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“Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes” by Richards and O’Brien


Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by Randolph E. Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien highlights cultural blinders that distort biblical interpretations. The authors note that the East and West differ in beliefs and practices related to dating, dying, and marital relationships. Owing to these fundamental differences, the Western and Eastern eyes of Christianity, including biblical beliefs and understandings, are dissimilar.

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In the book, the authors give reasons for the Easterners’ cultural beliefs, highlighting the cross-cultural aspect of biblical interpretations. The issue is that cultural taboos not based on scripture have become a part of life, distorting our view of Christianity. While Randolph and O’Brien have developed strong arguments on the cultural blinders in Western eyes that affect biblical interpretation and understanding, they are less successful in analyzing the virtues and vices in collectivist versus individualist cultures.

Summary of the book

The authors give reasons for reading and interpreting the bible within the context in which it was written. To them, the topic is important because readers must create a connection between the biblical and the modern cultures in order to develop a deeper understanding of the culture and gather knowledge and wisdom that they can apply in their own lives.1 Various themes emerge in the three sections of the book. In the first part, which is titled “Above the Surface”, a discussion of the divergence between Western and non-Western cultures in terms of race, customs, ethnic background, and language is given.2

This chapter’s dominant theme is mores, which refers to the arbitrary rules and norms that govern collective behaviors and determine what is appropriate or inappropriate.3 Each culture has its own perspective of the world or worldview. The authors define mores as opinions within a particular community that are not subject to review. They further say that a child is instilled with customs at a very young age before he or she can even start to understand them. Therefore, the interpreters are likely to infuse their cultural norms into the readings, causing a misunderstanding of the scriptures.

In the second chapter, the authors dwell on how the westerners have infused racism into the scriptures; they say that the Americans to this day have failed to realize the problem with Moses’ wife being of a Cushitic origin. Since Cushites are from Africa, the westerners believe that Moses’ wife was a slave; thus, Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron, had a problem with Moses having married a woman below his standards.4 The authors’ communication is that race, culture, and ethnicity must be considered when interpreting the scriptures because sometimes a wrong message can cause major confusion among new believers.

The second part of the book is given the title “Just below the Surface”. Here, the authors dwell on several themes, including honor or shame, hate, individualism verses collectivism, right or wrong, and time. From a biblical context, Luke 14:26 states that the word “hate” means to have less love.5 It would imply one might like his or her house less than a personal car in a western interpretation. However, this situation does not mean that he or she hates the house.

In this case, we realize that certain biblical words can be misinterpreted. The theme of individualism versus collectivism is also brought out in this chapter. The authors explain that everyone’s primary goal is to preserve community unity, which can be translated as a collective good rather than individual self-fulfillment.

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The theme of shame is also discussed in part two of the book. For example, the authors have considered the story of King David and Bathsheba in an in-depth manner to bring out adultery and sexual sins in the bible. The authors also discuss extensively how different cultures perceive time.

They argue that in the Eastern part of the world, time is interpreted in terms of weather changes, while in the west, it is based on the clock.6 The bible also talks about time and seasons in many instances. In Genesis 1:5, “God called the light day and the darkness he called night. And there was evening and there was morning – the first day.”7

In part three of the book, entitled “Deep below the Surface”, the discussion turns to rules, relationships, virtues, and vices. The authors show how God’s relationship with His creation is intimate to the point that He can loosen His natural laws according to His purpose. On matters of virtues and vices, Richards and O’Brien present their views through a story about the “little red hen” to communicate how people from the west perceive hard work.8

They stress how westerners concentrate on their views while they neglect virtues. Like the little red hen, the people from the west read the scriptures that entail God’s purposes and promises as if they only apply individually.9 The last chapter of the book talks about a French immigrant who wrote about his life in the new world. He warns the westerners that their pride can lead to wrong interpretations of the scriptures.


Authors’ Point of View

In my opinion, the authors’ opinion in this book is valid, oftentimes, compared to the natural and spiritual dimensions. Their point of view, in most instances, is explained through their numerous historical examples. The authors’ ideological perspective, which is explicitly stated, is that the beliefs of the people in the west differ from those of other cultures and the bible, and this aspect affects their biblical interpretations.

Kind of Evidence

The authors substantiate this point of view using biblical, historical, and geographical stories, which, in my view, is adequate to support their claims. Scriptures and sayings are quoted appropriately to expound on specific ideas and perspectives, such as the Greek proverb that says, “Hidden music counts for nothing”, which illustrates why the west avoided vices – people were watching.10 However, the usage of classic Jewish literature or material is limited. In my view, understanding the cultural context in which the bible was written can be enriched if resources explaining the socioeconomic and political aspects of the biblical times are used.

Clarity of Argument

Overall, the authors’ arguments are clear with no confusion, gaps, inconsistencies, or contradictions, making the discussions easily understandable. Therefore, I now understand why the bible is misinterpreted in the western culture compared to the east, where people still hold their traditional values.11 While the west may be prone to misinterpreting the bible, it is more open to new ideologies than the east is. Like in the bible, Paul was trying to preach to the Jews about the benefits and goodness of salvation, but they were less receptive than the Gentiles were. The Jewish people adapted the bible into their cultural context and traditions.

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I do not entirely agree with the authors’ claims, especially on morality. In Romans 8:2, the bible says, “Because, through Christ Jesus, the law of the spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”. By walking in spirit, we are not breaking the Law of Moses (the Ten Commandments), but we are obeying it. With this enlightenment, I wonder why people continue living as if their relationship with God is only transformed in spirit and not in nature. The authors talk about rules and relationships, but they do not extensively delve into natural notions, such as companionship.12

Genesis 1:27 says, “so God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”. God felt that Adam needed a companion, and therefore, He created a female to establish a balance in natural relationships.13 Therefore, for natural laws to be at equilibrium, the spiritual relationship with God must be maintained. In this case, then we will be able to observe our vices and emphasize virtues because they are the most important aspects of human life.


The book offers insightful ideas about the differences between Eastern and Western views of Christianity. The authors give a valid perspective relating the natural to the spiritual based on historical ideology. They are explicit in their assessment of the Western beliefs and those of other cultures and the bible but seem to emphasize the spiritual more than the natural concept like companionship.

Perhaps because of focusing on Western and Eastern belief systems and cultural blinders, the authors are less thorough on their analysis of vices and virtues in collectivist versus individualist cultures. Despite its weaknesses, this book is a useful resource for missionaries planning to work in the East, as it not only increases one’s awareness of cultural blinders that affect biblical interpretations but it also gives a perspective on how other cultures understand the bible.


Richards, Randolph E., and Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012.


  1. Randolph E. Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 28.
  2. Ibid., 39.
  3. Ibid., 54.
  4. Ibid., 59.
  5. Ibid., 95.
  6. Ibid., 99.
  7. Ibid., 101.
  8. Ibid., 115.
  9. Ibid., 117.
  10. Ibid., 113.
  11. Ibid., 117.
  12. Ibid., 78.
  13. Ibid., 67.

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