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Intercultural Communication for Christian Ministry



  1. Anticipated outcomes
  2. Exercises
  3. The Pope and a Jew debate using sign language

Anticipated outcomes:

On the completion of this chapter the reader should be competent to:

· discuss the relationship between language and culture;

· describe and critique Whorf?s hypothesis;

· discuss the relative role, of verbal and non-verbal language in communication, and

their relationship to each other;

· make an informed choice concerning which language to use for a proposed ministry;

· recognise the various issues and possible solutions in cross-cultural use of words;

· identify the various issues in achieving inter-lingual competence.


1. Make a list of several communication rules applicable to your society.

2. Say the following sentence as a question, angrily, matter-of-factly and excitedly.

3. The woman sold her cooking at the market.

4. Note that the differences in tone and inflection change the meaning of the


5. Say the following sentences placing the stress on the word underlined. It will be

evident that the meaning of the sentence will change.

a) The woman sold her cooking at the market.

b) The woman sold her cooking at the market.

c) The woman sold her cooking at the market.

d) The woman sold her cooking at the market.

6. Make a list of communication behaviours that you perceive to be offensive. Are

these contrary to Christian values or are they merely culturally influenced values?

7. Find three words in the Authorised Version of the Bible that have changed since

then and can lead to a misunderstanding of the message today.

8. Case study: ?A word for God?.

Source: Paul Hiebert, ?A Word for God.? In Case Studies in Missions. Edited by Paul and Frances Hiebert (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 155-157.

The Pope and a Jew debate using sign language

Some theorist and parctitioners argue sign language is more universally understood than spoken language. This assumption is questionable since gestures, posture, eye movement etc. do not mean the same thing in all cultures. The following humerous account illustrates the problem well.

Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all the Jews had to convert to Catholicism or leave Italy . There was a huge outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal: he'd have a religious debate with the leader of the Jewish community. If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy ; if the Pope won, they'd have to convert or leave.

The Jewish people met and picked an aged and wise Rabbi to represent them in the debate. However, as the Rabbi spoke no Italian, and the Pope spoke no Yiddish, they agreed that it would be a 'silent' debate.

On the chosen day the Pope and Rabbi sat opposite each other.

The Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers.

The Rabbi looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waved his finger around his head.

The Rabbi pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine.

The Rabbi pulled out an apple.

With that, the Pope stood up and declared himself beaten and said that the Rabbi was too clever. The Jews could stay in Italy .

Later, the Cardinals met with the Pope and asked him what had happened.

The Pope said "First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up a single finger to remind me there is still only one God common to both our faiths.

Then, I waved my finger around my head to show him that God was all around us. The Rabbi responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us.

I pulled out the wine and host to show that through the perfect sacrifice Jesus has atoned for our sins, but the Rabbi pulled out an apple to remind me of the original sin. He bested me at every move and I could not continue."

Meanwhile, the Jewish community gathered to ask the Rabbi how he'd won.

"I haven't a clue" said the Rabbi. "First, he told me that we had three days to get out of Italy , so I gave him the finger.

Then he tells me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews, but I told him emphatically that we were staying right here."

"And then what?" asked a woman.

"Who knows?" said the Rabbi. "He took out his lunch, so I took out mine."