Contextualization (Bible translation)

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In the field of Bible translation and interpretation, contextualization is the process of assigning meaning as a means of interpreting the environment within which a text or action is executed. The term was first used in missiology by Shoki Coe when he argued that the Venn-Anderson three-self principles were inadequate in addressing the context of his native Taiwan.[1] [2] [3]

Regunta Yesurathnam defines contextualization as:[4]

Contextualization is used in the study of Bible translations in relation to their relevant cultural settings. Derived from the practice of hermeneutics, it sought to understand the use of words borrowed into the Hebrew Scriptures, and later their Greek and Latin translations.

The word continues to be used theologically, mainly in the sense of contextualising the biblical message as perceived in the missionary mandate originated by Jesus in the gospel accounts. However, since the early 1970s, the word's meaning has widened. It is now used by secular, religious and political groups to render their message into different settings by adjusting or accommodating words, phrases or meanings into understandable contexts in respondent cultures.

An individual may espouse a particular worldview within a context of his or her knowledge and understanding, background, and culture: for instance, a Muslim may hold a monotheistic view of God within the context of his religion. Contextualisation addresses the question of whether that monotheistic God is the same as the monotheistic God within another religion, e.g. Judaism.

In order to enable ideas to be compared across the boundaries of different faiths, a whole series of religious terms will need to be contextualised as part of the flow of knowledge from one to the other.

Contextualisation was adopted by the Presbyterian Church in the United States by a gathering of scholars in the Theological Education Fund in its missionary mandate to communicate the Gospel and Christian teachings in other cultures.[5] Prior to the use of the word contextualization many cross-cultural linguists, anthropologists and missionaries had been involved in such communication approaches such as in accommodating the message or meanings to another cultural setting.

See also


  1. Wheeler, Ray (April 2002), "The legacy of Shoki Coe", International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 26 (2): 78<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Coe, Shoki (Summer 1973). "In Search of Renewal in Theological Education". Theological Education. 9 (4): 233–243.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Coe, Shoki (Autumn 1974). "Theological Education--a Worldwide Perspective". Theological Education. 11 (1): 5–12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Van Engen, Charles E. (2005), "Toward a Contextually Appropriate Methodology in Mission Theology", in Kraft, Charles H. (ed.), Appropriate Christianity, Pasadena: William Carey Library, p. 194<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> ISBN 0-87808-358-8
  5. Young, Bill, Emerging Roles of Mission Initiators and World Mission, in Call to Mission, Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, Louisville, KY