially commands. Unique to James, the author ordered 59 imperatives out of 108 verses and followed the commands with a purpose statement. Imperative verbs in James 1:2-4 include count (v. 2) and let (v. 4). 

Step 5 (Continuing Within the Text: Expository Dictionary and Cross Referencing)

Look up the word in a Bible expository dictionary, either online or hard copy. Do not use a contemporary dictionary. Find what the word means according to authorial intent in the passage. First, determine the gloss meaning, a basic definition of one to three words in length. Note, the gloss must match the context of the verse. Then, find the full definition. Read it in more than one expository dictionary (,, and Vine’s Online). Again, make sure the full definition matches the intent and context of the sentence containing the word. Do not assume the same definition applies to two identical words in a sentence or paragraph. The context of a word changes its meaning.

Cross-referencing also develops meaning. Locate the cross-reference verses to unwrap a word. Do not just cite it; explain how it describes the word and adds to its meaning. Select the cross-references with like meaning.

Step 6 (Organize Behind and Within the Text Information and Write a Summary Definition)

Combine within and behind-the-text information and then write a final, four-sentence definition. Thoroughly check the findings to eliminate word fallacies. Look at the draft information below. While lengthy, it unwraps the word temptations showing both behind and within the text meanings. It culminates with a summary definition taking all the research into account.

Step 7 (Application)

Respond to questions about how the word or verse applies to the body of believers today. What is your takeaway from the study? Based on the study, how does God work in the lives of His people? Answer in three to four sentences.

Contextual Study: Jas 1:2 (Temptation)

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (Jas 1:2-3 KJV).

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (NKJV).

Behind the Text

What temptations (or trials) did the scattered experience? The word ‘divers’ (Jas 1:2) describes temptations. As part of a triple alliteration (peripesēte, poikilos, peirasmos), the author perhaps sought to emphasize divers temptations to the listeners when read orally and highlight every kind of trying (or testing). Further, the ‘when’ before divers temptations gives a clue that a person does not invite the temptations. The assembly of believers suffered many trials. James lists them in the letter. For example,

  • dispersed to a land not their own (1:1)
  • marginalized widows and orphans (1:26-27)
  • oppression (2:5-7)
  • poverty (2:16)

Within the Text 

Upon first review, Blue Letter Bible notes a gloss meaning for temptation as “trial of man’s fidelity.” Vine’s Dictionary breaks out temptations further noting, “trials divinely permitted or sent” (Luke 22:28; Acts 20:19; Jas 1:2 ; 1 Pet 1:6 ; 4:12; StudyLight). The Key Word Dictionary adds “a state of trial in which God brings His people through adversity and affliction in order to encourage and prove their faith and confidence in Him” (p. 2215; cf. 1 Cor 10:13; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 2 Pet 2:9).

Jas 1:2-4 and 1:12-15 parallel each other. While 1:2 shows how temptations (trials or testing) perfect one in their current life, verses 12-15 show temptations bring an eschatological reward of the crown of life. 

Since God uses temptations, it serves as a holy trial. God has control over trials in His sovereignty. A holy temptation leads to God perfecting the believer in growth for godliness. However, the believer must depend on God to endure the temptation (1 Cor 10:13).

Cross References

Acts 5:41. In Acts 5:41, worthy means deserving as if to do a favor for them (Strongs). They rejoiced because God considered them worthy to go through a trial for His name “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41).

Gen 22. Genesis 22 tells the reader that God tested Abraham to give his only son as an offering. “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. 2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”

1 Pet 1:6. In 1 Peter 1:6, it says, “you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” The phrase “You may have had to” translates as “it may have become necessary” for you to suffer trials. The verse discloses that God has a design and purpose behind a trial.

Rom 8:28. God has sovereignty over temptations. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28). As James stated temptation in the plural form, a person may encounter one or multiple trials. The community James addresses had experienced hurt and poverty at an extreme level.

Summary Definition

Write a four-sentence definition that summarizes temptation’s definition using information from the investigation.

  1. Temptation entails a trial of man’s fidelity, a divinely inspired trial of adversity and affliction that God divinely sends or allows to prove one’s faith and confidence in Him.”
  2. Considered a holy trial over which God has sovereignty (Rom 8:28), it perfects the believer through strengthening by enduring afflictions in Christ (Jas 1:1; 1 Cor 10:13).
  3. Rather than viewing the temptation (trial) as punishment, one rejoices from being counted as worthy to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41).
  4. God will not tempt the believer to sin during temptation (1:13); instead, He tests to build up and perfect (1 Per 1:6; Heb 1:13), ultimately providing an eschatological reward of the crown of life to those who endure temptation (Jas 1:12). 

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Cultural Reading of Dinah: Gn 34:1-31


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Jan Paron, PhD|June 9, 2021

Set in Shalem, a city of Shechem in Canaan, the Gn 34:1-31 pericope describes in third person the defilement of Jacob’s daughter Dinah and subsequent events. A Hivite named Shechem, defiled Dinah when she visited area women (34:2). Upon Shechem’s request to marry her, his father Hamor approached Jacob with a proposition of land, wives, and trade (vv. 3-4, 6, 9-10). However, Jacob’s sons requested all the city’s men first undergo circumcision (vv. 14-15), which Hamor and his son found favorable (v. 18). The sons did so deceitfully, though, since Shechem defiled Dinah (v. 13). Ultimately, two of Jacob’s sons slew all the city males weakened from circumcision, took Dinah, spoiled the town, and seized the city’s wealth along with the murdered men’s wives and children (vv. 25-29). As the passage unfolds, it weaves in themes of gender, unspoken voice, and honor to the story events and actors.

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