Book Review: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by Richards & O’Brien

Book Review:

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes:

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Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible

by Richards & O’Brien



Submitted to (Instructor)

in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the completion of



NBST 610 – D02 LUO









The world comprises of people with different cultural background and views about various issues. If individuals find themselves among a group of people with different cultural practices and dissimilar views concerning the same thing (for instance, the scripture), they may end up bewildered by their opinions and actions. To avoid such situations, individuals must enhance their understanding regarding a particular issue. Besides, they should be willing to embrace other reasonable views and experience things that are not in line with their original culture. In their book, “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible.Richard and O’ Brien present their arguments about such situations.


According to the authors, human beings can forget that the scripture is subject to cross-cultural experience.  The two authors focus on reminding readers about the cross-cultural nature of scriptural interpretation. They recognize that fact that individuals can have cultural assumptions which they could not be aware of. Richard and O’ Brien provide various examples centred on how different perspectives of things are interpreted based on cultural dissimilarities or how interpreters perceive certain issues in relation to their previous experiences. The major reason behind pointing out this matter and writing the article was to give documentation to the need for cross-time and cross-cultural study when it comes to the interpretation of the word of God.  The authors suggest that readers ought to take time and understand the implication of interpreting the word through both collective and individualistic lens[1].  They discourage narrow-mindedness and encourage people to appreciate the existence of different views.

As missionaries to a foreign land, Richard and O’ Brien knew recognized how misinterpretations can be risky. In the first sections of their book, the writers provide good examples of using the word “fanny”. They argue that in British usage, ‘fanny’

Richards & O’Brien, as a missionary to foreign lands, knew first-hand how dicey is an ill-mannered dialect for female genitalia[2], whereas in the United States, the word is used differently, it can be used as a name[3]. Even though this is a humorous example, it explains why Richard and O’ Brien strongly believe that it is necessary for people to understand cross-cultural relationships while interpreting the word of God.

The author divides their book into three main sections in the form of three elementary themes. Thus, deep below the surface, just below the surface an above the surface. Through the illustration of an iceberg, they examine nine differences between western as well as non-western cultures. The major sections reveal the idea behind writing the whole book. The above surface or the tip of the iceberg represents the most obvious cultural differences and how it affects people. The second part entails cultural assumptions which are considered to be below the surface.  They can only be seen when a person knows how to look at them. The third part examines complex cultural issues which are not common to all. It is the deep below the surface where changes and true understanding take place.  Although the three sections provide great insights, the authors describe the steps of overcoming cultural blindness at the end of their discussion.


The writers present their argument with an aim of helping individuals understand the consequences of misinterpreting the scripture. Whereas the general tone of the authorship is meant to allow a reader to recognize the implications of misinterpretation, there is no real and concise overstatement of the goal. Further, although the idea can be easily perceived, the main theme appears to focus more on showing readers how people’s opinions can be explained by cultural differences.  Nonetheless, Richard and O’ Brien find a way linking cultural differences with scriptural understanding. They state that:

The most obvious cultural difference which separates human beings from the bible is language. The Old Testament was initially written in Aramaic and Hebrew while the New Testament was originally written in Greek with a few words in Aramaic.


This is not an indirect way of informing the reader that the word of God says more than what an English reader gathers from it. The authors want readers to understand why and how they reached their conclusions.

The book reveals that the two missionaries, Richard and O’ Brien interacted with people with different cultures for many years. Yet, Richard mainly focuses on Indonesia where he taught the word of God for more than 7 years in an Indonesian seminary[4]. Currently, Richard is the head of mission trips and carries out missionary teaching workshops. He leads tours of the Holy Land, Greece, Turkey as well as Italy on a regular basis[5]. This reveals part of the background information which concerning how the authors feel that they understand the main subject of the book. With no doubt, as an Indonesian seminary instructor, Richard could have come across various views attached to cultural differences when it comes to the interpretation of the scripture, that he spoke many times.  In matters pertaining scriptural understanding, there is a reasonable argument for putting oneself in another person’s shoe and try to ignore cultural divisions which separate people.

Jesus Christ was ready to embrace cultural differences. This is evident in the book of John chapter four.   The Bible says that Jesus travelled to Samaria where He found a woman. Jesus requested the woman to give him some water to drink. The woman responded by saying that, “How can a Jew (Jesus), ask for drinking water from a Samaritan woman? The Jews did not associate themselves with Samaritans[6]. The last words of the Samaritan woman’s sentiment are significant (Jews do not associate themselves with Samaritans). This is what made the assistance to appear to as a big deal. From this incidence, we can conclude that Jesus Christ disregarded cultural differences. Despite being a Samaritan, He approached the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus’s interaction with Samaritans did not end there. When the Samaritans came close to Jesus, they requested Him to stay with them. Christ decided to stay with them for two days[7].


                    The book opens my mind and enhanced my level of thinking. As a reader, I often try to look at the scripture from different perspectives. I did not have the tendency of interpreting the word of God in different ways but I have now learnt the importance of looking at the scripture from different perspectives. I used to recognize the Bible as an ancient text that was originally intended to be taken, but then through this book, I have realized that the Bible is not only for scriptural studies but it can also be considered as a tool for enhancing personal relationships. God is not happy when the world is divided, if He wanted us to be divided, we could not be living in one place (world). He expected human beings to be united. Hence, as we interact with people from a different cultural background, we ought to be ready to embrace their scriptural interpretation and share the good news regardless of people status. We are one community and all of us should celebrate our differences, something which seems to be lacking among some believers. As Christians, we must reach a point where we ready to recognize the differences with our neighbours rather than trying to make change them so that they can be like us. As a people of God, we must seek to deeply understand the scripture instead of making assumptions about it.


In conclusion, God created the world and established a large community or society. Sin was brought about by the fall of man. It is has been a reason behind many occasions. For instance the Babel incident. The differences among God’s people in the contemporary world was caused by the attempt by the human being to be like God and the trial to go where they thought was Heaven on their own accord. As believers we should not be constraint by the actions and behaviours of our ancestors, instead, we must desire to arise and live the way God purposed us to live, a move that can only be realized when we embrace our differences and living in unity.






Richards, E Randolph, and Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, ©2012. Accessed July 22, 2016.

[1] E Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, ©2012), 1188, accessed July 22, 2016,


[3] Ibid

[4] Richards, E Randolph, and Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, ©2012. Accessed July 22, 2016.

[5], Richards, E Randolph, and Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, ©2012. Accessed July 22, 2016.

[6] John 4:9

[7] John 4:40

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