Date: Jul 26, 2019
Book Critique

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (1993) is a book written by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. The authors made an attempt to improve the reader’s experience and facilitate the process of interpreting the Bible. Fee and Stuart state in the introduction of their book that theologists and other professional interpreters of the Holy Scripture often complicate the words of Christ, so that many believers start thinking that they are not able to understand all the meanings the Bible has.

The book offers a variety of examples with several interpretations and explanations of the interpreting process. These examples help the authors to illustrate the main idea of the work that the Bible should not be understood precisely. The readers need to consider its ideas in a broader context. Such a critical approach to interpreting the Holy Scripture might be efficient in fighting with every day heresy and decrease the widespread critical attitude towards Christians.

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The book is written in a simple, yet academic language, which makes it an understandable guide for unprofessionals and provides theologists and apologists with good information. The ideas expressed by the authors cannot be defined as belonging to a certain confession. They try to use mainly logical thinking method of interpreting the Bible, which makes it a useful source of information about the Holy Scripture for the faithful of all Christian confessions.

Summary and Analysis

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (1993) is divided into logical chapters that study the particular issue from the Bible. For example, it is possible to find the parts about the epistles, the Old Testament, the Gospels, the Psalms, the Prophets or the Revelation. It makes the process of using the book easy because it is possible to find a specific chapter concerning the Bible and it will not be connected with other parts of the book.

According to Fee and Stuart, it is crucial to keep in mind that the Bible has two main important aspects of its interpretation. It consists of historical particularity and eternal relevance, or combines, in other words, a component of communication between people and divine revelation. They state that it is necessary to understand the initial and the original meaning the Bible text had for the contemporaries of those events. After that, it is possible to talk about its significance for modern people with the help of hermeneutic methodology. The authors openly state that the main goal of the book is to teach people to interpret the Bible texts exegetically. It is difficult to argue with their goal because numerous examples of misunderstandings of the Biblical words, in reality, can be found. People often try to follow every minor rule and turn their lives into rituals without understanding the essence of religion. Such behavior might make the lives of those faithful difficult, as well as complicate their communication with other people.

Fee and Stuart focus greatly on translation. There are two main issues that are important in evaluating the Bible text: the linguistic and the textual ones. Linguistic features mainly include the theory of translation and textual issues that are connected with the original text. The authors give a variety of translations to illustrate the differences in interpretations caused by translations. For example, they mention the passage from 1 Corinthians 7:36:

NEB: “If a man has a partner in celibacy and feels that he is not behaving properly towards her . . .”

KJV: “If a man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin . . .”

NIV: “If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to . . .”

NASB: “If a man think that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter . . .”

The translations vividly show that the content depends greatly upon the chosen word for the virgin. There is obviously a big difference between behaving with a daughter and a wife. The previously mentioned example about the translation of the passage from the Corinthians logically supports the theory of textual criticism discussed in the book.

It is also necessary to note that the abbreviations before the variants of translation derive from the names of Bible translations. NASB and KJV belong to formal ones, while NLT and NIV are called functional equivalents, which mean that they aim at interpreting the idea from the Bible and do not try to translate it strictly word by word. For example, according to KJV translation, there is an idiom of “coals of fire” in Rom 12:20, which is not very widespread in the English language. The NIV variant of those “coals of fire” is “burning coals”, which is more appropriate, but still not that literal.

Though, Fee and Stuart emphasize that it is impossible to find an optimal way to translate the Bible texts because each of them has advantages and disadvantages. That is why they propose to use dynamic types of translation like NRSV and TNIV, and referencing as many variants of translation as possible. The authors have a thoroughly elaborated position concerning the translations of the Holy Scripture and express their ideas in a logical and explicit way. It is adequate and the evidence they give support the idea that it is essential to use a variety of translations to understand where the optimal variant is. The argument is clear and flows logically without any contradictions or inconsistencies.

In the third chapter, the authors try to teach readers to evaluate the Biblical discourse in textual units and to think contextually. Fee and Stuart use examples from 1 Corinthians to illustrate the method of contextual thinking. The previously mentioned passage about treating virgins also supports the idea of interpreting textual units. It is crucial to determine the historical context in order to understand the initial meaning of those words. According to the hermeneutics, people percept the text from the point of view of their culture. It is evident that the culture of modern people and one of the times of Jesus differ in many aspects. The authors claim that such a method of interpreting Biblical texts helps to resolve dubious skeptical issues in apologetics.

In the fourth chapter of the book, the problem of hermeneutics is discussed as a more vague branch of interpreting the Holy Scripture than exegesis. In my opinion, Fee and Stuart present a logically elaborated argument that explains the issue thoroughly. The way they start from the most general questions and then continue with explaining particular details makes the narration easy to understand even for the least professional reader.

Another important principle in interpreting Biblical texts is cultural relativity. Fee and Stuart emphasize that there is a general knowledge about morality and transcendent truth, and there are actuals of the first-century culture. The authors note that very often people try to adjust the words from the Bible directly to their life instead of understanding the intent of the initial text. It often leads to the results when the faithful do not understand why they need not plant the seeds of two sorts in one garden, but they still follow this rule.

The authors of the book propose to use the method of finding situations that can be genuinely compared. For example, the readers need to understand the core intent of the initial text and transmit it to the similar contemporary situation. Though, in this case, it is crucial not to go too far from the original message of the Bible. Such controversial issues that originate from differences in cultural contexts were mentioned in the book.

Certain aspects that were mentioned by Fee and Stuart entirely correspond to my point of view. For example, it is right that in the 21st century Christian church does not insist on the “holy kiss” practice or obligatory long hair and head coverings for women, as the Bible prescribes. However, the authors write a lot about the normality of the same-sex partnership based on the same principle of cultural relativity and it is strange for me. I cannot imagine comparing such innocent things like having a short haircut and committing a sin with the person of the same sex. Homosexuality cannot be called one of the major cultural characteristics of our century that needs to be adjusted to the Holy Scripture. Though, it is necessary to note that Fee and Stuart write even about homosexuality very logically and sometimes I start doubting whether they are more right than I am.

The book is a good source of information for those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and the Gospels. The authors write about the layers of context in this aspect. There are many discussions about the chronology of the Gospels. The Gospels often use different timing and do not always describe similar episodes from the life of Jesus. That is why such chronological inconsistency arises doubts whether the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or whether those things really happened.

I totally agree with the idea expressed by Fee and Stuart that it is necessary to start with defining the genre of the text to solve the dubious question. The Gospel is not that genre of writing that supposes strict chronology and historical precision. In addition, the information that was written by the evangelists was transmitted orally and that is why it is possible to assume that the facts were slightly changed.

To start with, the gospel is a story of life and ministry of Jesus that features the parables and ideas he expressed. The material was retold from one person to another, which led to certain changes in style and to differences in the details. The main thing that the Evangelists and then the preachers wanted was to influence the ethos of their audience, so they used the most effective rhetoric devices for the persuasive effect. In addition, those people who listened to the lectures of the Evangelists at the beginning of the Christian era were not always educated and so the narration had to be very simple and easy to understand. The emphasis was made on the subjects that were the touching ones or were related to those simple people. For example, the descriptions of the Passions of Jesus, his sufferings, his miracle cures, and his resurrection. It was the way to tell those people that despite the fact that they are living a miserable life in this world, they will be saved, and will see the Kingdom of God.

Much information can be taken from the language and style that was used in the Gospel. It is possible to analyze the Gospels according to the ways proposed by Fee and Stuart and in the result, the conclusions will be the following. The Gospels differ between each other and it is possible to assume that they were written not in the same period of time. The Gospel of Mark might have been the first one because it is written in the simplest language. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are more literary and describe a kind of the edited version of the life of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark.

Conclusion

Fee and Stuart have made a great work to improve the reader’s experience of the Bible in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (1993). The book is written in a professional academic language and provides readers with information about the Holy Scripture, which makes it a good source of ideas for theologians. At the same time, it is written in a simple style and is divided into logical parts, making it an obligatory guide for all people who are interested in Christianity. The authors try to teach the readers to interpret the Biblical texts contextually, referring to the cultural background and taking into consideration such important questions like differences in translation. These aspects are crucial in the theologian discourse and a guide that is easy for understanding is a valuable book. Despite the fact that I disagree with several ideas expressed in the book, I find it a very helpful source of structured information about the Holy Scripture. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (1993) explains a great number of basic ideas that form the right understanding of faith, in general, and the Bible, in particular. That is why I find it helpful both for the beginners, who just start to learn about Christianity and for those, who already have basic knowledge about it.