This is the seventh in a series of book reviews Cornerstone is publishing on our WordPress site. This week’s review is on How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. The idea is to encourage our readers to soak themselves in Gospel-centered literature this summer. Let the break from school not be a break from our Father in Heaven.
When Matthew wrote about Mary and Joseph hiding the baby Jesus in Egypt, he described the process as a fulfillment of a verse from the minor prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” How many of your church-going friends know the verse, or have even heard of the minor prophet? In his second epistle to Timothy, Paul wrote that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” All scripture; not just Romans, not just the Psalms, not just John 3:16. How then do we solve the issue of not knowing most of the Bible? More pertinently, how do we understand weird cultural contexts like ancient Jewish sacrificial rituals and kings having the bizarre habit of tearing their clothes? In their book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart seek to help readers in the above issues and then some.
Fee and Stuart start the book with two chapters on the need of sound Biblical interpretation and how to judge between translations. The book aptly identifies a tension between two essential characteristics of the Bible, that of “eternal relevance” and “historical particularity”. The former is a necessary function of the Bible being God’s divine Word given to mankind; the latter is an inevitable result of the Word being written by humans, albeit inspired by the Holy Spirit, in their own time periods. As amazing as it is that the Bible is a collection of sixty-six books by forty different writers over a period of a millennium and a half, that awe striking fact renders any reader prone to erroneous interpretation. Thus, good exegetical skills are needed to extract the author’s original intended meaning while sound hermeneutics gives the text meaning in the contemporary. An overemphasis on either skill, or worse, an absence of either, produces unsound theological statements that does severe injustice to the holy Word of God. Fee and Stuart compel the reader to develop both to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us through His Word.
Thereafter, eleven rich chapters tackle the way we should read different literary genres in the Bible. These genres range from the expository Epistles and historical book of Acts to narratives in the Old Testament and Wisdom literature in Proverbs. Fee and Stuart rightly recognize the varied nature of the books of the Bible, while equipping the reader with the different tools needed for each genre. In the same way that we do not read Sonnet 18 of Shakespeare as we do a historical journal on the Roman Empire, the books of the Bible beckon to be read with different perspectives and considerations. Putting that into Bible reading practice, Fee and Stuart encourage the Epistle reader to think in paragraphs by identifying the main points of each paragraph in the letters. On the other hand, the Old Testament narratives are to be read with the metanarrative of God’s salvation plan from Abraham to Christ in mind. Each chapter was a gem in itself which provided invaluable lessons for reading Biblical genres.
While I personally do not agree with every theological statement that Fee and Stuart make, I agree with the general theme of the book of equipping Bible readers with interpretative tools for sound reading. Something notable that Fee and Stuart do from time to time is to offer their differing interpretations on the same text. I do believe in a single true interpretation of the Bible, but I appreciate the authors’ efforts to show that they are not trying to teach their own doctrine, but rather, have the reader discover it himself through his own reading.
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is a book for the spiritually hungry, frustrated with their inability to understand inaccessible passages. I would recommend the book to every believer thinking of committing to ministry to any degree. It is a good handbook that would serve the preacher well in preparing sermons, the cell group leader in leading a good devotional and the believer giving another with a word of encouragement. As Paul wrote, the whole Bible is God inspired and profitable for teaching. Friends, let us commit to reading the Word, the whole Word and not just parts of it that are convenient and familiar.
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is available in most Christian bookstores and online at http://www.zondervan.com/how-to-read-the-bible-for-all-its-worth