What was clear to the original readers of Scripture is not always clear to us. Because of the cultural distance between the biblical world and our contemporary setting, we often bring modern Western biases to the text. For example: When Western readers hear Paul exhorting women to "dress modestly", we automatically think in terms of sexual modesty. But most women in that culture would never wear racy clothing. The context suggests that Paul is likely more concerned about economic modesty - that Christian women not flaunt their wealth through expensive clothes, braided hair, and gold jewelry. Some readers might assume that Moses married "below himself" because his wife was a dark-skinned Cushite. Actually, Hebrews were the slave race, not the Cushites, who were highly respected. Aaron and Miriam probably thought Moses was being presumptuous by marrying "above himself". Western individualism leads us to assume that Mary and Joseph traveled alone to Bethlehem. What went without saying was that they were likely accompanied by a large entourage of extended family. Biblical scholars Brandon O'Brien and Randy Richards shed light on the ways that Western readers often misunderstand the cultural dynamics of the Bible. They identify nine key areas where modern Westerners have significantly different assumptions about what might be going on in a text. Drawing on their own cross cultural experience in global mission, O'Brien and Richards show how better self-awareness and understanding of cultural differences in language, time, and social mores allow us to see the Bible in fresh and unexpected ways. Getting beyond our own cultural assumptions is increasingly important for being Christians in our interconnected and globalized world. Learn to read Scripture as a member of the global body of Christ.
©2012 E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes I think will become my new recommendation for the place to start when thinking about how we read and understand scripture.
I have made a pretty concerted effort as a lay person to understand hermeneutics (the science and art of reading and understanding scripture) over the past half dozen years. Much of what I have read is oriented toward the academic, the theologian or the pastor. And I am glad I have read it. But books like that are not easy to recommend to an average reader that wants an overview, and doesn’t have a good background in theology, biblical languages or history or linguistics.
Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes is an introduction to cultural anthropology as much as it is an introduction to scripture. And this is really important. Some conservative Christians in their reaction against liberal cultural values also react against understanding different cultures and perspectives as ‘post-modern’. This often occurs not only in an attempt to uphold Christian values, but because some conservatives are also somewhat insular and have only been exposed to US American Culture.
Because of that lack of exposure, we have fights about bible translations but most of us don’t actually know another language or the basics of what it means to translate from one language to another. We have disagreements about what constitutes as sin, but we do not understand how activities within recent memory have shifted (within the church) from a status of ‘sinful’ to ‘personal freedom’ (think card playing, going to movies and drinking.)
The authors of Misreading Scripture have written an easy to read introduction to how we as Western Christians look at scripture (and culture more broadly) differently from those that are different from us (Eastern Christians today, Biblical era Christians, etc.)
There are nine different areas (each a chapter) divided into three sections. This is really just an introduction, but this would make a very good book to work through in a small group or a high school or college group.
Part one looks at the biggies of money, sex and food as illustrations of ways that we look differently at Mores. The second chapter looks at race and ethnicity (with a bit of geography). The third chapter looks very briefly at language and translation issues.
Part two explores collectivist and individualistic cultures, honor/shame and right/wrong cultures and time.
Part three focuses on rules and relationships, then virtue and vice and finally God’s will.
This is a fairly light book. I read all of it in two days. But it is not a light weight book. The subject matter is serious and handled well. But the tone is light, full of stories and illustrations, practical and rooted in the bible. It is also clear that Western is not wrong and Eastern is not inherently right. The issue instead is that we need to understand our own culture so we can see how scripture can speak to it. The authors quote the famous CS Lewis line about reading old books. But too often when we hear that line quoted, the point is missed. We don’t read old books because old books are better. We read old books because the authors of those old books had different cultures and assumptions from our own. The different ways those old books look at the world or at scripture or at culture help us to better understand our own time, culture and theology.
The problem with books like this is that we can become lost in the enormity of the task of reading scripture. We will never fully understand all of the nuances and cultural and linguistic issues. And so some people will simply say, there is no reason to read the bible for ourselves. But that is not the point of this book. The point is that scripture is important and should be read both individually and communally with our church. But we should not just read the surface, we should seek out the deeper meanings of scripture and see where we have become blind to the meaning of the text because we are reading the bible with underlying assumptions.
We all have those assumptions and this book makes a good start at showing the reader where some of those cultural reading have actually inverted the meaning of scripture. As a person that wants to take seriously scripture, not just read the surface words, I think books like this are essential.
If you are interested in learning more, I think this is the book to start with. Then NT Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God, then Peter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So, then John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One (links are to earlier Bookwi.se Reviews). From there there are lots of directions to go. But the four books together will illustrate:
-how we need cultural and historic awareness,
-how we need to place scriptural authority not in the words on the page and our understanding of those words, but in God,
-how we need to rely on biblical scholarship
-how scripture is a big, diverse story of God working through people, events and time to accomplish his purposes
-and how we need to see the interpretation of scripture as tentative and not fixed.
For some this list will show that I am no longer Evangelical, but I believe at this point, with tools that I have been given by a variety of authors, and by reading scripture in communication with historic tradition and a community of faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I think I am investing much more weight in the power of scripture to change and guide than I ever have before.
This is one of the best audiobooks I've listened to. The narrator does an excellent job and helps to dive into this book that is giving me food for thought for many weeks.
It was a great book that helped me open my eyes for many surprising blind-spots I developed reading my Bible. The writers explain their points clear, also from out of their own experiences in different cultures.
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Brandon O'Brien and Randolph Richards it a healthy reminder to any Christian preacher or teacher that the task of exegesis is necessary if one wants to get at what is actually in Scripture and not just preach on one's favorite prejudice or cultural stereotype. They point out that Scripture comes from a cultural context that is far removed from 21st century Western thinking. The assumptions made by the human authors of Scripture and the assumptions we make are profoundly different and can influence how we read and interpret the meaning of Scripture. If we are not careful, our understanding of what the authors are saying can be radically different from what they were trying to say when they first put pen to paper.
The authors identify a variety of ways in which grave errors of understanding can be made and then spend several chapters trying to explain and illustrate how such errors can be made. The authors are pastors, seminary teachers and have spent a number of years as missionaries and pastors in very different cultures from contemporary America. These cross-cultural experiences help to enrich their discussion with illustrations that bring the discussion from the abstract to the concrete. Factors such as individualistic versus collectivist cultures, what behaviors are considered virtue or vice in one culture or another, as well as what aspects of the Bible text stands out as more or less important all relate to cultural differences and how Scripture is understood. In the end the authors offer no easy list of do's and don'ts. Such a list is too "Western" and misses the point that an cross-cultural interaction demands careful attention to the assumptions and mindset that we bring to the interaction. Reading and understanding Scripture is very much a cross-cultural experience. The best way to approach this challenge is to apply the challenge of solid exegesis to the task of understanding Scripture.
I spent about 25 years of my adult life in the Western Pacific Islands in cultures quite different from mainland America. Much of that time was spent in one form of ministry or another and currently I am involved in the formation of men for ministry as permanent deacons in the Catholic Church. Thus, my background is similar to that of the authors. I also did graduate work in anthropology. The book resonated with my experience. Frequently I would say to myself, "Yes, they got that right!"
The narrator did a good job in keeping the listener engaged and in speaking clearly.
If I have any critique of the book is that toward the end it seemed to drag a bit. The authors had made their point but continued on with the discussion. This may be a function of my familiarity with the topic more than their writing or editing. Someone less familiar with the material may have benefited from the additional discussion.
It is a book well worth reading/hearing and should be required reading for anyone ministering in a cross-cultural context or who desires to be sensitive to the cross-cultural implications of interpreting Scripture.
I don't agree with 100% of his conclusions, but the concepts and challenges presented are awesome! Interesting enough to hold my attention all of the way through.
It was good to listen to it but there are a lot of things I wanted to go back and catch again and think over - I think the print version would be better in this case.
Wanted to - yes. Should you - no. There is too many good and new things to chew on. Best to do it in shifts.
A really good and interesting read. While I don't agree with everything they talk about and there are times where they get a little too speculative, this book points out some excellent points to be aware of when reading Scripture. The premises is that the Bible is written not in American English but in Hebrew and Greek and that it takes places in a time, place, culture, and location that isn't present day American. As a result, what our expectations are and what we want to read into the passage maybe isn't what the passage is talking about.
The book is great because it encourages an in depth, slow study of the Bible and causes you to "take a look around" when you read it. This book really knocks it out of the park. There are a few times where I wish they would have looked at things more in depth. This isn't a fully scholarly look into specifics but more of touch and go's on several broad themes such as collectivism vs. individualism, language, shame, time, etc. I wish there was a bit more focus on the Hebrew and Greek language although there is some parts of it discussed. There are also a few times where they make some assertions and, while they make the claim that a passage could include that aspect, they don't really prove it.
Overall, I've been recommending this book a lot and going back to it again and again. This is a good challenge and lesson to every Christian to check what traditions, bias, and presuppositions you bring to the table of God's Word. Final Grade - A
I probably could be annoying at how much I want to recommend this. Just read it. Don't feel Luke it will be condemning, it is not. it is simply eye opening. Get it.
Educational, even for the religion and philosophy majors out there! Interesting to finally see a mainstream Christian book address the conflicting passages in light of historical evidence and a treasure trove of truly fascinating topics discussed. I learned to read both Hebrew and Koine Greek in college and became able to translate original texts in their ancient language in to modern English. This took those lessons I learned a long time ago and expanded on them by providing historical notes that I didn't get in college. It was hard to put down, it's a real eye opener! If you want the truth, be plenty sure you can handle the truth before embarking into this book. It sets the record straight on many topics that the majority of Christian churches today have got all wrong. I can attest to its' conclusions, logics and truthfulness in the lessons. I studied this all before and this really is a collection of what most pastors either don't know and just get wrong, or worse, they know the truth but continue to distort it to not rock the boat and help them to feel safe preaching theology that conforms to their personal taste and opinion, instead of preaching the truth and letting the chips fall where they may. I recommend this book highly and believe it could be the first step you take on your journey to research, translate and study God's word for yourself instead of being happy to sit back and be fed less than sound doctrine that makes us all feel good.
I deliberated before buying this, but I am so glad I did, because it is absolutely fascinating. It not only sheds new light on what we miss when reading the bible, but also what we miss when relating to people from other cultures.
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