Critical book review
Critical Book Review on How to Read the Bible for All its Worth
A paper submitted to Dr. Percer
In partial fulfillment of the Requirements for
the course NBST 652
Liberty Theological seminary
Christopher W. Myers
Sunday, June 1st, 2008
Table of Contents
Brief Summary- 4
Critical Interaction- 6
With the amount of misunderstanding and bad exegesis that Christians employ in Bible study, this book was much needed for the average layman of the Bible. The book, although written by seminary professors, is not just another book on how to understand the Bible. The authors claim uniqueness because they do not make lists of rules of exegesis and hermeneutics and try to make them flatly and woodenly work throughout the whole Bible. Rather they take each genre within the Bible and discuss them separately to show how vital it is to read a letter as a letter and apocalyptic as apocalyptic, etc. The author's intentions are to ground all hermeneutics with sound and proven exegesis. If there could be a motto that the author's could use to explain their emphasis throughout every chapter, I believe it would be "good exegesis determines good hermeneutics" or "the utmost importance of exegesis is the key to gleaning application from God's Words for us."
The author's approach to the proper reading of the Bible is to do the work of both scholar and layman. The scholar is concerned with what the text meant originally to the first hearers or readers and seeks to place it in a historical and social context. While the layman is concerned about how this text relates to him, what it means, everyone wants to know what God is trying to say through a certain text. Therefore, the authors make it clear that both of these aspects are so important in order to read the Bible for all its worth. The text must be researched and meditated upon for its original meaning and therefore the author's original intent to its recipients. This must come straight out of the text and hence they call this exegesis. And starting with exegesis, then we can take the principles that transcend time and culture and apply it to our day. This is generally what the authors call hermeneutics. The historical and social contexts affect the exegesis in the same way that the proper guidelines for hermeneutics must be applied in order to draw out of the text proper applications for this day.
The good meat of the book is contained in chapters 3-13. This is where Fee and Stuart divide the Bible books up into NT Epistles, OT narrative, History Book of Acts, the Gospels, Parables, the OT Laws, OT Prophets, the Psalms and its various genres within, Hebrew wisdom literature, and finally Apocalyptic and the other genres found within Revelation specifically. I was impressed with the amount of Bible coverage this system allows for the lay reader. It is a given and the authors admit that the genres could be broken down further and spoken of more specifically, but their intent was for a more readable guide than something dauntingly in-depth and exhaustive.
However, the authors recommended many excellent works for the layman to research further into certain areas and this was a real gem for the reader. In the very beginning, they recommend a less detailed work than their own, Knowing Scripture by RC Sproul for the person who wants a primer in order to better understand the present book. Also they recommend a more detailed and exhaustive treatment of this subject by A. Berckeley Mickelson, Interpreting the Bible. Almost every chapter guides the reader to other works and I must acknowledge the great help and usefulness that this is, it also shows the humility of the authors.
Each of the chapters that deal with a specific genre always starts with the work of exegesis and explains the uniqueness that each genre may have to the work of exegesis. The authors are careful to point out when the layman would have to consult the commentaries or other scholarly works to place the text in a historical or social context that may not be as clear straight from the text. Then the chapter ends with the hermeneutical questions and problems and the application aspect and uniqueness for each specific genre. Some chapters will build on the next, for example, chapter 5 on OT narrative applies much of the same principles as dealing with the primarily history book of Acts and therefore the authors make it clear what applied to chapter 5 also applies to chapter 6.
Chapters 1 and 2 introduce the meat of the book. Chapter 1 explains the need of hermeneutic and exegesis as a working unit for gleaning proper interpretations. It also silences the wrong view that the Bible does not need to be interpreted. The attitude of, "you can just read it and let the Holy Spirit tell you what it means" is showed to be inadequate. Rather the Holy Spirit uses the efforts of sound exegesis to reveal proper applications for a person. However, the authors make it clear that this is not hostile to devotional reading. Devotional reading can be done with attention to exegesis by reading God's Word as His Word "for us," but not His Word "to us." This distinction is made because we need to understand that the Bible is a collection of inspired messages from a historic author to his intended audiences. God inspired them to be useful for all generations by revealing the intents of the author and the condition of the audience and therefore learning what God is saying to us through the text. The Bible is not penned to be a direct letter to this generation, but rather a collection of ancient letters and psalms and apocalypse etc. which contain timeless principles and truths about God, which we can eat up for our spirit and mind as God's Words for us. The authors again make it clear that the Word of God can still be taken very personally, even though a passage may be originally said to Ancient Israel, the same saying can be taken personally to be speaking directly to us because proper exegesis and hermeneutics acknowledges that what God says of his chosen people in the OT usually will also apply to his chosen people in the NT. Jesus and the apostles employed this hermeneutic often.
Chapter 2 is the most biased section of the whole book, Fee wrote this chapter and shows his disdain for the formal equivalence method for Bible translation and strongly advocates his functional equivalence view of Bible translation. Fee blundered in this chapter because he did not give a balanced critique of the side for formal equivalence; actually he gave no argument for this side and only advocated his own view here. However, this chapter was the exception, the rest of the book is excellently balanced and does not even attempt to be dogmatic even though many exegetical and hermeneutical difficult passages are evaluated.
Since the authors often guide the readers to consult scholarly works on certain subjects and genres. It is very appropriate and helpful that the authors put together an appendix evaluating and presenting the basic use of commentaries. The appendix is not intended, nor even close to being exhaustive. Rather, it is a springing board for gathering basic resources and starting an informed library to begin good Bible Study with resources for establishing the historical and social contexts for exegesis of Biblical texts. The commentaries are arranged by the books of the Bible and are slanted toward the conservative evangelical persuasion of scholarship.
The very title of the book, "How to..." shows that this book was designed as a layman's guide to Bible study and a book that sets the foundations for sound exegesis and hermeneutics. The authors make it clear that they are believers and scholars who hold Scripture in very high regard. This shows their main audience to be the conservative evangelical Christian and not the skeptical and liberal type. As practical scholars they wrote the book with the urgency of observing the grave mistreatment of hermeneutics, which they narrowly define as applications of the Biblical text to everyday contemporary life. The book would have benefited from a systematic treatment of how the conservative evangelical could deal and understand the liberal approach. Indeed, God has used the liberal persuasion to reform many conservative traditions and such liberal commentaries as Hermeneia and others are treasure troves of information if one understands how to filter out the nonsense liberal views with the more valuable information that they mine for in the historical and social contexts. But instead, the authors chose to ignore the liberal scholarship all together, an approach that is not very healthy.
The authors' intent is to guide the layman from the understanding of the ancient audiences and the texts meaning for them to the understanding and implications of how the original meaning to them can be carried over to this present day. The authors are a success because of their emphasis on exegesis as the foundation for all applications of Scripture. The weakness to this approach is their ignorance of devotional reading and the practical side of reading in a personal matter. Although the authors acknowledge this in the first chapter, they go no further. They do nothing to educate the reader how the Bible can or cannot be used in a personal matter as definitively "from God." This is a major weakness. Because there are places in the Bible where it can be made very personal by viewing God as saying these things very directly to the reader of the Bible, i.e. "Repent, and believe the gospel." While there are other passages that cannot be taken quite as personally to a modern day reader, "Where is the bill of your Mother's divorcement?" The authors relegate this to the issue of common sense and say that everything needs to be filtered through exegesis and applications from it. This is sound teaching, but my contention lies with the fact that devotional reading is a process that should require a chapter in the book, perhaps in place of chapter two, in order to understand what level of exegesis and hermeneutics will be required in casual reading to let the Bible speak "to you." The subconscious amount of exegesis and hermeneutics that is required in devotional reading could use some controls so that there are no mistakes in this type of reading, but the authors ignore the issues all together, perhaps figuring that the discussion of how to understand and read the different genres in the Bible could explain the same concepts.
The weakest chapter and the weakest argument in the entire book is chapter two. In chapter two, Gordon Fee seeks to help the reader settle on an English translation of the Bible for Bible study. He does this by setting out to persuade the reader that his view of functional equivalence is the best type of translation. He argues in a chapter what really needs to take a book to understand the concepts at hand. He offers no arguments for the views against him for formal equivalence. This is a major weakness because it ignores the diversity of readers and the way that both schools of translation can help or hinder a Christian. First, functional equivalence has the weaknesses of catering to the language of the day and therefore is in necessary of revision every couple decades or so. This is a major setback for someone wanting a translation that will be constant for memorization purposes. The plethora of English translations, some necessary, and many not so necessary is an obvious consequence of the modern belief in functional equivalence. Secondly, functional equivalence is the best translation type to use for people that do not have any interests in understanding Greek and Hebrew. The literal or formal equivalence type of translation is superior for students of Greek and Hebrew because it is easier to understand what word is behind the English text and therefore to use the skills in the original languages to produce dynamic equivalents in his or her natural language. Additionally, the student of the originals has the advantage of seeing the syntax structure and original idioms in English so that they can more easily understand the same structures and idioms when translating word for word out of the originals. Thirdly, formal equivalence transcends the current and frequent changes and nuances in modern language; this is why the King James Version was able to be the main English translation of the Bible for over 300 years! The KJV had the capability to actually effect the modern English of its day to reflect the structure and idioms of the originals, therefore bringing modern day populace's use of their own language closer to the understanding of the original authors.
On this note, Gordon Fee actually directly recommends his readers not to use the KJV or NKJV as a translation, and this is understandable since it is based on a manuscript tradition that is not as ancient as what we have found in the recent centuries. But he totally ignores the fact that the KJV became the Authorized Version from 1611 and has fallen out of use only in the recent decades! This means that God used the KJV as the English basis of His word for the revivals of the late Reformation period all the way through the Puritans who sparked the Great Awakening such as Stephen Charnock, Jonathan Edwards, and the revivals at the turn of the twentieth century through such legends as Charles Spurgeon and the Wesleys, not to mention the recent great evangelist Billy Graham. So by using the KJV, you are able to study the same translation tradition as all of the ancient revivalists and therefore can identify with their use of it in their works. The updating since 1611 has not been as significant as many think, and therefore the KJV could be used as a primary study Bible translation as long as a second translation was handy for any possible updating to the 1611 manuscript tradition. Notwithstanding, if the KJV is too old English for many, there are other modern translations that are based on the best manuscripts and that are formal equivalent in translation theory such as the NRSV, NASB/U, and the ESV. Although, Fee shows that the KJV is the most literal in translation than any modern version, which is why it still has a place in many hearts today.
Concluding our discussion on chapter two, I cannot explain how upsetting this chapter was, it was the only chapter that had unwarranted and unneeded bias. Some more weaknesses that infects this chapter is his ponderings on the gender issue in addition to his one-sided arguments for functional equivalence's superiority in dealing with euphemisms, vocabulary, word-plays, and grammar and syntax.
However, in view of all this, most of the weaknesses of the book are contained in chapter two, which is merely a prefaced rabbit trail to the meat and main discussion of the book in chapters 3-13. The benefits of reading these 10 chapters far outweigh the weaknesses of the book as a whole. The authors wrote to the layperson and therefore this book has shown to be best suited for the layperson. However, a seminary student would find that this small book is a good primer to introduce him to the more broader and formal and in-depth study of hermeneutics, which he will undertake in his biblical studies.
Again, I must conclude by saying that the reason that this book acts as an excellent primer for the more advanced Bible student is because of its plethora of recommendations for more in-depth study on select topics. Such works by renowned writers such as: George E. Ladd and Robert Stein and George R. Beasley-Murray are recommended throughout the discussion of the entire book and are not just relegated to the appendix.
The book successfully met its mark by speaking to the Christian community the necessity of exegesis as the foundation for all hermeneutical applications. Therefore, the book was also successful in making the literal and historic reading the best starting grounds for understanding the message of the Bible. The book did leave the reader with some questions unanswered. And I will end this critical book review with the same questions and likewise leave them unanswered. Is there ever a place for the allegorical methods of interpretation that was so lovingly applied to Biblical texts by the earliest fathers and their medieval prodigies? If the Bible is primarily a message "for us," then is there anything in the Biblical message directly "to us"? How does devotional reading fit into the paradigm you have created for us? What happens when following sound exegesis and hermeneutics leaves us with more than one option for interpretation? What do we do when a book cannot be defined under one or two genres? What are the limitations of exegesis and hermeneutics and the paradigm you have built for us? Why are the methods of interpretation employed by the apostles attributed to the Holy Spirit and not as examples for us to follow? Could the Scriptures still be allowed to have meanings that are outside the historical and original intention of the Biblical author on personal grounds? In other words, can the Spirit allow the texts to talk personally to a Christian in a way that has no connection to the historical context, but yet has significance personally to a Christian and his particular circumstances in his life? Regarding your comments on the Law, would it be more Biblically sound to interpret the Law as having Christ as the end or goal of the Law rather as have it ended or abolished? So rather than viewing the Law as abolished, should we not view the Law as transformed into the hearts of those who are under the Law of Christ and grace? The implications of this view would be that Christians would view the law as a treasure trove for revealing who God is by how he expressed himself to His people of Israel and give them an inspiration to study the transformation of the Law into the body of Christ and so inaugurating the Law of Christ that is superior to the Mosaic Law because of the supremacy of Christ firstly and lastly.
The last question I will answer. What is the central goal of all our exegesis and hermeneutics? It is the exaltation of Christ and the declaration of his supremacy in all things. This should be the anvil and hammer that shapes all of our thinking and the great rod that measures the validity of the conclusions drawn. We know that our exegesis and hermeneutics are dead wrong if they disdain or draw violent conclusions against the supremacy of Christ and his majesty and the glorification and exaltation of his name among all peoples.
Fee, Gordon D. and Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Third edition.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.
Fee, Gordon D. and Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Third edition. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) pg. 14
 I mean by this the low regard for scripture, whether it be the denial of infallibility, or even worse, the rejection of inspiration.
 Fee, Gordon D. and Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, pg. 15
 Mark 1:15
 Isaiah 50:1
 Fee, Gordon D. and Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, pg 15