Intercultural Communication 101: Part 2

Effective intercultural communication seeks to appropriate its message and code in a fitting manner to the context of the perceiver.

“Unless the message is within the receptors’ frame of reference (context), there is no guarantee that they will even be able to interpret it” (Kraft, p. 145). The apostle Paul exemplified this principle in his life. Particularly in Acts 17.16-24, while Paul was in Athens, waiting for Silas and Timothy, he was in a place where he could observe his receptors’ “frame of reference” (i.e., context). As he stood in the midst of the Aeropagus, he told them what he observed: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ After Paul gathered what he needed from the context of his audience, he crafted his message in a way that would be understandable to them; and he used a code (verbal) with which most of his receptors would have most likely been familiar. “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you,” was Paul’s beginning statement of his message.

From the outset of Paul’s message, he aimed to craft it in a way that would be appropriate and fitting to the context of his receptors in Athens. He observed his surroundings (their physical context); and, he understood how to adjust his message and communicational vehicle (language used) to obtain a valid response from his receptors. Like the apostle Paul, “the effective communicator should have more than one style, just as repair persons have more than one tool in their toolboxes” (Kraft, p. 147). Paul certainly had more than one tool in his toolbox, having quoted a Greek philosopher and a Greek poet, with whom his receptors would have been familiar. “Understanding does not, however, automatically mean acceptance by the receptors” (Kraft, p. 146). Though Paul contextualized his message, not all his receptors accepted it. Some mocked, others said, “We will hear you again about this.” And some joined him and believed his message (Acts 17.32, 34).

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