Book Review: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes – Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible

25 Feb 2021

By Tanwin Tanoto

Some books open our eyes. Some books blow our minds. This book does both for me!

At first glance, I thought this was an exegesis book on how to interpret the Bible. But after reading it through, this is actually a book on culture. Richards and O’Brien show us how our cultures play a key role in our interpretation (or misinterpretation) of the Bible. “In whatever place and whatever age people read the Bible, we instinctively draw from our own cultural context to make sense what we are reading.”

The Bible is a foreign land – especially for us living in western culture. And if you have taught or preached from the Bible, you would know that the biggest challenge is to bridge the gap between what the passage meant for the original hearers and how it applies to us. This is especially difficult due to our cultural blind spots.

This book highlights some of the major cultural assumptions and axioms we have in our western culture and contrast them with the Ancient Near Eastern culture. For example, by looking at the Bible through our individualistic and western eyes we might misinterpret the collective and communal aspects in some passages in the Bible. The second example is how we see time. For modern Westerners, we value time. We measure time by the seconds (or hundredth of a second if you are a race car driver). But in the Ancient Near East, they don’t see time that way. They have two units of measurement for time: Kairos and Chronos. “… the biblical authors, like many non-Westerners, were less concerned with clock or calendar time (chronos) and more concerned with the appropriateness and fittingness of events (kairos). You might say they were more concerned with timing than with time.”

Being an Asian who grew up in Indonesia and now living in Sydney, I feel this tension all the time. So, I can understand the complexity of reading an ancient scripture from cultures that are foreign to most of us. However, I believe as a preacher we need to do our due diligence and be as faithful as we can to the text. In that regard, this book is not only a comprehensive tool to recognise our cultural blinders, but it provides a few practical steps to remove them when reading scripture.

On a personal note, Richards was a missionary in Indonesia for a few years. So, he uses a lot of examples from Indonesian culture and language to contrast that with western culture. That I find relatable and amusing.

Read another one of Tanwin’s reviews HERE.