Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes
by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien
Published by IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker
When I began studying for the ministry, I had textbooks that began to introduce the application of tools from cultural anthropology and socio-historical ways of approaching biblical interpretation. Especially prominent in our reading in our New Testament classes was the work of Bruce Malina, who wrote such books as The New Testament World and The Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. I learned much from these insights, and found that these works were helpful for pastors and scholars. There was very little available, however, that put these important insights down on paper in a way that every day people could understand. Thankfully, Randy Richards and Brandon O'Brien noticed this, and put together a wonderful little book called Misreading the Bible with Western Eyes. This book brings the insights of cultural anthropology and socio-historic insights to the masses.
One thing that Misreading the Bible WIth Western Eyes does is help the reader see the Bible in its historical context. It helps you understand, for instance, the honor/shame system of the Mediterranean world. For example, when you understand honor and shame, you can understand why the religious leaders were so eager to crucify Christ. The Pharisees and scribes would often challenge Jesus' authority, and when they did not win an argument against him, they would lose face. As the folks that held the Jewish society together, they felt after a while that it would be better to kill Jesus than to continue to be shamed and have Jesus undermine their power structure.
Another thing Misreading the Bible WIth Western Eyes does that many more academic works do not do is to help readers identify their own cultural blinders that prohibit them from seeing the Scriptures in the proper context. For example, our attitudes on race have effected the way that many of us look at certain Scriptures. Also, our affluence causes us to miss certain details in the Biblical narrative. The best example of this for me in this book was when the authors cited a study on the story of the Prodigal Son. In this story, the readers were asked to listen to the story, and then to go and retell it to another person doing the study. In America and much of the affluent West, most people hearing the story missed the detail about there being a famine in the land when the prodigal son decided to go home. In less affluent countries that are actually more affected by famines, nearly everyone noticed these details (pp. 14-15). This all goes to show, as the others point out so well, that we often come to God's Word with our own cultural constructs. And sometimes, these cultural constructs lead us astray.
One of the unique things about this text is that Randy Richards also brings his missionary experience into the conversation about our cultural blinders, and how our backgrounds influence how we see the story. Over and over again, his insights from the mission field in Indonesia made the concepts come alive in ways that they might not have otherwise.
Misreading the Scriptures With Western Eyes is a unique and fascinating book. It belongs on the bookshelves of anyone who really wants to dig into understanding what the Scriptures meant to their original audience. Some things you learn may surprise you, others may help you understand parts of the Bible you may be confused about, but no mater who you are this book will make you think.