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This book is a highly readable and engaging look at the history of biblical interpretation, presented in the form of nine case studies of some of scripture's most difficult texts. Thompson gives a brief overview of how commentators from the early church through the Reformation made sense of such troubling stories and teachings as the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter, the imprecatory psalms, and Paul's words about women's role in the church. The format and purpose of the book do not allow for detailed summaries, but the cumulative effect is sufficient to impress upon the reader the humility to realize that our generation is not the first to recognize the problems and challenges in these passages.
Conversing with the likes of Augustine, Erasmus, and Vermigli about these passages can embolden the modern preacher and teacher to reclaim these texts, often considered too difficult, obscure or embarrassing to explore. And Thompson aids this process by including at the end of each chapter a handful of lessons on how to appropriate these texts in our own day, and on how to read scripture more generally.
By looking at how a wide variety of premodern commentators regarded these particular texts, the reader is also given a helpful overview of these commentators' various theological frameworks, and of the guiding interpretive principles of their ages. Many readers are familiar with the general theological outlooks of heavyweights like Calvin and Luther, but most are unfamiliar with other important figures like Denis the Carthusian, Wolfgang Musculus, and Nicholas Lyra, and this book provides a helpful introduction to these men.Read more ›
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If you couldn't tell from the title, Reading The Bible With The Dead is an interesting as well as informative book. John L. Thompson sets out to examine particularly hard texts in Scripture (those usually left out of lectionary readings) and see what the history of exegetical reflection on these texts can teach us. He is motivated in part to examine texts certain interpreters have expressed dismay over (particularly those of the feminist variety), and see if perhaps we can learn how to navigate these passages in our own 21st century context by looking back at how earlier contexts handled them.
These passages in question are:
The story of Hagar in Genesis The story of Jephthah's daughter in Judges The imprecatory Psalms The patriarchs in Genesis and their "bad behavior" The story of Gomer and Hosea Paul's command in 1 Corinthians 11 The biblical teaching on divorce Paul's teaching about women being silent The stories of sex and violence in the Old Testament (Dinah, Tamar, and Bathsheba) I would imagine these are not most people's typical go-to passages for small group Bible study, much less a sermon series. For each of these problem passages, Thompson engages in a survey of patristic, medieval, and reformation biblical interpreters to see how they dealt with the issues. Not every interpreter makes every chapter, but the most frequent "guest" interpreters invited by Thompson to weigh in are a few of the usual suspects: Calvin, Luther, Augustine. Perhaps lesser known to mainstream audiences, but cited just as much by Thompson, are Ambrose, Bullinger, Bucer, Denis the Carthusian, Nicholas of Lyra, and Peter Martyr Vermigli.Read more ›
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The author wants you to become familiar with the great scholars and fathers of the church's past so that the weight of the entire church's reflection can be felt upon your preaching. I think in principle that this is a good idea. Thompson takes some of the more puzzling passages of scripture (Hosea marrying a prostitute, Abraham and Sarah sending away Hagar and Ishmael after they created the problem to begin with, women not being able to speak in church, divorce and remarriage in the Bible, Jephthah's daughter being offered up as a burnt sacrifice, violence toward women in Scripture, etc). The author then gives us the reflections of Origen, Tertullian, Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Bucer, Augustine and others.
The book is fascinating, but the interpretations of these passages are often allegorical or far-fetched or off the beaten path, and part of the reason is because the early church fathers didn't have access to the historical and cultural background that sheds light on the meaning of the passages. For example, the early fathers didn't know that both animals and people would have lived in Jephthah's house, they didn't know that Hosea marrying a prostitute was an example of a prophet acting out what God was doing with His people (something we see in Ezekiel 3-4).
Moreover, most of the patristic fathers didn't interpret these passages in theological context. For example, the weird and the wacky stories in Judges fits in with the overall theme of the book (without God, people do stupid things, or better put, The failures and foibles of God's people show how much we need God's Word and God's Guidance).
I realize how this going to sound to some people "Only the new is true. We are much more enlightened and knowledgeable today.Read more ›