How to read the Bible for all its worth

This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosures for more information.

Contains an Affiliate link

Summary

How to read the Bible for all its worth is an interesting book. It has the premise that the authors want to teach the reader how to get the most out of reading the Bible as one can. The book has a long-standing effort on these parts and has been successful. The book is in its 4th edition and the cover states “over 900,000 copies sold.” Any book for Christian growth that has this kind of longevity has been successful in reaching the audience and is often referred by readers to others.

The authors feel the topic of reading the Bible is very important to believers. In the Preface the authors state that they want the readers to “read the Bible like they would any other book.” In the introduction says that “dig around so much [in the Bible] that they tend to muddy the waters”[1] By this they are implying that people often rad the Bible and add much to it from their own personally view of life.

The authors thesis is that anyone can read the Bible and get more out it than simply reading the top layer of writing and going with it. The authors believe that much is to be gained from training the reader to remove modern perspectives from the reading of the Bible so that one can get to the original meaning of the writer of the particular book in the Bible. Reading or interpretation, as the writers put it, is possible for each reader and that proper training will allow the interpreter to do a better job of analyzing the text.

There are many themes discussed in the book. Of major importance, and perhaps the most controversial, is the first chapter on choosing a good Bible translation. This is a key point because, unless one is reading the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, the reader is interpreting an interpretation. The translators have to make certain decisions when moving the original language into modern English. The authors suggest that one use several translations to get closer to the original meaning since different translators make different choices on which words and meanings to place in the translated piece. After helping the reader prepare for the study of the Bible, the authors dive into the meat of the book, how to read and understand the many different types of literature that makes up the Bible. This is a needed bit of knowledge since the Bible consists of many different types of literature and each should be interpreted on its own merits.

Analysis

The authors point of view is obvious from the beginning of the book. They have a sincere desire for the reader to be able to do original interpretation of the Bible as it is read. That is original, in the sense that it aligns with the original perspectives of the author and the audience not necessarily the perspective of the modern audience and reader.[2] The authors feel that the reader should be finding out “the original intent of the words of the Bible.”[3] The authors feel that much exegetical work done in is problematic: “that such exegesis is often too selective and often the sources were not written by true ‘experts’”[4] This is a true statement. It seems like much of the exegesis that is done today is based on feelings instead of hard fact. Many ‘Bible Teachers’ base their sermons on modern psychological philosophy rather than the hard truths presented in the Bible. Often these lapses lead to heretical beliefs such as those help by Joel Osteen and others of the ‘prosperity gospel’ ilk.

For proper Biblical interpretation, the authors present the ideas that one must consider both the historical and literary context of the writing.[5] One must agree with them that if the original intent is not considered the teaching is probably not going to be accurate; after all how could it be if the original is meant to say something and we twist it to fit a sensibility that didn’t exist in the times of the writing.

As stated the authors want the Biblical reader to consider the context of the writing. This takes much learning in many cases and is beyond the scope and ability of many. Ione must wonder where everyone is to gain this training because not everyone is going to go to a seminary. In fact, a great many preachers are self-taught and never gain the standing of ‘expert’ in their profession. Considering the view of the authors it must diminish the work done by these self-trained men. However, these men do much work for the kingdom. Perhaps the authors would be better served writing in a more basic way to help these men. I believe that this is the intent of this book but much is written with a high learning curve. In particular, when you get into textual criticism there is so much to learn that without a degree or at least a course covering textual criticism, it is easy to get lost in the developmental processes and never get anything from the analysis.

The authors attempt to break down the historical and literary context of the genre types of the Bible. They do good work trying to make these concepts available to the average reader, someone who doesn’t have a history or literature degree. Limited space makes this difficult and each genre analysis could probably have a book written about it easily. They use a variety of extra biblical and biblical evidence to support their teaching viewpoint and they do a good job of presenting this material. When presenting just the historical facts pertaining to the Gospel and the presence of Christ upon the earth it is good to have evidence other than just the Bible because the rise of Christianity is such a phenomenon that outside sources provide relevant backup evidence of what we believe.

As with any good teaching resource the authors try to point out common mistakes that people make in doing exegesis. For example, the say that, “…we bring our own form of common sense to the text and apply what we can to our own situation. What does not apply is simply left in the first century.”[6] This is an accurate statement. Many people just take what they can from a passage and leave the rest to never be dealt with. What is common sense for a modern reader is not a reality for an original audience member. What is clear is that the past history to the modern reader is in reality prophecy to an original writing recipient.

The arguments that the authors make about how to interpret the different genres is very good. They provide much variety in telling what needs to be done with each genre and how to properly interpret it. There is a good flow to the logic of each argument. They take the epistles first and explain them because they make up most of the New Testament. They then proceed to discuss the proper way to examine narrative since these make up most of the Old Testament. One thing that should be notes is that along with presenting ideas as to an approach to interpretation the authors do their best to show where there are weaknesses to these approaches so that the reader can avoid them if possible.

There do not appear to be any gaps in the flow of the book. There is an internal consistency to the writing, with the authors presenting the characteristics of the genre without any interpretation and then taking a selection and showing how it should be analyzed. Finally, as previously stated, they show where there are problems with the form of interpretation used. Finally, there does not appear to be any contradictions in the approaches used. The authors tried to make the process as simple as possible while still making sure to present a scholarly approach that most anyone could follow and become a better interpreter of scripture.

Conclusion

In conclusion it is clear that the authors do a good job of presenting their arguments. The good is a good introduction to Biblical interpretations for both the new and experienced believer. The authors do a good job of showing that removing of modern sensibility and looking at the text as what it originally meant for both the writer and the audience brings an ability to properly look at the Bible. They want to be clear that modern readers should not try to mold the Bible to their values but rather earn what was of value to the original intentions of the writing.

The main thing that the book adds to the discourse is chapter 2 and its analysis of different Bible translations and casting aside the older versions for more modern, more accurate, translations. In particular, many will have issues with not using the King James version of the Bible as the primary one for study but the evidence is in and one can hardly ignore the fact that more modern translations use older versions of the Bible, in its original languages, as the source for translation and are less prone to have been adjusted for political reasons.

As for who the book would be best for that is a mixed bag of choices. The information is good but it is written at a high level that may confuse new believers. One must conclude that the best use of the book would be made by an experienced teacher who could digest the information and break it down for the new believer and lay person. The experienced teacher would have no problem taking the information and simplifying it so that it is easier to learn. The recommendation is that the chapter on choosing a Bible translation be made available to all believer so that they may make a more informed decision as to what Bible they should study.

All in all, this is a superb book and is highly recommended for both the scholar and lay person. There is something written for each to enjoy and learn about. Most important Fee is a good writer who, even with an academic subject, maintains interest in the topics covered.

[1]  Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. How to read the Bible for all its worth. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2014) 21.

[2] Ibid 27

[3] Ibid 27

[4] Ibid 28

[5] Ibid 30, 31

[6] Ibid 75


Also published on Medium.

Doug
I am a writing, educator and speaker. I am an avid gamer, both board games and role playing. I love reading science fiction and fanatasy.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Free Email Updates
Get the latest content first.
We respect your privacy.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: