The Bible was written within collectivist cultures. When Westerners, immersed in individualism, read the Bible, it’s easy to misinterpret important elements—or miss them altogether. In any culture, the most important things usually go without being said. So to read Scripture well we benefit when we uncover the unspoken social structures and values of its world. We need to recalibrate our vision.
Combining the expertise of a biblical scholar and a missionary practitioner, Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes is an essential guidebook to the cultural background of the Bible and how it should inform our reading. E. Randolph Richards and Richard James explore deep social structures of the ancient Mediterranean—kinship, patronage, and brokerage—along with their key social tools—honor, shame, and boundaries—that the biblical authors lived in and lie below the surface of each text. From Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar to Peter’s instructions to elders, the authors strip away individualist assumptions and bring the world of the biblical writers to life.
Expanding on the popular Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, this book makes clear how understanding collectivism will help us better understand the Bible, which in turn will help us live more faithfully in an increasingly globalized world.
“I like to say that generalizations are always wrong and usually helpful.” (Page 2)
“We individualists generally belong to what anthropologists term low-context cultures. That means that when we communicate, we assume a low level of shared information. We therefore assume it is good communication to spell things out. Not everyone thinks this way. The Bible was written in high-context cultures. People in these cultures assume there’s a high level of shared information between them and their audiences. This means they don’t feel the need to state everything explicitly. They take it as a given that everyone knows how things worked—and at the time, they did. This is not a sign they were bad low-context communicators, but rather that they were very good high-context communicators.” (Pages 8–9)
“When people learn that Paul used the language of patronage to talk about grace and faith, they can then simply take the way patronage worked among people in the first century and read it into what Paul is saying about God. This can lead to a significant misreading of Paul. In order to understand Paul in his context, it is important for us to recognize two things. First, that Paul drew on the context of patronage as one metaphor to explain the gospel. Second, Paul had something very different to say about the way God acted as a patron.” (Page 107)
“In a culture, the most important things usually go without being said.” (Page x)
“Mediators were an essential part of the biblical world” (Page 111)