Book Review: How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth

In How to Read the BibleHow to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart attempt to help the reader understand and interpret the Bible with particular consideration of the genre of each book. They explain that the “Its” of the title is deliberate, rather than “It Is,” saying, “‘Its’ is a deliberate wordplay that works only when it appears without the apostrophe; and in the end our own emphasis lies with this possessive. Scripture is God’s Word, and we want people to read it because of its great value to them. And if they do it ‘for all it’s worth,’ hopefully they will also find its worth.”

The first chapter covers general principles for reading and understanding the Bible: exegesis, “the careful, systematic study of Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning,” which involves learning “to read the text carefully and to ask the right questions of the text,” questions of context (historical and literary) and content; interpretation, and hermeneutics, learning “to hear that same meaning in the variety of new or different contexts of our own day.” They insist, several times over, that we must understand what the text meant to the original readers before attempting to apply it to ourselves.

The concern of the scholar is primarily with what the text meant; the concern of the layperson is usually with what it means. The believing scholar insists that we must have both. Reading the Bible with an eye only to its meaning for us can lead to a great deal of nonsense as well as to every imaginable kind of error—because it lacks controls. Fortunately, most believers are blessed with at least a measure of that most important of all hermeneutical skills—common sense.

Whether one likes it or not, every reader is at the same time an interpreter. That is, most of us assume as we read that we also understand what we read. We also tend to think that our understanding is the same thing as the Holy Spirit’s or human author’s intent. However, we invariably bring to the text all that we are, with all of our experiences, culture, and prior understandings of words and ideas. Sometimes what we bring to the text, unintentionally to be sure, leads us astray, or else causes us to read all kinds of foreign ideas into the text.

Let it be said at the outset—and repeated throughout—that the aim of good interpretation is not uniqueness; one is not trying to discover what no one else has ever seen before. Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on, uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to “outclever” the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deeply buried truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias). Unique interpretations are usually wrong. This is not to say that the correct understanding of a text may not often seem unique to someone who hears it for the first time. But it is to say that uniqueness is not the aim of our task. The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the “plain meaning of the text.”

Because the Bible is God’s Word, it has eternal relevance; it speaks to all humankind, in every age and in every culture.

The second chapter deals with the different translations of the Bible. You may not agree with the one they feel is best (I later learned one of them was on the translation committee for it), but this chapter will help you appreciate the difficulties involved in translating and the reasons there are so many translations, but will also reassure you that we have a few today that are especially accurate and trustworthy. There are a number of considerations, but the main differences in translations are those which use formal equivalence, “the attempt to keep as close to the ‘form’ of the Hebrew or Greek, both words and grammar, as can be conveniently put into understandable English”; functional equivalence, “the attempt to keep the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek but to put their words and idioms into what would be the normal way of saying the same thing in English” at the time of the translation, and free translation (or paraphrase), which is more concerned about translating the ideas rather than the “exact words of the original.”

The problem with a “free” translation, on the other hand, especially for study purposes, is that the translator updates the original author too much…On the one hand, these renditions often have especially fresh and vivid ways of expressing some old truths and have thus each served to stimulate contemporary Christians to take a fresh look at their Bibles. On the other hand, such a “translation” often comes very close to being a commentary, but without other options made available to the reader. Therefore, as stimulating as these can sometimes be, they are never intended to be a person’s only Bible; and the reader needs constantly to check particularly eye-catching moments against a true translation or a commentary to make sure that not too much freedom has been taken.

The rest of the book’s chapters discuss the different genres of literature in the Bible: epistles, narratives, Acts, the gospels, parables, the law, the prophets, the psalms, wisdom literature (Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon), and Revelation.  They apply the principles they discussed in Chapter 1 to each and also discuss their forms and the particular difficulties or concerns in reading and interpreting each one. For instance, concerning the epistles, the authors  “offer the following guidelines, therefore, for distinguishing between items that are culturally relative on the one hand and those that transcend their original setting on the other hand and are thus normative for all Christians of all times.” Of the OT narratives, they say:

Our concern in this chapter is to guide you toward a good understanding of how Hebrew narrative “works,” so that you may read your Bibles more knowledgeably and with greater appreciation for God’s story. Unfortunately, failure to understand both the reason for and the character of Hebrew narrative has caused many Christians in the past to read the Old Testament story very poorly. If you are a Christian, the Old Testament is your spiritual history. The promises and calling of God to Israel are your historical promises and calling. Yet, in our experience, people force incorrect interpretations and applications on narrative portions of the Bible as much as or more than they do on any other parts. The intended value and meaning are replaced with ideas read into rather than out of the text.

Old Testament narratives are not allegories or stories filled with hidden meanings…[and] are not intended to teach moral lessons. The purpose of the various individual narratives is to tell what God did in the history of Israel…

However, even though [they] do not teach directly, they often illustrate what is taught explicitly and categorically everywhere.

One crucial thing to keep in mind as you read any Hebrew narrative is the presence of God in the narrative. In any biblical narrative, God is the ultimate character, the supreme hero of the story.

Even though the chapters on the different genres make up the bulk of the book and I have multitudes of places marked in them, for the sake of space and time I’ll stop there.

They have an appendix for “The Evaluation and Use of Commentaries” and their recommendations for good ones.

Overall, though I would not agree with every little point, I found the book very helpful. Though there is value in reading it through as a whole, I think there would be more value in reading the chapter on a particular genre just before reading that genre, and I may try to do that, or at least refresh myself on some of the applicable points, on starting a new genre in my own reading.

The authors are scholars who try very hard to make their points readable and understandable to the average layperson, and they mostly succeed. I don’t know if this is a book I would give to a brand new Christian right off the bat, though. It might be overwhelming, like trying to get a sip from a fire hydrant. But maybe not. Maybe it would help people get off on the right foot.

One frustration was that the authors often referred to what they called “How to 2” for further reading or for information they evidently didn’t want to reprint here. Since this is a third edition of the book, I thought they were referencing the second edition, and wondered why they didn’t just include that information here. But as I reread the first part, “How to 2” is referring to a different book of theirs, How to Read the Bible Book by Book.

I got this book on a Kindle sale because I had seen it referred to often, and it happened to be the third edition, which apparently is no longer available in the Kindle format. There is now a fourth edition, though, available both for print and ebook form.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, and Carole’s Books You Loved)

lmml-button-2-6

Books you loved

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Laudable Linkage

img_0021

I usually go a couple of weeks or more between these, but had so many, I decided to go ahead and list them. These are all thought-provoking reads found in the last week or so.

Believing in the somehow.

God’s Work in Your Bible Reading. “The Bible was precious because it mediated a sight of God, and a relation to God, which are sweeter than any other experience. This was the spring of what Sweeney called ‘Edwards’s lifelong love affair with Scripture.'”

Rethinking Phil. 4:13. It’s for far more than positive thinking and winning ball games.

How many days would it take to read through the Bible? A friend and missionary tried reading straight through the Bible in a week and discussed it here, then followed up with Meditations on binge-reading the Bible afterward.

Friends your age are not enough. We need friends of all ages.

#NotMyPresident. I’ve been appalled at some of the reaction to the president-elect. Many of us weren’t happy with the last two elections, but we didn’t act like this. I don’t agree 100% with everything about Trump, but, as a Christian, I appreciated this perspective.

Why Kids Ask Why (and How to Respond Lovingly)

Want to raise successful boys? Children, especially boys, learn better when they have more opportunities to move around than the average school gives them.

Must Christian Homeschool? Well thought-out response from Rebekah.

More than slightly Christian novels. Yes! This resonated with me.

Writing tips from Charles Spurgeon, HT to Challies.

And finally, someone posted this on Facebook, and I found it adorable:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

I found quite a bit of good reading the last couple of weeks. Hope something here piques your interest:

Grace Incognito. “What if the point isn’t sprinting across the finish line in record time, but knowing God in every halting, baby step along the way?”

Grace-paced Living in a Burnout Culture. The “Mrs. Grace” illustrations were probably the best I’ve seen showing what life lived with an overflow of God’s grace to us is looks like.

What Should Be One of My Chief Aims at Church?

3 Ways Understanding Jesus’s Cultural Context Helps Me.

Here’s How I’m Fighting the Lies of Self-pity.

19 Spurgeon Quotes for Coping With Stress and Anxiety.

When the Doctor Says to Terminate.

Children and Sleep-overs: What Parents Need to Know.

Master Your Time: 5 Daily Scheduling Methods to Bring More Focus to Your Day, HT to Challies.

The Things All Women Do That You Don’t Know About, HT to Lisa. Sad, but true. (Warning: a bit of bad language).

Here’s What Goodwill Actually Does With Your Donated Clothing.

5 Reasons You Need Fiction, HT to Lisa.

Did you know they were making a new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast? With Dan Stevens (Matthew on Downton Abbey) as the Beast? Here are some photos from it, HT to Carrie. This is one of my favorite fairy tales and the Disney film one of my favorite Disney movies. I hope they do this well and don’t toss in anything objectionable. Looks good so far.

And finally, my oldest son posted this video called “Unsatisfying,” and right at first I thought it was frustrating, but before long I was laughing. Some of the little touches, like the squeaky windmill, are great and the soundtrack, though I love the piece (Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings), is perfect.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

Here is a short but good list of reads discovered in the last week or so:

How We Read the Bible Matters, HT to True Woman.

5 Ways to Wound Immature Believers.

Love Ain’t Easy, Part One: Making Changes. I’ve been enjoying Melissa’s series this week on “Love Ain’t Easy,” particularly this first segment.

Bathsheba’s Legacy – The Woman Behind Proverbs 31. Loved this look into Bathsheba’s teaching to her son. I also liked the balanced way David and Bathsheba’s sin was discussed here. I’ve seen/heard the fault for it blamed primarily on one or the other, usually through speculation rather than Biblical revelation, but there was likely fault on both sides.

The Great Parental Freak Out. Loved this.

Let Them Wait: 5 phrases that are OK to use (and your child will survive!)

5 Pieces of Writing Advice from Some of The Most Influential Christian Writers Alive.

And don’t forget the giveaway for Adam Blumer’s great mystery, The Tenth Plague.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

It’s a busy time of year, but I’ve found a bit of good reading online that I can recommend to you:

The Need to Be Prepared Robs You of the Delight of Doing. Nothing wrong with preparation, but sometimes we miss out by not being spontaneous.

Ten Ideas For Helping Children Fight Greed at Christmastime.

You Don’t Need a Date Night. Nearly everything you read about marriage says you do, but what you actually need is focused time together, no matter what you do. Date night work best for some couples, but other activities work better for many.

Good King Wenceslas. I love this carol and found this background to it very interesting.

Plan Your 2016 Devotions With a Bible Reading Calendar.

Should I Curtail Grandparent Gift-Giving?

Writing For an Audience of None.

Finally, someone posted this on Facebook, and I thought it was pretty funny. 🙂

12369083_10153092110381566_7488948427484078766_n

This too…

Happy Last Weekend Before Christmas. 🙂

Laudable Linkage

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve shared some links that caught my eye. Here are the latest – hope you find something of interest:

As Somebody Somewhere Said. Good reasons to read the Bible as a whole rather than only parts of it.

Hoaxes and Hermeneutics. The need for learning how to interpret the Bible rightly.

How To Complain Without Grumbling. There’s a difference, and I am so glad to see someone finally say so.

Jesus Speaks Out For Marriage.

How the Gospel Ended My Same-Sex Relationship.

Do You Treat Your Husband Worse Than a Stranger?

5 Questions I Wish My Accountability Partner Would Ask Me. I am wary of accountability partner set-ups for several reasons, and while the author still recommends them, he advocates facets that are much more in line with Biblical accountability and relationships that what I usually see.

Twenty Years. A man’s reflection on twenty years of marriage.

Mama, Are You Thinking Ahead?

Teach Your Children to Have Devotions. Wish I’d had something like this to read when mine were small.

It’s OK For Kids to Be Bored During Church.

Why Little Kids Need Big Biblical Words.

Cherishing and Protecting Our Freedoms.

4 Tips For Dealing With Procrastination.

Navigating the Challenges of Real Life Online. “If you share everything, you’re an exhibitionist. If you share nothing, you’re closed-off and unapproachable. If you share too many good things, you’re fake. If you share too many bad things, you’re a whiner.” Jenn discusses some principles and guidelines for finding balance here.

10 Things Photographers Hate With a Passion. I had never seen the dinosaur wedding thing before. Bizarre! I don’t agree with every point – I think some trendy or “as seen on Pinterest” requests are inevitable – but otherwise some good things for us to think about.

And I saw this on the C. S. Lewis Facebook Page.

Lewis

Finding Time to Read the Bible

IMG_1218

In a recent blog post I read (I’ve forgotten where), the blogger mentioned that the book she was reading on Bible study didn’t discuss where to find the time. I had the same thought with a book I am reading on the subject. I guess the authors feel that once we are assured of the importance of Bible reading and study, we’ll make it a priority and make time. And I think that’s pretty much what it comes down to. If by finding time we mean we want a time that magically opens up with the solitude and inclination we need without a dozen other things crowding in…I just don’t think that’s going to happen, at least not regularly. Years ago our assistant pastor spoke of struggling to make time for Bible reading, and said to our senior pastor, an older, godly man, “I guess you don’t have trouble making time for Bible reading any more, do you?” He just laughed.

Finding the time is always going to be a struggle. There are always duties, distractions, and people clamoring for that time, and even an Enemy of our souls fighting against it. Instead of getting discouraged about it, we can just accept that it is a common problem and  prayerfully seek ways to deal with it. Perhaps reminding ourselves of reasons to read the Bible will renew our motivation.

We need to remember, too, that making time to read the Bible isn’t just about ticking off another duty. Every relationship thrives on communication. If we went for days without talking with our husbands except in the briefest necessary exchanges, we’d feel the effects pretty soon and realize we need some time alone together. Though sometimes we need to set up routines to establish good habits, taking time to read the Bible shouldn’t be a matter of rigid schedules, but rather of taking time to meet with the One Who loves us best.

So with these things in mind, here are some suggestions for carving time out to meet with the Lord:

1. Get up earlier or stay up later. I can hear you groaning. But for many of us, that’s the only way to get some time alone.

2. Keep the Bible handy. One friend with three small children close in age kept her Bible out in her kitchen. She couldn’t set aside a longer period of solitude, but she could read in smaller snatches through the day.

3. Listen. Some people like to listen to recorded versions of the Bible while driving, exercising, making dinner, etc.

4. Plan for it after a natural break in the day. It’s hard for many of us to stop in the middle of a morning or afternoon and put everything aside to read, but a break in the routine, when we’re shifting gears anyway, can help us work in some time for reading, like after a meal, after taking the kids to school, etc.

5. Meal time, especially if you eat alone.

6. Waiting time. We usually pull out our phones or a book if we have to wait at a doctor’s office or in car line at school, but that can be a good time for some Bible reading.

7. Establish a routine. Once we get used to setting aside a certain time for Bible reading, it’s not such a scramble to look for that time every day.

8. Don’t wait for perfection. One problem with a routine is that we can’t always figure out how to function when the routine is disrupted, like when we’re traveling or someone is sick or we have small children at home. I wrote a post some time back called Encouragement for mothers of young children about the topic of trying to find time for devotions with little ones in the house. Though I normally like getting up early and having solitude and quietness for Bible reading, that just didn’t work with little ones. Yet God enabled me to read and profit from it while they kept me company or played near me, even though usually I couldn’t concentrate under those circumstances.

9. Anything is better than nothing. Normally I like a good amount of time for Bible reading or study, but when a few moments was all I truly had, God often gave me just what I needed in those few moments in just a verse or two.

10. Talk with your husband, roommates, siblings, whoever you live with. Years ago I caught part of a radio program where the preacher was scolding women who wanted to spend early morning time to have devotions, saying the husband as the leader should have that time, since the wife had “all day” in which she could have devotions. The man obviously had not spent a whole day at home alone with kids. That mentality is so wrong on many levels. Not long after that a missionary speaking at our church mentioned protecting that time for his wife, a much better example of servant leadership and love. If the only way either parent can have devotions is for one of them to watch the children, then they can do that for each other. If a particular time of day is the best time for two people in a house, they can work out different locations if they get too distracted in the same room. Whatever conflict there might be about time and place preferences, talk with each other to work out the best solution for both and be willing to compromise.

11. Pray. In the blog post I referred to earlier, I mentioned that sometimes I’d get to the end of the day and lament to the Lord that I had no idea when I could have read my Bible that day. I began instead to pray at the beginning  of the day for wisdom and alertness for those moments when I could, and that made a profound difference.

12. Set something aside. If we have times to read other books, peruse Facebook, watch TV, or play games on our phones, we have time to read the Bible. I admit, if I sit down to relax for a few minutes with a book and realize I haven’t read my Bible yet that day, I don’t always have the best attitude about laying down my book and picking up my Bible. But when I confess that to the Lord and then go ahead, He graciously speaks to me through His Word. We do need time to relax as well, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of time in God’s Word. He knows our needs, and we can ask Him for both time to spend in His Word and for some down time.

What about you? What ways have you found to make time for Bible reading?

Sharing at Thought-Provoking Thursday and Works For Me Wednesday.