197 of 210 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2004
Numbers don't tell the whole story, but the fact that _How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth_ has sold more than half a million copies and is now in its third edition should say something about its utility to neophyte Bible students. I sure could have used this book five years ago when I first began reading the Bible in order to understand it. No use crying over spilt milk though. A late arrival is better than a no-show!
The significance of co-authorship on this book is simply due to the fact that Drs. Douglas Stuart (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) and Gordon Fee (Regent College) specialize in Old and New Testament studies respectively. If the label evangelical has any meaning left today, then Stuart and Fee fall under that rubric. This is implicitly evident from their stance on the nature of Scripture (2003, pp. 21-3), which they affirm as God's word spoken through human words in history.
The title of the book leaves little ambiguity as to what it is; it's a how-to book on understanding the Bible. Surely anyone with an inkling of interest in the Bible has experienced the inherent difficulty in understanding the Bible. Stuart and Fee work to minimize this - both the experience and the associated frustration.
_How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth_ is written with the layperson in mind. At every turn, Stuart and Fee make sure and define their terms, thus making for an informative yet pleasurable read. They deal with every major section of Scripture such as the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Wisdom Literature, the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Revelation. The approach taken to each section is more or less the same. The focus is first on exegesis and then on hermeneutics. Exegesis has to do with the "then and there," of the Bible's content. Hermeneutics, as Stuart and Fee use the term, has to do with the "here and now," of the Bible's message. Stuart and Fee explain their dual approach at the outset:
...we have two tasks: First, our task is to find out what the text originally meant; this is called exegesis. Second, we must learn to hear that same meaning in the variety of new or different context of our own day; we call this second task hermeneutics. In its classical usage, the term "hermeneutics" covers both tasks, but in this book we consistently use it only in this narrower sense. (2003, p. 15)
One of the keywords in _How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth_ is guidelines. In their book, Stuart and Fee are not setting out to promulgate a partisan approach to understanding the Bible that requires specialized assumptions within evangelicalism. Instead, they come across as having a genuine concern for the beginning Bible student and seek to point him or her in the right direction with general guidelines. They freely admit on more than one occasion that they do not expect every reader to agree with their particular take on a given point.
As someone with a couple years of serious Bible study under my belt, I think it is worth pointing out a couple of chapters, which I found immensely helpful: (1) Acts: The Question of Historical Precedent, (2) The Parables: Do You Get the Point?, and (3) The Law(s): Covenant Stipulations for Israel. The chapter on historical precedent put into words something that I have been ruminating over for some time now, that is, the caveat that a practice as described in a narrative is not ipso facto normative and, therefore, binding. The chapter on parables forever settled an issue that I was confused about, namely, the nature of Jesus' parables. They may be semi-allegorical at times, but never pure allegory. Lastly, the chapter on the Law is so informative! Stuart gives the big picture of the Old Testament in such a helpful way.
I'm sure there are many helpful books out there on how to read the Bible in a fruitful way. All I will say here is that, provided you are a conservative Christians, you won't go wrong with this book. (I consider that an understatement, by the way.) There is a lot of content to be digested, however. Commit yourself to read this book a few times over.
PS: If you haven't a clue what commentary to purchase when studying one of the books of the Bible, you'll find the appendix handy. A list of recommended commentaries is offered on every single book of the Bible.
66 of 68 people found the following review helpful
Some people will get very upset with the title, because after all, for the true believer, all you need is the Bible itself, right?
Well, no. For one thing the Bible itself tells you that you need the Holy Spirit to help understand, so there is that.
But you also need to study to show yourself approved, meditate and approach it in a humble matter. The Bible was written over 2,000 years ago and in some portions even far longer. It is possible, just possible mind you, that there have been changes in language and culture that require some work on the reader's part to understand what is being said the same way a hearer of that message would have understood it in their day.
That is where this book comes into play. This is both a good introductory text for the student who wants to enter into the realms of textual, historical, redactive, literary etc criticism. It is also written to be at the level of the average layman who wants to understand more for their own study and growth.
Evangelical Christians often get very nervous about this type of book. They see much that has served to diminish the Bible over the years as coming from the "liberal" religious, academic camps as seeking to diminish what the Bible plainly says.
As delicately as I can state it ...... Evangelicals need to get over it and enter the field themselves. If the Bible is true, it must be true enough to stand tough scrutiny. The opinion of this reviewer is that it does stand that scrutiny, but as a student of the Bible you must expect over time that your understanding will change and grow. That is called discipleship and growth. It's a good thing!
This book, better than most, comes to the Bible and maintains an attitude of respect toward the text itself consistent with what Evangelicals believe with regard to inspiration while introducing the student or curious Christian as to how to study the Bible and get more out of it that you ever did before.
Where great commentaries give you fish, this book teaches you how to fish and feed yourself intellectually and spiritually from the Bible.
Don't be threatened by it. It is a good thing!
This is very worthwhile book for those who see the Bible as spiritually unique and also helpful for the student who simply wants to know how to understand it better.
55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
This is the foundational understanding that everyone should know before studying the Bible. Although it is written in an easy to understand style it is still full of very valuable information. For example, people often ask why there are so many different translations of the Bible. The authors do an excellent job of showing the complications and difficulties of translating and how different versions of a verse could each be just as viable as an accurate translation.
The authors also deal with the problems of interpretation, exegesis, historical and cultural context and literary conventions of the time. They look at the narrative style of the Old Testament and its function as well as Acts, the various parables, prophets, psalms, wisdom literature, and the revelation. You may not agree with every aspect of their treatment of the various books and literary styles, but this is the best treatment of the problems of translation and interpretation that I have come across to date. "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth" is highly recommend for anyone interested in Bible translation or interpretation.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2004
I've only begun to use this book, but it has already proved to be a solid guide into right interpretation of Biblical texts. Stuart and Fee provide necessary rules for exegesis (drawing out the original meaning) rooted in the author's and audience's context and, more uniquely, the literary style (e.g. narrative, poetry, epistle, gospel, etc.).
My cons: (1) Fee and Stuart strongly endorse the TNIV and NIV as their top translations, with the NRSV and NASB next. While the NIV and and TNIV are more readable and tend to bridge contexts well, they don't allow as much access to the original text as does the NASB, ESV, or even the NRSV. The authors even endorse the NAB and GNT, the latter of which is heavily paraphrased to near uselessness for any serious Bible student. I wonder if this may be because Zondervan (who owns the rights to the NIV and TNIV) also publishes this book. (2) No other how-to's of exegesis are given, such as how to trace the author's flow of thought or how to gain some access the original languages in interpretation. For information on these, please check out John Piper's pamphlet on "Biblical Exegesis" and Kay Arthur's "How to Study Your Bible".
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2006
This is a no-nonsense, conservative approach to interpreting the Bible, focusing on what the Bible meant to the ancient audience as a springboard to what it means now. We have a tendency, at least I do, to do hermeneutics (what the Bible means to us) prior to exegesis (what the Bible meant originally). This book makes it clear that we are being copied on ancient literature, and that we have to be sure of what we are reading. Also, some of it is not even meant for direct application, like the book of Acts; even though many first time events took place then, it is not meant to be normative for the church of all time. In a word, the book appeals to a much less self-absorbed approach to studying the Bible.
The book is written in a dry, textbook, academic fashion. I was slightly bothered by that, but got over it when I saw all the good information it contained. It vaguely reminded me of a book by F.F. Bruce called 'The Canon of Scripture': not much fun, but very informative. It was a little like attending a college class taught by a professor who never smiles!
The important thing, however, is the valuable information presented. Even though I've been reading the Bible a long time, I learned some basic principles that I will start using right away. For that reason, it is a worthy study.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
An older revision of this was one of my Bible College textbooks in the early 1980's. It's way better now...and it was very good then. For example, Fee gives clear minded, thoughtful approaches to every type of literature (genre) in the bible.
So many times as a pastor I hear someone make a statement about the meaning of a bible passage which is not what the passage is really about..only what they think it means. Fee basically helps people think through what the author of the passage meant for the readers it was actually written to...before we try to discern principles that apply to us.
This is great for people who often say...'I feel it means'...because he gives sound common sense principles for understanding the bible. It should be required reading for church leaders and pastors. I also recommend it's companion, How to read the bible book by book. It's excellent as well....showing how to apply the principles from this book in every book of the bible. Finally, another book in this field worth reading is "Let The Reader Understand" by Clayton/McCartney
If you write sermons, check out NT Exegesis by Fee.
I hope you get this one and carefully read it and apply it to your life. You will be blessed if you do!
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is the best book I have encountered on the subject of biblical interpretation for the casual or semi-casual reader. It tackles a lot of difficult and potentially controversial subjects in a way that is comprehensible to almost any English speaker with a desire to learn.
The recurrent theme of the book is that a passage should be read and re-read to obtain the literary context (context in the bible). This alone, if acted upon, is worth the entrance price of the book. They also stress the need for the historic context which is an understanding of the times and customs of the people.
The negative remarks in the other reviewers and my own reason for dropping to four stars is that the authors deliberately or otherwise reveal their own preferences for interpretation in a number of areas - and most people will find at least one or two to object to.
I am going to mention a few just in case they are 'deal breakers' for you:
a) Their section on translations favors the use of translations that resolve ambiguity in the underlying languages. This resolution essentially relies upon a trust of the bible reader with the translation team in question. -IF- you have that degree of trust then you may well accept their preference for NIV or TNIV. Their suggestion that everyone should study using more than one translation for reference is also a useful concept. Their derisory handling of the KJV and NKJV will annoy some however.
b) Their handling of the New Testament epistles is based upon the concept that precedent does not imply a given action either may or should occur today. This essentially 'removes' a significant amount of doctrinal teaching from the epistles.
c) In Revelation they clearly favor a fulfillment of the majority of the prophecies in the first 400 years. This is obviously contrary to the pre-tribulation, pre-millenial teaching of many churches in the US
d) Withing the Old Testament narratives (and indeed New Testament ones) there is a strong push towards finding the 'main point' of a passage and then skipping the details as 'incidental'. I suspect this is a (valid) push against some extremely baroque allegoric interpretational systems; however it does feel a little odd in the context of "...for all it's worth"
I have highlighted just a few points. I have had to study this book in depth and my website has a number of papers discussing some of the specific points that the author raise in some depth.
The bottom line: I think this book ought to be read; if it forces you to think through what you believe and how you approach your bible study then it will have been worth doing. I do NOT recommend assuming that everything they say -has- to be right.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2007
By far the very best book I have ever read about the crucial subject on how to interpret the Bible for all it's word. This book is worth its wight in gold! It is very much on the ball on top of it and it even defends itself from the hypocrisy of the intellectuals that say there is no God. Once you put your mind to it and practice all the exercises given you will know exactly what the Bible or Mighty God is saying, why, to who, but most important, how it applies to you! If you are seriously considering, truly knowing, how to read the Scriptures for your self, PLEASE purchase this book, and you, like I will not be able to put it down!
33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Originally published in 1981 and now in its third edition, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart's How to Read the Bible for All its Worth asserts that the Bible is meant to be read by everyone and not simply scholars, seminarians, and professional clergy. Rather, the Bible is accessible to scholar and layperson alike who would seek to spend time in the Scriptures and comprehend their meaning. This readable book focuses on understanding the genre a particular part of Scripture is part of as the basis of understanding the intended meaning. The book addresses everything from the need to interpret and good Bible translations to the historicity of the Book of Acts and the multiple views of the Gospels and even the Book of Revelation. As an appendix, a very useful evaluation and use of commentaries is included.
Dr. Fee is the author of many books and is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. Fee, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, comes from a Pentecostal background. Fee is a strong supporter of gender equality in biblical translation and serves on the Board of Reference of Christians for Biblical Equality. Dr. Stuart is currently Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where he has served since 1971. Dr. Stuart attended Yale Divinity School before graduating with the Ph.D. from Harvard University. Stuart is also one of two pastors of serving Linebrook Church in Ipswich, MA handling most of the preaching duties. The two men served on the faculty of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary together until Fee's departure for Regent College in 1986.
Fee and Stuart begin simply enough by describing the need for biblical interpretation stating that the aim of good interpretation is not uniqueness. Rather, good interpretation should get at the plain meaning of the text. Of course, there is more to this than simply reading the words contained in Scripture. The nature of scripture and the reader as an interpreter both serve to complicate what Fee and Stuart acknowledge should be simple. To consider interpretation simple they state is both naïve and unrealistic. The importance of understanding how the Scriptures were understood by those who originally heard them cannot be overstated. Closely related to this is the literary context of Scripture. The authors rightly state that the starting point of interpretation is exegesis followed by hermeneutics going so far as to state that hermeneutics must be controlled by proper exegesis.
Fee and Stuart follow their opening chapter with a lengthy discussion of the importance of a good translation of the Bible from the best available manuscripts. On full display is their enthusiastic endorsement of the use of dynamic equivalence in biblical translation over formal equivalence. The authors firmly state that in situations where something is unclear in the receptor language from the original language, clarity in the receptor language should take priority as this is precisely the point of translating in the first place. Fee and Stuart do state that more than one translation should be used for Bible study and acknowledge value in both formal equivalence and free translations such as The Message in assisting in the basic understanding of Scripture. Having made a sort of affirmative statement concerning other biblical translation methods, the vast majority of the twenty pages in this chapter are seemingly intended to make a strong case for dynamic equivalence in general and for the use of the New International Version (NIV), Today's New International Version (TNIV), and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) specifically.
To emphasize the importance of understanding Scripture in context, Fee and Stuart go on to spend most of the book discussing the various literary genres such as the epistles, narratives, poetry, history, prophesy, and even apocalyptic. The emphasis on genre serves the authors and their readers well. For example, to simply read a Pauline epistle without understanding that the letter is conditioned by the first century setting in which it was written can lead the reader to either assume there is nothing relevant to the modern day Christian therein or something much worse, an incorrect understanding of the meaning of many of those passages.
Narratives are stories that retell historical events and are meant to provide meaning to people in the present. The authors point out that in the case of biblical narratives, rather than telling a general story, these portions of the Bible are telling God's story becoming ours as God "writes: us into it. Fee and Stuart are clear in stating that narratives are not to be confused with allegory. Narrative is often told in a way in which the teller of the story and those hearing it share the same presuppositions. Thus the details the narrator may have taken for granted in telling the story are precisely the details interpreters should seek to discover. The job of the interpreter is to read out of the narrative rather than read into it.
In the case of biblical poetry, Fee and Stuart remind their readers that Hebrew poetry is intentionally emotive and warn against finding special meaning where none was intended by the authors. The writers of Hebrew poetry also were intentional in their use of metaphors in their writing. As such, it is important to make this distinction and not take the meaning of those metaphors literally. With prophetic writings, Fee and Stuart point out that from the viewpoint of the ancient Israelites, the prophets were pointing to events yet to come but for the modern reader those events have already come to pass.
Dr. Fee's service as the editor of the New International Commentary series and on the NIV review committee is on full display in How to Read the Bible for All its Worth. Considering his work in these areas, there is little surprise in his strong support of dynamic equivalence and the Bible translations that result from this method of translation. While endorsing the TNIV, NIV, and NRSV specifically, Fee and Stuart state that the use of a good formal equivalence translation as a second source for study is useful to give the reader confidence as to what the original Hebrew and Greek looked like. This seems to contradict the assertion concerning the superiority of dynamic equivalence. If Fee and Stuart truly find formal equivalence translations useful, their support should be more evident than a passing sentence or two. This also begs the question: why would someone employing a dynamic equivalence translation such as those preferred by the authors need to be reassured as to what the original Hebrew and Greek looked like?
The authors' discussion of the Apostle Paul's use of Old Testament passages metaphorically in 1 Corinthians 10:4 revealing a second meaning of Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13 labors to stop short of bemoaning Paul's use of passages in a way other than the plain meaning they find abundantly clear in the original contexts. It is as if Fee and Stuart are forced to concede that the Holy Spirit may use Scripture in any manner which He might see fit disregarding the rules of men.
While acknowledging, albeit begrudgingly, the existence of this sensus plenior, Fee and Stuart then go to great lengths to explain that while the Holy Spirit may use Scripture in this manner, it is inappropriate for men to do the same. It would seem interpreting the Old Testament with the New Testament in mind is something Fee and Stuart are quite uncomfortable with. It would also seem that Fee and Stuart would prefer to use textual criticism to explain away part of the biblical text with which they find fault yet are unable to do so.
Fee and Stuart are certainly well qualified to present a guide to biblical interpretation. Now in its third edition, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth is beneficial to the readers who seek to deepen their understanding of biblical hermeneutics. The approach taken by Fee and Stuart is both thorough and comprehensive; so much so that this is not a book for one new to biblical hermeneutics. Fee and Stuart seemingly approach their work with the assumption that the reader has had some experience with biblical interpretation. Given the audience that may acquire such a book, this is not surprising and should in no way be a negative reflection upon the authors.
How to Read the Bible for All its Worth is profitable for study by men and women of all denominational and theological backgrounds. That said caveat emptor! The reader should understand the theological leanings of the authors before determining whether or not to use their book. Dr. Fee and Dr. Stuart approach their work from a more liberal point of view than certainly this seminarian is accustomed to. Still, understanding differing approaches to hermeneutics is a good thing both for the student and cause for Christ.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2006
Fee, G.D. Stuart, D. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. 287 pages.
This is the toolbox I'd like to place in the hands of every seminary student. It's a through guide to exegesis with sensitivity to the dynamics of the various genres of literature, noting the distinguishing characteristics of the epistles, the Old Testament narratives, Acts, the Gospels, the parables in particular, the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, Wisdom literature and Revelation. For each, the authors tell the student of Scripture what to look for and what to avoid for interpretation and application.
The first two chapters seem to be an overbearing advertisement for Today's New International Version of the Bible, which sparked controversy among some right-wing Christians by updating the gender specific language of humanity. However, these authors seem to almost unilaterally think that the interpretation of TNIV was more intellectually sound.
That out of the way, they proceed to take us through the various genres of Scripture, looking first at the historical and literary contexts of each, and then walk us through the hermeneutical questions of application. They define a number of subtle missteps we could take, overextending our application to the text to situations that are not exactly parallel in another culture. We run the risk of: allegorizing, decontextualizing, selectivity, moralizing, personalizing, misappropriation (using the text for purposes other than what the text says), false appropriation (reading current issues into the text), false combination (finding points from combining separate texts), and redefinition (applying a text to a modern situation to make it more exciting) (p. 102-3). The two key rules to keep in mind are that 1) the text cannot mean other than what it meant to the original author and hearers, and 2) comparable modern particulars bear application of that specific text (p. 74-5).
Of particular interest were a few random gems. The do's and don'ts of interpreting Old Testament Law on p. 180 should be distributed during any sermon on the subject. I've never seen the clear division of types of utterance in the Prophetic literature: the lawsuit, the woe, the promise, the enactment prophecy, the messenger speech, the poet (p. 195-7). I take issue with the claim that the Old Testament narratives were not intended to teach moral lessons (p. 92). I think this flies in the face of exactly what story-telling does. What the authors do particularly well is to break into subtle distinctions the activity of hermeneutics and the categories of the text. Such analysis creates a healthy structure from which to work.
The only problem with the text is that it is so thorough that I found some of it to be an overstatement of the obvious. Their caution about application of the book of Acts and Revelation seemed geared to a conservative, charismatic audience, and maybe even to views that would be held by the uneducated, who probably won't read a book like this anyway. It presumes an intellectual interest in interpreting Scripture but does not assume a moderate level of common sense on the reader's part. Thus, perhaps, there's really just too much information here. A more critical modern reader might also raise questions about this modernist approach to interpretation in the wake of deconstruction. Consequently, though I like the book, I would have to be selective about to whom I recommended it.