Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes

Every reader who has traveled to another country can tell stories of how people do things differently “over there.” The point of this book is that reading the Bible is like visiting a foreign land. There are many stories in the Bible that readers will better understand if her or she is a student of Bible culture. Fortunately, one of the authors, Randolph Richards, spent years as a missionary in Indonesia. He tells stories to illustrate his own assumptions about time, honor and shame, eloping, birth order, hiding the truth for a higher purpose, and punishing an entire family for the wrongdoing of one family member.

It is humbling to realize that Muslims may understand “what is going on” in the Bible more immediately than we understand it.  We cannot help it; we have accumulated a layer of bias and we must see how this is keeping us from understanding all there is to know about the meaning of the Bible.  

We have cultural blinders. Everyone does.

One of the “blinders” is the different way “time” is valued. We tend to value being on time, but what if someone says that a guest is more important than the efficient use of time!

The authors present culture as an iceberg; you know the concept. Ninety percent of the entire thing is below the surface. It is there, but out of sight.

The author with missionary experience, E. Randolph Richards, tells a story:

One day I was sitting in a hut with a group of church elders from a remote island village off the coast of Borneo. They asked my opinion about a thorny church issue. A young couple had relocated to their village many years before because they had committed a grievous sin in their home village. For as long as they had resided here, they had lived exemplary lives of godliness and had attended church faithfully. Now, a decade later, they wanted to join the church. “Should we let them?” asked one of the elders.

I replied, ”Well, what grievous sin did they commit?” The elders were reluctant to air the dirty laundry before a guest, but finally one of them replied, “They married on the run.” In America, we call that eloping.

“That’s it? I blurted out. What was the sin?” Quite shocked, they stared at this young missionary and asked, “Have you never read Paul?” I certainly thought I had. They reminded me that Paul told believers to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1). Surely a son and daughter should obey in what is likely the most important decision of his or her life: choosing a spouse. I suddenly found myself wondering if I had, in fact, ever read Paul. My “American Paul” clearly did not expect his command to include adult children deciding whom to marry. [1]

The author writes that listening to people from other cultures helped him understand the Bible and be a more faithful disciple.

[1] E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academi, 2020). 18