Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World


E. Randolph Richards and Richard James


IVP Academic


Publication Date:

October 13, 2020




304 pages


People’s cultures affect them in more ways than they realize. Concepts about what it means to be virtuous, to have honor, or whether to do what benefits oneself or one’s family are all taught in a cultural context. This means that when reading a book from another culture, it’s easy to misread what the author is trying to say. Richard James and E. Randolph Richards use their backgrounds working in the Middle East and studying ancient Middle Eastern cultures to show something that Western Christians often miss: the Bible was written by people living in collectivist cultures, which prioritize the community over the individual. This means that when the Bible talks about ideas like shame, honor, reconciliation, it takes a different perspective than many Western readers are used to. Understanding that context helps get the most accurate teachings and to see why some people’s behaviors in the Bible can confuse us. James and Richards explore key collectivist values seen in the Bible, and help readers see how understand those values can help them today.

Frequently, conversations about understanding the cultural context of the Bible make it sounds like the Middle East hasn’t changed since ancient times. Richards and James are quick to point out that isn’t true, and that even in ancient times the Middle East was a diverse area with different nations having different ideas about honor, shame and so forth. They make a point to use ancient documents to show the basic beliefs they’re talking about are Middle Eastern values that existed in Jesus’ time and still do today. This nuance makes the book into a shrewd discussion about understanding the Bible’s context while avoiding easy pitfalls. Throughout, the authors point out things that Western readers easily miss in the Bible (such as the fact Jesus wasn’t talking about faith when he told his disciples to become like little children), helping them see beliefs they need to correct or new behaviors they need to cultivate.

An excellent and very readable book about a topic many Western Christians need to look into more.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience

Christians interested in the cultural and historical context of Biblical cultures and how that information applies to us today.

Christian Impact

The authors carefully explain levels of nuance which are easy to miss in the Bible, showing readers how to pursue a healthier spiritual life that’s grounded in an accurate reading of Scripture.

Note: Readers looking for similar books that focus on Jesus may appreciate Seeing Jesus from the East (Zondervan, 2020) by Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murry. To read ECLA’s review of that book, go to:

Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World


  1. | Wisdom-Based Business: Applying Biblical Principle and Evidence-Based Research for a Purposeful and Profitable BusinessEvangelical Church Library Association - July 6, 2022

    […] and Richard James put it, “there are cultural gaps between the biblical world and our own” (Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes). Most of us won’t be able to understand all of those gaps (unless we have the time and resources […]

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