Book Critique of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
Book Critique of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is authored by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart who, throughout the whole book, endeavor to equip readers with better scriptural interpretation skills. The book is well supplied with concepts that are applicable to every believer, their level of theological insight notwithstanding. Both theologians and seasoned theologians find this book handy in their bid to understand the Scripture. Providing an easy-to-read guide to the Scripture definitely makes the Bible more accessible to layperson who would find it more challenging to understand the Scripture.
This book discusses historical as well as eternal aspects of the Scripture while paying particular attention to the methodology used by God in his communications with humans. It also outlines the need for Bible readers to have a clear understanding of the characters in the Scripture and cultural and geographical environments which they operated under. In addition to the biblical commentaries provided by the authors in the appendix, they underscore the need of utilizing Biblical dictionaries and encyclopedias in order to have a better understanding of the Scripture.
The first chapter of the book outlines the challenges that modern interpreters face. Fee and Stuart argue that the plain meaning of the Scripture is normally altered by what the reader imports into the text as well as the nature of the scripture itself. In chapter two, the book gives a brief and informative attention to Bible translations. They provide a table that puts various Bible translations on a spectrum right from “formal equivalence” to “functional”, and to “free equivalence”. Notably, Fee and Stuart seem to prefer some Bible translations to others, and go ahead to share their preference with the readers. Nevertheless, the authors advise readers to embrace the use of several translations so as to have a wide range of interpretive possibilities.
The major theme of the authors’ work is examined from chapter three to thirteen where they discuss how Christians become faithful with regards to the reading of the Bible. These chapters are designed according to the writing genres that readers will encounter while reading the Bible. In each chapter, they arm the reader with exegetical tools as well as hermeneutical guidelines to help them read and understand the Word of God. Chapters 3 and 4 discuss the epistles which are considered to have hermeneutical difficulties. This is followed by the Old Testament narratives in Chapter 5 which they consider as Christian’s spiritual story as much as they concern Israel. The book of Acts is entailed in Chapter 6 where the question of historical precedent is addressed. In Chapter 7, the authors give attention to the Gospel which demonstrates the depth and complexity of the Scripture. Chapters 8, 9 and 10 explain how Christians can read the parable, law, and prophets respectively. Psalms and Wisdom Literature are discussed in Chapter 11 and 12 respectively, while Revelation is analyzed in Chapter 13. The authors conclude the book with an appendix where they suggest a number of modern commentaries that can be of great importance to Bible readers. Such statement would rather be omitted in favor of objective discussions that would give benefits as well as pitfalls of every version under consideration.
The main purpose of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is to equip its readers with skills to enable them handle the Scripture knowledgably. The authors’ major goal is to carefully guide the reader to have a proper understanding of the Scripture with regards to the two levels of interpretation: exegesis and hermeneutics. Fee and Stuart define exegesis as a careful as well as a systematic study of the Scripture in order to discover the original meaning that was intended by the writer. On the other hand, hermeneutics refers to the relevance of the ancient text in the modern world. The authors use hermeneutics to seek the contemporary relevance of the ancient scriptures.
The relevance of this book to the readers is clearly expressed through the authors’ emphasis on the fact that “one does not have to be an expert” in order to be able to undertake basic tasks of exegesis. This statement allays the perception that the interpretation of the Scripture is a preserve for the clergy. The authors encourage laymen not to fear the interpretation of the Scripture and provide several reasons for this. The foundational understanding that is provided by the explanations given by the authors is essential as it also outlines the challenges that individuals may meet while attempting to mine the depths and the secrets of the Scripture.
Throughout the book How to read the Bible for all Its Worth, Fee and Stuart emphasize analyzing the historical as well as the literary context in order to have faithful exegesis. The book teaches readers how to make a proper use of context in order to avoid misinterpretations of the Scripture. Normally, poor exegesis and unfounded doctrines result when a particular passage or statement from the Bible is interpreted without taking into consideration it’s cultural, theological or/as well as historical contexts. For instance, while discussing the historical context in the Book of Revelation, the authors point out that the key to having the correct interpretation is based on one’s ability to understand the difference between the words “wrath” and “tribulation” .
In a hasty reading, the difference between the two words may appear to be minor. However, a good reader should be able to slow down in order to understand the reason why a particular Book was written and the intended audience. The meaning of the words is important towards giving the audience a deeper understanding into these elements. The reader should strive to understand the historical situation which includes culture, politics, and geography, the genre notwithstanding. The authors note that each Book in the Bible has a unique context with circumstances and situations that differ from that of other books. The epistles give another good example; most of these Books are “task oriented” and consequently address specific needs in the church. Therefore, in order to interpret passages in these Books and apply them correctly, one must recognize this need historically.
With regards to hermeneutics, the authors strive to guard the Scripture against off-the-wall as well as inappropriate applications among believers. One of the most extreme application-abuse in modern Christianity that hermeneutics seek to change comes from the relevance of the Old Testament laws to modern Christians. Unless renewed in the new covenant, several Christians assume that none of the laws as stipulated in the Old Testament is binding on them. On the contrary, Fee and Stuart argue that the Old Testament law still acts as the sufficient word of God even to the modern day Christians save for the fact that it does not act as the final moral code for all Christians. The authors advocate for “principlism” which states that the Old Testament principles stand for the “letter” of the law for today’s Christian . For instance, Fee and Stuart point out that with regards to the Ten Commandments, Christians should view “the Old Testament Law as the paradigm” which defines the expected full range of behavior. However, while making such consideration, Christians should “remember that the essence of the law is repeated in the prophets and renewed in the New Testament.
Hermeneutics enables the authors to emphasize that the meaning of the Scripture as well as its bearing on our modern life can only arrive at the interpreter without controlling the factor of intention of the original author. However, the definition of hermeneutics as offered by Fee and Stuart appears to be tee restrictive and narrow. Rather, it would be better for them to view the term as the overarching framework in which all the disciplines together with interpretive approaches should fit.
The three levels of interpretation is one of the most helpful sections in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. The three levels of narrative include the metanarrative at the top level, Israel’s redemption narrative at the middle level, and narratives of individuals and families at the bottom level. Notably, every Old Testament story comprises the three levels of narrative. Having a better understanding of this structure is important to exegesis and hermeneutics. It helps the interpreter to avoid drawing application straight from Old Testament texts. For instance, it would be irrelevant for a modern Christian to wish that God’s promise to Solomon in 2Chro7:14-15 would be the case for their land. This is due to the fact that Christians have a promise that is by far better than the one Solomon received. Although Christians have no earthly country, they have a heavenly country which is perfect and eternal.
Despite the strengths of this book, lack of Christ-centeredness at times weakens it at certain points. This statement does not refute the passion that Fee and Stuart have for Christ. The manner in which they analyze Bible genres in historical and literary context to obtain the original meaning for the original audience is commendable. Nevertheless, in their work, Fee and Stuart neglect the redemptive-historical context of the Scripture or the “metanarrative” as it relates to every genre. The authors clearly draw the significance of metanarrative in the Old Testament narratives; they categorically state that the atonement of Jesus Christ is the climax of the Scripture’s plot. However, they fail to carry over this “Christ-focus” to every genre. Consequently, the authors fail to apply hermeneutics at the gospel level in order to make the book “Christ-centered” rather than “application-centered”. Essentially, the main point of the Scripture transcends merely giving application to God’s people. It entails testifying to and exalting the work that has been done by God for His people through Christ.
The manner in which the authors discussed various Bible translations is arguably another fault that stands out prominently in this book. Their assessment of the translations seems to reject the NASB translation. They fault the manner in which (New American Standard Bible (NASB) translates from Greek and Hebrew. According to the authors, the resultant type of English is one that is “never written or spoken that way” and is often ambiguous. They advocate for Today’s New International Version (TNIV) which they refer to “as good a translation as you will get”. The authors argue that an individual who “regularly reads only NASB/NASU” may be “committed to an interpretation of the text” that may not have been the intention of Paul. Such comments are narrow and dubious; they seem to promote certain translations over others as further expressed in the statement that “TNIV reflects the best exegetical option.”
The goal for which How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth was published has considerably been achieved. Throughout the book, the authors emphasize the importance of holistic reading of biblical passages in order to understand the overall content of the Scripture. The authors skillfully equip the reader with the necessary knowledge to understand the original meaning of Scripture and guidelines on how to apply them in this modern world. Essentially, this book would be useful for believers who can include it in their library of books on biblical interpretation. The authors’ contribution to hermeneutics makes this book significant to Christians as it safeguards them from unwarranted applications that normally arise from hijacking passages in the Bible. The extensive treatment of all genres of the Scripture, as provided for by the authors, is indeed beneficial to all believers, both laymen and seasoned theologians. Accessibility and conversational tone used in the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth makes it an attractive resource to various readers. Arguably, the book is adequate for lay believers but can be considered as a supplement to more voluminous expositions for seasoned theologians.
Fee, Gordon, and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.