Does Jesus have cultural intelligence? Part 1

“Woman at the well” by Martin Howard. Used by permission with Creative Commons license.

Jesus was Jewish. He was born into a Jewish family and related to Jewish people. So many of his interactions recorded in the Gospels were with Jewish religious leaders. All of his disciples were Jewish. So it is common for us to think that Jesus did not interact with people from other cultures.

But in John 4:1–42, Jesus had a remarkably effective conversation with a non-Jewish woman—a Samaritan woman.

Does this conversation prove that Jesus has cultural intelligence (CQ)? [1]

One could say that the cultural distance wasn’t that much between Jesus’ Jewish culture and the Samaritan culture; it was much less than, say, the cultural distance between a white middle-class American and a primitive tribe in Africa.

So one might conclude … Jesus and CQ? Not so much.

However, I believe you can attribute supreme cultural intelligence (CQ) to Jesus Christ. In this series of blog posts, I make a case for the cultural intelligence of Jesus Christ based on three things:

  1. Jesus is omniscient. One can attribute cultural intelligence to Jesus Christ by the Scripture-based belief that Jesus is God, and God knows all things. “Great is our Lord … his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5 ESV). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 ESV). Jesus is perfect in every type of intelligence. It follows therefore, that in knowledge, facts and relational skills, Jesus Christ has complete and perfect understanding of everything, including every culture that has ever existed on earth. Jesus knows how to build relationships with anyone and everyone, regardless of tribe, ethnicity, social class, language, religion, or other cultural difference.
  2. Jesus crossed a huge divide between Jews and Samaritans. There were huge social and cultural differences between Jesus and the woman from Samaria. (I will explain this in greater detail in the second post in this series.)
  3. Jesus built this relationship with ease, despite the huge divide. Jesus initiated a conversation with the Samaritan woman—“the woman at the well”—and this conversation was profoundly meaningful. The cross-cultural relationship-building skills of the Savior were demonstrated by the fact that this woman became a follower of Jesus. Moreover, Jesus was introduced by the woman to her larger Samaritan community where Jesus further developed meaningful relationships, again demonstrating his extremely high degree of relational skill. (I will explore this further in the third posting in this series.)

According to Brooks Peterson,[2] cultural intelligence may be defined by this ‘equation’:

What I hope to show in this series of posts is that Jesus demonstrated cultural intelligence (CQ) by his:

  • knowledge about both Jewish and Samaritan culture
  • awareness of both himself and the Samaritan woman
  • specific skills and behaviors

Finally, in the fourth posting, I will offer practical suggestions based on my observations—for followers of Jesus Christ who are involved in build cross-cultural relationships and partnerships.

You are invited to share your comments!

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1. The term, cultural intelligence, or CQ, is a field of study to help people better work together in cross-cultural settings. See Wikipedia for more info. I am using the term, cultural intelligence, to derive insights about the wisdom of Jesus Christ, believing that he is an outstanding example to his followers for building relationships cross-culturally.
2. Brooks Peterson: Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures (Boston: Intercultural Press, 2004, p13).


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