Monday, June 9, 2014

Critique of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth






June 8, 2014


                     This author cannot think of one Christian who would not like to know how to read the Bible better and have a deeper understanding of what it is they are reading. There are many great books out there on the subject, but the book we are going to be taking a closer look at is one of the best on the topic. This book is so good that when I was a new Christian I asked my pastor what books would he recommend that I read and this work was at the top of that list. After reading it myself I have to concur with my Pastor’s suggestion that this is one of the best books for a young believer to read, so that they can learn how to read the Bible and understand it for themselves more clearly. Without further ado we will take a closer look at How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.
                     In this book you will find thirteen chapters, taking up 250+ pages. Chapter one is a very important chapter because it starts off with the need of interpretation. On the very first page of chapter one, Fee and Stuart make a point that bears repeating, they say, “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.”[1] There are many different reasons why we should avoid uniqueness but the biggest reason is that “unique interpretations are usually wrong.”[2] One of the strongest comments made by these two men in this chapter comes from near the end, they say, “A text cannot mean what it never meant”[3] That is a deeply profound thing to say, it is simple yet so important to remember. We often will want to read more into a text than what was originaly there. Chapter one reminds us that we must pay careful attention to the historical and literary context of whatever text we are reading.
                     Now we move forward to chapter two and deal with the importance of a good translation when we are doing Bible study. This section of the book handles some rather important things that are easily overlooked. For instance, “how often do we consider the background of the text that was translated to create our modern translation?” The answer for must of us is we don’t. Something that the authors spent a little bit of time on was textual criticism, looking at the internal and external evidences. The external evidence has to do with the quality and age of the manuscript that supports a certain variant.[4] And the internal evidence has to do with the copyists and authors.[5]
                     In chapter three we start learning how to interpret the epistles. It is often assumed that these letters are going to be easy to interpret. According to Fee and Stuart, “On the other hand, the “ease” of interpreting epistles can be quite deceptive. This is especially true at the level of hermeneutics.”[6] Something that should be noted is that an epistle is different than a regular letter in that epistles are meant to be read out loud in the public.[7] The authors did a good job in letting the reader understand how the letters are usually formed. There is one letter (1 John) that has none of the formal elements of a letter.[8] While we do not know all of the authors of the NT we can tell most of the occasions for the letters written. “Almost all of the New Testament letters were occasioned from the reader’s side (Philemon and perhaps James and Romans are exceptions.)”[9] There are many different things that need to be done in order to properly understand how to read the epistles. However, “The first thing one must try to do with any of the epistles is to form a tentative but informed reconstruction of the situation that the author is speaking to.”[10]
                     Chapter four continues on the path of the epistles.  Fee and Stuart have what they refer to as the basic rule, which we have mentioned earlier, that a text cannot mean what it was unable to mean to the original hearers. There are several different things that take place when attempting to find the principal of a passage; again we have to remember that we cannot make a principal timeless when it was meant for a specific time. In order for a principle to work it must be “applied to a genuinely comparable situations.”[11]  This chapter was very rich with material that the author could not put into this paper. One last thing that seemed very important was the need “to be able to distinguish within the New Testament itself between principle and specific application.”[12]
                     Old Testament narrative is the topic of chapter five, and we are told, “over 40 percent of the Old Testament is narrative…”[13] This author appreciates how the authors of this work spell out the intent of this chapter from the beginning of it. 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 with greater appreciation for God’s story. You may be asking yourself “What exactly is a narrative?” According to the authors, “Narratives are stories—purposeful stories retelling the historical events of the past that are intended to give meaning and direction for a given people in the present.[14] There are multiple levels in which narrative takes place all the way from the global down to the individual. There are several things to keep in mind that narratives are not. They are not allegories, nor are they intended to be used for moral lessons.  There are four main characteristics to Hebrew narrative: there is the narrator, the scene, the characters, and the dialogue. On page 106 we are given ten principals for interpreting narratives.
                     In the essence of space the author is going to scale back the chapter-by-chapter review. And give more of a general overview of the last several chapters. Chapter six deals with the book of Acts and tells us to handle it in similar fashion of the narrative, well not completely the same way. The next two chapters deal with the Gospels and the parables that take place in those Gospels. In the final chapters of the book there is dealt with the prophets, the law, wisdom, poetry, and the book of Revelation.
                     In this section it is this authors intention to cover very briefly some of the different points that arise throughout this book. One of the first statements that stood out to me had to do with the use of the King James Bible (KJV). Fee and Stuart suggest that, “…for study you should use almost any modern translation rather than the KJV or NKJV”[15] For some people I know this statement would seem heretical, but I fully appreciate it because I have been saying for years that we have better translations available to us than that which was written in 1611.
                     Also, we struggle with many different texts because they were not written for us. Fee and Stuart say, “In many cases the reason the texts are so difficult for us is that, frankly, they were not written for us.”[16] This is a very powerful statement, especially since many Americans often have the mentality that the Bible and all it has to say were written specifically for us. The bigger question we should be asking ourselves, “is why do we tend to think that way?” However, once we come to Scripture with the proper understanding we can then begin to apply things in a more biblical manner.
                     Earlier in this paper there was mention of a basic rule of hermeneutics, now we come across their second rule; “Whenever we share comparable particulars (i.e., similar specific life situations) with the first-century hearers, God’s Word to us is the same as his Word to them.”[17] This is hard to fully understand like Scripture when taken out of context. The authors go on to explain how certain texts give a certain immediacy. But we must beg the question of what things do we have in common with people from the first century?
                     Something that goes along similar lines shows up just  a few pages away in dealing with problems of particulars that are not comparable.  “The problem here has to do with two kinds of texts in the Epistles: those that speak to first-century issues that for the most part are without twenty-first-century counterparts, and those texts that speak to problems that could happen also in the twenty-first century but are highly unlikely to do so.”[18] As was previously stated there are challenges that lie in trying to understand what exactly the authors are trying to say. For what can be grasped is that not every verse is going to have a twenty-first century counterpart especially in principal.  One of those things that we do not run into has to do with the argument over circumcision. I guess you could say that the modern day equivalent would be the mode of baptism. One thing that stood out in my reading that seemed to be of little importance but the authors focused on was the priority of who wrote what Gospel first. And if we are giving opinions this author believes in Matthean priority.
                     This work is a great work. It covers many different aspects of the Bible and what it takes to understand them, it does not sugar coat thing. It takes its time and gives the reader a fair and balanced understanding of the challenges one will face when reading Scripture. While this work has its fair share of things that need to be interpreted it is one of the better works read on the subject. This is a book I would recommend to a new believer as well as a seasoned Christian looking for ways to freshen up their time in the Word.  One nice thing about this work is that it can be used as a reference work, first one should read the first two chapters and then whichever chapter(s) they feel necessary for the work at hand.


Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

            Gordon D.Fee, and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003)17.

[2] Ibid. 18.
[3] Ibid., 30
[4] Ibid., 36.
[5] Ibid. 37.
[6] Ibid., 55.
[7] Ibid., 56.
[8] Ibid., 57.
[9] Ibid., 58.
[10] Ibid., 59.
[11] Ibid., 78.
[12] Ibid., 83.
[13] Ibid., 89.
[14]Ibid., 90.
[15] Ibid., 40.
[16] Ibid., 69.
[17] Ibid., 75.
[18] Ibid., 77.