Dinh Anh Nhue NGUYEN, OFMConv, editor. The Bible and Asian Culture: Reading the Word of God in Its Cultural Background and in the Vietnamese Context. Rome: Gregorian Biblical Press, 2015. Paper 244 pp. Reviewed by Peter C. PHAN, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057.


This volume is a first in many ways. It received the inaugural Carlo Maria Martini Award, Category “Bible and Culture,” in 2013. It is the first scholarly study of the intercultural character of the Bible by Vietnamese scholars, the first serious attempt at reading the Bible in the context of Vietnamese literature and culture, and the first ecumenical academic collaboration between Vietnamese Catholic and Protestant scholars.

The volume is composed of three essays that are essentially shortened versions of their respective authors’ doctoral dissertations. The first, “The Universal Voice of Wisdom in The Family: Reading a Biblical Parental Discourse (Prov 23:15-28) in the Context of Ancient Near Eastern Instruction and Vietnamese Folk Sayings,” by the Franciscan priest Nguyen Dinh Anh Nhue and Dean of the Pontifical Theological Faculty of St. Bonaventure (Rome), compares the Ancient Near Eastern cultural background of Hebrew Wisdom literature, particularly as represented in Proverbs 23:15-28, with that of Vietnamese traditional teaching on family education, especially filial piety, and draws parallels between them on six themes: respect for God or fear of God, avoidance of bad company, the parents’ gift of life to their children, wisdom and obedience, love and discipline in parental education, and the mother’s role in the family.

The second, “The Language of Love in the Song of Songs and Love Lyrics in Vietnamese Literature,” by the Evangelical Protestant Tran Thi Ly, compares the theme of love in the Hebrew text of the Song of Songs with Vietnamese folklore, classical poetry and the New Poetry movement, highlighting their ideas of nature, lovesickness, dialogue between lovers, heart and passion, and the signs of love.
The third essay, “Jesus as “Son of God” in Vietnamese Culture: A Biblical-Theological Inquiry from [the] Perspective of Inculturation,” by another priest, Pham Quy Trong, begins with a discussion of Vietnamese familial relationships and then attempts a Vietnamese Christology based on four concepts: Son of Heaven, Pious Son, First Born/Eldest Son, and Proto-Ancestor.  The book concludes with the editor’s suggestions for further research projects in interpreting the Bible in dialogue with Vietnamese culture.

Though essentially a collection of the shortened versions of three independent dissertations, the book does possess a thematic unity and methodology, namely, reading the Biblical texts in their social-historical and cultural contexts in dialogue with Vietnamese popular culture and literature. Its original targeted readers are of course the members of the dissertation committees, which explains its rather forbidding scholarly apparatus. Other readers include Western biblical scholars, who may be familiar with the biblical scholarship the book employs but have little if any knowledge of Vietnamese wisdom sayings, folksongs, and oral and written literature. On the other hand, Vietnamese readers, most likely Vietnamese clergy and students of theology, may be familiar with their own culture but will no doubt find the exegesis of the biblical texts beyond their ken.


The authors deserve great commendation for starting a scholarly conversation between these two groups, Western biblical scholars and Vietnamese Christians interested in the inculturation of the Christian faith into their own culture. The book is a very auspicious beginning since its three authors are familiar with both sides of the dialogue. There is no doubt that much work in this task of indigenization still remains to be done, not only in biblical scholarship, but also in systematic theology, Christian ethics, and pastoral theology. Having myself contributed a little bit to this project of inculturation, I am aware of the enormous complexity of this work and deeply appreciative of the three authors’ brilliant scholarship and challenging insights. May their writings inspire other to join this theological enterprise. As the biblical saying goes, the harvest is ready but the workers are few.