I learned oh so many things about the scriptures on my trip to Israel and Palestine in 2018. Most importantly, I found that many of the pictures I had in my mind of the Bible were actually pretty inaccurate.
The tour leader told us right from the time we boarded the bus at Ben Gurion Airport that the culture and geography of the Bible dramatically influence the message of the Bible.
But being an American westerner, I was very skeptical that this would really make much of a difference in the core message of the Bible. I was definitely proven wrong by my experience and what I learned on this trip.
In many cases what I came to learn about culture and geography didn’t change the core meaning of the story, but often added dimension and depth that, as an American, I had never even considered.
So I got a copy of “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible” from Amazon.
Who was the Bible written to?
I ran across a curious quote the other day from author and teacher Brian Orme. He said ” The Bible wasn’t written to you but for you. When we look at the culture and customs of who the Bible was written to, then we will understand it even more. Otherwise, we will read it through a Western lens and miss out on all the Eastern depth. ” [emphasis mine]
That really got me thinking and I decided to dive into the book to better understand the culture of the people the Bible was written to.
Because I can choose to read the Bible with the meaning that I read into it, or I can learn to understand what the people it was written to would have understood it to me.
Once I understand the meaning it was written with then I can understand how it may (or may not) apply to how God wants ME to live. Not the other way around
That makes a huge difference!
So how did Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes stand out?
Overall, I thought it was a very easy read. Very engaging. Unlike a lot of Biblical books it wasn’t hard to get into. It also covered a lot of very interesting concepts about very well known verses and stories.
I also enjoyed that, while the authors definitely shared challenging info, I never felt like they were trying to force me into a particular conclusion.
The best part of each chapter was the questions that they ask. These questions really encouraged me to think through what they had just taught me about Biblical culture and how the people the passage was written to would have understood it. The questions were absolute gold.
I learned so much from this book
One of the coolest things that I learned was about the Greek word “makarios”.
Makarios is a word in Greek that doesn’t have a direct concept or word in English. Roughly explained it is almost like the satisfaction of a job well done or a sense of deep happiness with the state of your life.
The trouble with this word is when it is a major part of a significant passage in the Bible like the Lord’s prayer. Because we don’t have a word for word concept that properly encompasses it, the translators had to do their best.
So in the Lord’s prayer they translate makarios as “blessed”. So “blessed are the peacemakers”, for one example. The problem this runs into is that it implies that you will be blessed with something. Then you instinctively ask “blessed with what, and blessed by whom?”
Unfortunately, those two questions would never even apply to the original statement, which if it were translated culturally and literally it would be closer to: “You are deeply satisfied if you are a peacemaker.” You are satisfied and joyous simply for being a peacemaker.
There is no promise of something for being a peacemaker and you aren’t receiving anything for it either. You simply have this state of makarios because you ARE a peacemaker.
See the difference? It is tremendous how such shades of translation and cultural understanding dramatically change the application of that passage! I encourage you to get the book for this chapter alone.
Ultimately this was a fantastic read, and I very much recommend it
There were a few times where I don’t think that I agree with the end conclusion they drew for some of their points, but I don’t have to agree with every point they make to have found great value in the book.
In the end, I feel like this is a really good book to read if you are at the beginning of learning about the culture of Bible times and the people the books of the Bible were written to.
This book definitely doesn’t disappoint!