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A responsible approach to Bible-reading

I get increasingly concerned at the abysmal ignorance of the Bible displayed by so many Christians today. Many never get beyond skimming a verse or two for a ‘blessed thought’ to see them through the day, and there’s a good chance they will pull it out of context and make it mean something the author never intended. If you yourself want to treat the Scriptures a bit more responsibly—and I hope you do—I strongly recommend: How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart (Third edition, Zondervan, 2003, ISBN 9780310246046).

The authors are both biblical scholars of established rank, but they have a happy knack of being able to express themselves in simple language. In this book they offer some guiding principles for understanding the Bible as a whole and for interpreting different genres within it: the Law, the OT narratives, the prophetic books, the gospels, the parables, the epistles etc.

If you own Logos Bible Software the book is also available in electronic format to fit seamlessly with your system.


The first task of the interpreter is called exegesis. Exegesis is the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning. This is basically a historical task. It is the attempt to hear the Word as the original recipients were to have heard it, to find out what was the original intent of the words of the Bible. (p23)

Recognizing that the English of the KJV was no longer a living language—and thoroughly dissatisfied with its modern revision (RSV/NRSV)—it was decided by some to “update” the KJV by ridding it of its “archaic” way of speaking. But in so doing, the NKJV revisers eliminated the best feature of the KJV (its marvelous expression of the English language) and kept the worst (its flawed text). This is why for study you should use almost any modern translation rather than the KJV or the NKJV. (p40)

The big issue among Christians committed to Scripture as God’s Word has to do with the problems of cultural relativity—what is cultural and therefore belongs to the first century alone and what transcends culture and is thus a Word for all seasons. (p71)

Just because someone in a Bible story did something, it does not mean you have either permission or obligation to do it, too. (p105)

Unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is only narrated or described does not function in a normative (i.e. obligatory) way—unless it can be demonstrated on other grounds that the author intended it to function in this way. (p118)

In some ways to interpret a parable is to destroy what it was originally. It is like interpreting a joke. The whole point of a joke and what makes it funny is that the hearer has an immediacy with it as it is being told. (p152)

The introduction, “The kingdom of God is like.…” is not to be taken with the first element mentioned in the parable. That is, the kingdom of God is not like a mustard seed, or treasure hidden in a field, or a merchant. The expression literally means, “It is like this with the kingdom of God.…” Thus the whole parable tells us something about the nature of the kingdom, not just one of the points of reference or one of the details. (p158)

The Canaanites believed in what is called sympathetic magic, the idea that symbolic actions can influence the gods and nature. They thought that boiling a goat kid in its mother’s milk would magically ensure the continuing fertility of the flock. Mixing animal breeds, seeds, or materials was thought to “marry” them so as magically to produce “offspring,” that is, agricultural bounty in the future. (p179)

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to read any of the longer prophetic books through in one sitting? Why do you suppose this is? Primarily, we think, because they were probably not intended to be read that way. For the most part these longer books are collections of spoken oracles not always presented in their original chronological sequence, often without hints as to where one oracle ends and another begins and often without hints as to their historical setting. And most of the oracles were spoken in poetry! (p183)

By failing to balance proverbs against one another and against the rest of Scripture (let alone common sense) people can do themselves and others great injustice. (p237)

The Revelation is God’s Word of comfort and encouragement to Christians who suffer, especially believers who suffer at the hands of the state, precisely because they are Christians. God is in control. The slain Lamb has triumphed over the dragon (Rev 12:7–12). (p262)

And while you’re at it with this fine volume, why not take a look at a related book by the same two authors: How To Read The Bible Book By Book (Zondervan, 2002, ISBN 0-310-21118-2). This one takes the principles outlined in the other book and applies them to each of the Bible’s 66 books. Here, in fact, is an outline Bible or mini-commentary of immense value.

And it’s available for Logos Bible Software—which in my view is definitely the best program of its kind. It is now in Version 5. If you dig into the Word with any regularity Logos is a hugely worthwhile investment. But it’s not just Bibles; it has over 10,000 other books and theological journals, purchasable separately online and instantly downloadable, that fit into the system.

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