A Cautionary Note About Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is a big word I learned in my High School cultural anthropology class.  It means the tendency for people to try to interpret or judge another culture, through the lens of their own upbringing and beliefs. 


For example, Bob is a young American southern Baptist, who has gone to church almost every Sunday of his life, in a rural area where all the churches are little white buildings with steeples on them.  That’s all he knows – and therefore its understood that when he reads about the ancient Israelites worshiping on the Sabbath in the temple in Jerusalem, he might picture in his mind a group going to a white building with a pointy steeple, on a Sunday… and maybe even playing Bingo afterwards.  The fact is that the Jewish Sabbath is and was Saturday rather than Sunday, and the building/architecture for the worship places looked very different from what Bob knows in his experience.  But we can understand how difficult it may be for Bob to break out of the molds and biases of his own limited life experience. 

When you look at medieval paintings of biblical events, you can clearly see this, where the architecture looks nothing like we know Biblical architectural would have looked like…because the artists didn’t have any other reference point.

We need to be careful to avoid ethnocentrism as much as possible as we go to study Revelation as well.  For that reason, as I read through the vision that John describes, and especially as I make my best attempts at recreating visual artwork and animation to help illustrate it, I try to do so from my best learning and understanding of the culture in John’s day, not my own.   

For example, when Revelation describes ships on the sea, or cities of the world – even if John’s vision depicted end times events that may possibly occur in our time – he wasn’t necessarily shown how things would look in our day and age.  His visions were largely presented in symbolic fashion anyway, so it is not a problem for him to be shown actual horses with serpent tails, instead of tanks as an example… even if it turns out that’s what the vision meant.  The ships in his vision didn’t necessarily look like modern day aircraft carriers, and the cities didn’t necessarily look modern with skyscrapers in them….even if it ultimately does apply to the modern world we now know. 

Same goes for something like the mark of the beast.  We have a tendency to assume this involved modern technology, such as implantable microchips, because through the lens of our own modern day culture and experience, that makes sense to us that is how it could be implemented.  But when John was shown it, quite likely he was shown symbolically what would have made sense to him in his time period and culture – perhaps a mark being made with ink, similar to an in contrast to the angels marking the people of god with seals on their foreheads, who are to be saved from destruction first (Rev 7:1-8, Ezekiel 9:3-4).

Last modified on Sunday, 12 April 2020 04:06
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Nathan Gopen

Nathan Gopen is a professional software engineer and MIT graduate. He is committed to using his skills in software, multimedia and graphic design to create inspiring and powerful new ways of comprehending and studying the vast riches of God's Word.  He and his wife are also involved in worship music ministry, more of which can be found at:  gopenmusic.com.

Website: www.bibleglobe.org
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