List price: |
Average customer rating:
4.5 out of 5
ISBN/ASIN : 0862019745
Manufacturer : Scripture Union Publishing|
Release data : 1994
A selection of product reviews
Excellent Guide to Understanding the Bible
`How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth' by New Testament professor, Gordon D. Fee and Old Testament professor, Douglas Stuart is a book everyone should read, if their intention in reading the Bible is understanding both the original inspirations and contemporary applications these scriptures. I suggest this book with trepidation, because there are a number of other recent books on the subject which I have not yet read. However, I bring to this my own experiences in teaching adult Bible study classes to the book, and I find great agreement with my own discoveries.
The authors are modest in their thumbnail biographies. Dr. Fee, for one, is not only a well-known professor and author on New Testament studies; he is also the general editor for `The New International Commentary on the New Testament' series, one of the better series of Bible Commentaries, especially for the lay student.
One thing I must point out for the Bible readers who profess one of the more conservative Christian confessions is that `critical' Bible study is not at all antagonistic to one's faith. The authors themselves are superb exemplars of this fact, since both are devout Christians, and have approach the Bible with reverence, accepting it as writings inspired by the Holy Spirit. What one must deal with is the fact that the inspired authors lived in a world 2000 years ago, dealing with many problems which are totally alien to our day, writing in languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) with markedly different ways of saying things than modern English (or modern German, French, Spanish, and Latin for that matter). On top of this, we not only don't have the original writings, what we have is based on a jigsaw puzzle of (by some estimates) over 300,000 documents in Greek, Coptic, Syriac, and Latin, and that's just the New Testament.
Of course, the first subject is on the matter of English translations of the Bible. There may be some surprises here. There were for me. For example, we read here that the venerable King James Version was based only on late medieval texts. These sources were inaccurate and misleading in many places. And, it is not at all surprising that there is no single modern translation the authors recommend. Rather, they recommend that when doing serious study, you consult at least two different translations. Fortunately, there are at least two or three very good modern `functionally equivalent' translations, where the English is crafted to say, as closely as possible, exactly what is `meant' by the source language. This is the translation we typically use. `Formally equivalent' translations such as those you find in interlinear texts, intend to translate literally, word for word. These do not work well for lay study, as there is no effort whatsoever to accommodate the translation of idioms and unusual tenses which have no correlation in natural English. On the other hand, `interpreted' or `free' translations build interpretation into the translation, so we are giving up much of the very task we seek to accomplish by studying the scriptures. Basically, a good translation hides the details of archeological and lexical research which went into creating the modern texts. This leaves two intellectual activities for us.
The first is `exegesis', or determining what it was the scriptural authors were saying to their readers (or, more likely, listeners) of 2000 to 2800 years ago. This requires just a bit of research into historical contexts and the objectives of the authors. For example, Paul's letter to the Romans becomes a bit more understandable if we know when it was written and the fact that the Jews of Rome had been expelled a few years before by the emperor Claudius. For this task, the authors recommend using Bible dictionaries or Encyclopedias, of which there are many.
The second task is hermeneutics, or deciding how to apply the lessons for the ancients to modern problems. For example, in Luke and in other synoptic gospels, there is the pericope of the slave who remains vigilant through the night awaiting his master. Slavery was a fact of life in the ancient world, and Jesus' seeming to condone the practice is simply a reflection of his living as a human in these times. The lesson remains, even when one removes the immoral institution of slavery.
The authors assist us in both tasks by providing separate chapters for each major type of writing in the scriptures. These general types are the NT Epistles, the Gospels, OT narratives, Acts, the Prophets, the Psalms, the Pentateuch, the wisdom writings, and Revelations. There is also a special chapter on New Testament parables, which are often not as straightforward as one may think on first reading. My favorite example here is the parable of the good Samaritan, which works on at least three different levels, two of which are hidden by historical facts about both Samaria and teachings in the Torah. Each author has written the chapters which fall into their specialty, but both authors have contributed to all chapters. And, each chapter ends with general study questions. Since the questions are not about one specific book (except for Acts and Revelations), they are great sources of Bible study direction for a whole year spend on, for example, the Wisdom books, the Psalms, or Paul's letters.
One of the best resources in this book is its critical bibliography. My only complaint about this is that there are so many good commentaries; some will invariably be missed, as with their missing Joseph Fitzmyer's authoritative commentary on Luke. Another minor critical observation is that the book does not give quite enough attention to good study Bibles, especially the HarperCollins Study Bible and the New Oxford Study Bible. And, it may be worth noting that a good second translation by be a literal interlinear translation, with a third being the translation done by the author of the commentary you use. In fact, I would suggest you seek out commentaries with independent translations.
Outstanding single-volume tool for deeper Bible study
This book is a wonderful introduction to reading the Bible beyond the devotional level. Many Christian colleges and seminaries use this book as an introductory textbook for biblical exegesis courses, which is a testimony to both its substance and readability. Fee and Stuart do a fine job here of writing a book that is scholarly yet easily digestable. I highly recommend this book for anyone is seeking to become more than a casual Bible reader.
Recommend (with reservations and supplementation)
In my opinion, academic scholars who write books for a lay audience do a great favor for the greater Christian community; they translating and apply the knowledge from the ivory towers of the academy is not accessible for most audiences into useful resources for the edification of the saints. In essence, they are translators, but not of the Bible, but of biblical knowledge. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is such a resource, written by two renowned seminary professors; it provides a good introduction to exegesis and hermeneutics for the everyday Christian.
The greatest strength and main emphasis of the book is clearly laid out in the structure of the book. The Bible is composed of many different books that are of different genres. Understanding how to interpret each genre is crucial for exegesis of particular texts. The genres that are dealt with in particular include epistles, narratives, gospels, parables, acts, laws, prophets, psalms, wisdom, revelation, etc. There is also a discussion of translations as well as an appendix of suggested commentaries.
As a whole, the book accomplishes well its purpose of exposing Christians to the literary generic nature of Scripture. However, on both the greater macro-scale as well as the detailed micro-scale, there is room for improvement.
While it is important to see the Bible as composed on different genres, there are also many other hermeneutics principles that are not addressed. For example, the authors could expound more on how to interpret this text as the Word of God with the help of the Holy Spirit. Or even more importantly, what is the whole Bible about as a whole and the unity of the entirety of scripture from a historical-redemptive purpose. What are principles of exegesis in general? What are presuppositions that we bring and must submit as we approach Scripture? While I am aware that a small limited volume could not cover everything, an introduction to hermeneutics should explore not only the genres but more general principles of Biblical hermeneutics, presuppositions, and grand Biblical theological themes and unities the whole of Scripture.
On the particulars, Fee and Stuart boldly addresses many controversial issues - such as the place of women in ministry, whether the Holy Spirit still works in miracles today, or the place of the Old Testament law in our modern (perhaps post-modern) word. While I applaud their engagement of these texts and issues, a primer on hermeneutics does not provide enough room for detailed examination of these texts and the resulting interpretations are often one-sided. Perhaps because I differ from the authors in these issues, I see these sections seem to be soap-boxes for the authors to present their view (as I myself get off my own soap-box). Many of these issues are not simple exegetic or hermeneutic issues; scholars with careful scrutiny of these texts have continued to differ about the correct interpretation of these passages. However, Drs. Fee and Staurt seem to suggest that if one get the right context and generic background, all the problems are solved and there is a clear stance on these issues. This book is not the magic bullet for Biblical interpretation as it presents itself. Perhaps the authors should have examined and used as examples texts that are often misunderstood and not as controversial. Nonetheless, I am sure if they followed my advice, they will be criticized for avoiding the controversial passages. However, it is important to note that this book is read by many without much knowledge and training in the Scriptures and would easily just buy any of the arguments presented in the book without much critical thought (since they do not present any of the arguments on the other side).
As a whole, I would recommend this book to new believers, perhaps along with Knowing Scripture by RC Sproul (or Longman's excellent introduction). I personally have given this book as a gift and will continue to do so. However, it is important to note that teaching about the doctrine of Scripture will be much benefit to accompany this book.