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Liberty Theological Seminary

Critique on How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

A Paper Submitted to Dr. J. David Stark In Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the course Hermeneutics NBST 652

By Baskin, Deborah M. 21 July 2012

2 INTRODUCTION Gordon D. Fee received his BA and MA from Seattle Pacific University and a PhD from the University of Southern California.1 He has had a distinguished career in academia teaching at Regent College, Wheaton College, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.2 Fee has authored many books and articles on New Testament criticism, and commentaries on First and Second Timothy, Titus, Galatians, First Corinthians, and Philippians, and some major works on the Holy Spirit, and the Person of Christ.3 Currently he is the general editor of the New International Commentary series, and he serves on the NIV revision committee that produced the TNIV.4 Fee is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God.5 Douglas Stuart holds a BA from Harvard University, attended Yale Divinity School for two years, and received his PhD from Harvard University.6 He is a scholar of the Old Testament and is prolific in languages, both modern and ancient.7 He has published articles in major journals, anthologies and magazines.8 He is professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is active in several organizations, serving as co-chair of the Old Testament Colloquium for the Boston Theological Institute.9 How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, written by these two gifted Biblical scholars, was first published in 1981 and is now in its third edition. The main premise of the book is to show any Christian how to correctly and effectively read the Bible. Fee and Stuart asserted that by
“Faculty/03/retired,” Regent College, http://www.regent-college.edu/faculty/retired/gordon-d-fee (accessed July 21, 2012). 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid. 6 “Academic,” Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, http://www.gordonconwell.edu/academics/viewfaculty-member.cfm?faculty_id=15891&grp_id=8946 (accessed July 20, 2012). 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid.
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3 applying a few essential insights into studying the Bible many misconceptions could be eliminated.10 This book explained and illustrated how one can profit in a clearer understanding of the scripture by utilizing some achievable strategies set forth in the text. Fee and Stuart wrote this book with both the laity and the clergy in mind. The vernacular and the syntax make it user friendly for people of any education level. It is in a logical structure that allows the reader to follow the authors’ thought processes with ease. This critique will give a succinct summary, followed by an analysis of a few salient ideas presented in the book, and concludes with a few practical applications acquired from its contents. SUMMARY OF BOOK How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is comprised of thirteen chapters. Chapter one stated, “The test of good interpretation is that it makes good sense of the text.”11 Two elements that complicate unpacking the meaning of the scripture include both the reader as the interpreter and the nature of the Scripture. Good translators consider the differences in language (i.e., the word flesh as used in the Old Testament compared to its usage in the New Testament) and recognize that the Bible is both human and divine.12 It is divine in that God’s Word has eternal relevance; therefore, it speaks to all mankind and every time period and culture.13 The human element is evident in the transmission of the message through human language.14 In order for finite man to begin to understand the infinite message of God, good exegesis and good hermeneutics are essential. To accomplish this, one must “learn to read the text carefully and to

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2003), back cover. 11 Ibid., 18. 12 Ibid., 20-21. 13 Ibid., 21. 14 Ibid.

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4 ask the right questions of the text.”15 In the first task of exegesis, one considers the historical and literary context and the question of content. Also, included in the requirements of good exegesis would be resources such as a good translation, Bible commentaries, and Bible dictionaries.16 Hermeneutics, defined by Fee and Stuart, is “to ask the questions about the Bible’s meaning in the here and now.”17 In chapter two, Fee and Stuart tackle the question of which is the best type of translation one should use in Bible study. First, they acknowledge the problems associated with the actual science of translation that includes: 1) the original language, 2) the receptor language, and 3) the historical distance.18 Briefly explained are a few types of different methods of Bible translation: 1) formal equivalence, 2) functional equivalence, and 3) free translation.19 Fee and Stuart do state that more than one type of translation should be utilized during Bible study; however, the bulk of their argument is to support the use of a dynamic (functional) equivalence translation. Asserted is the following, “Our view is that the best theory of translation is the one that remains as faithful as possible to both the original and receptor language, but that when something has to give, it should be in favor of the receptor language.”20 Chapter three emphasized the nature of the epistles in that they are considered occasional documents;21 therefore, it is necessary to understand the historical context of them. In helping to clarify the literary context, the authors suggested that the reader should think in paragraphs when

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Ibid., 26. Ibid., 26-29. 17 Ibid., 29. 18 Ibid., 40. 19 Ibid., 41. 20 Ibid., 42. 21 Ibid., 58.

5 reading and ask the question, what’s the point?22 Chapter four continued on with the treatise of the epistles with the main premise stated as, “A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or his or her readers.”23 The second rule to hermeneutics is, “Whenever we share comparable particulars (i.e., similar specific life situations) with the first-century hearers, God’s Word to us is the same as his Word to them.”24 Fee and Stuart stated that one should consider the culture of the original people before applying rules and sanctions to modern society.25 Since forty percent of the Bible is in narrative form, the authors explained the purpose and structure of this literary genre in chapter five.26 Narratives are stories used in the retelling of historical events that are intended to supply the present hearers with meaning and purpose. Biblical narratives, inspired by the Holy Ghost, tell God’s story which “becomes ours as he writes us into it.”27 However, the authors strongly stated that Old Testament narratives are not to be considered allegories and they were not written to teach moral lessons.28 The job of the reader is “to read things out of the narrative rather than into it.”29 Chapters six through eight discuss the best ways to interpret Acts, the Gospels, and the parables found in the New Testament. The nature of the parables that Christ told to his followers was clear in that he wanted them to be understood. The authors warned against looking for hidden meanings and gave the example of Augustine’s interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan.30

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Ibid., 64-65. Ibid., 74. 24 Ibid., 75. 25 Ibid., 79-86. 26 Ibid., 89-90. 27 Ibid., 90. 28 Ibid., 92. 29 Ibid. 99. 30 Ibid., 150.

6 Chapters nine and ten related specifics about the giving of the laws (covenant) to Israel and how the prophets enforced the covenant. In chapter eleven, the authors made the point that while most of the Bible contains Words from God to His children, Psalms contain words spoken to or about God.31 They instructed the readers not to over-exegete poetry or hymns because the Hebrew authors’ intention in this genre was “intentionally emotive.”32 Fee and Stuart asserted that wisdom literature is often misunderstood and that a simple definition of it is as follows, “Wisdom is the ability to make godly choices in life.”33 The final chapter deals with Revelation. The authors make point that when attempting to understand this book one must realize that Revelation is unique in that it is a blend of apocalypse, prophecy and letter.34 This makes the task of hermeneutics difficult with this book. However, while the reader faces some ambiguities in the task of interpretation, one must realize the certainty that God will work it out.35 ANALYSIS As earlier stated, the authors wrote this book with the objective of helping anyone read the Bible with more insight and clarity. They did not assume that all readers had intimate knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic, and therefore they provided some specific guidelines in choosing a Bible translation that the reader will understand. For this reason, they propose that a functional equivalent translation (i.e., the TNIV or NAB) is an excellent choice for the average Bible reader. Here, there is evidence of Fee’s affection for the TNIV as expected from his work with the revision committee that produced this translation. While one can see prejudice towards this translation, the authors make an excellent case as to their reasoning. Admittedly, a formal

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Ibid., 205. Ibid., 207. 33 Ibid., 225. 34 Ibid., 250. 35 Ibid., 264.

7 equivalence does give the reader confidence in the actual look of the Hebrew or Greek. However, the authors also emphasized that these translations keep distance at the wrong places in language and grammar, which often make the English ambiguous.36 They do suggest using a formal equivalence as a second Bible when reading. Their rationale and support of using a dynamic equivalence are sound; however, a case (using their own methodology) for utilizing a formal equivalence translation can also be suggested. If the reader were using commentaries, lexicons and other reference books, he would have no problem in understanding the text and meaning of a formal equivalent translation. Fee and Stuart make a strong and well-documented argument in regard to understanding the Bible in the culture of the day. Their case in regard to obsolete requirements of head coverings, or the holy kiss to illustrate the need to determine cultural relevancy is thoughtful and appreciated. They further illustrate this point when they speak of how some, “evangelicals wince when a woman’s teaching in the church (when men are present) is also defended on these grounds.”37 The point that is made is that the same standard of culture should be used in similar passages of scripture. When one looks at the role of women in the entirety of the text, one sees that women were used as leaders of both men and women. The authors were correct in their assessment of this fact. The need to understand the literary genres and to use appropriate interpretative strategies was well substantiated throughout the book. Chapter eight’s discussion on how to interpret parables was beneficial. There are preachers looking for a new meaning or mystery, which at times can change the direction of a text. This is a dangerous occupation. Two points that are needful to remember include: 1) Christ told parables with clear implications that were
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Ibid., 42. Ibid., 81.

8 understood by his audience, and 2) parables are not allegories.38 The purpose of the parables is to clarify a doctrine not to make it less coherent. Any good teacher knows that illustrations will often aid students with hard concepts. The main objective of the teacher is to teach in a way that brings comprehension to her students. CONCLUSION How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth provided some admirable, germane advice. If one regularly reads from a formal equivalency Bible, the incorporation of a dynamic equivalency translation in daily use will help to bring the text to a more culturally relevant application and consideration. Thinking in paragraphs is another excellent strategy that would aid most people in Bible reading because it will help the reader appreciate the flow of the text and the thoughts of the author. This book is excellent in a beginning study of hermeneutics. Therefore, any serious layperson or Bible scholar would benefit from the strategies set forth in this text. Fee and Stuart did an excellent job at communicating the need to study the Bible on a deeper level without neglecting the Holy Spirit’s helping a reader in her understanding. This is a book that any theologian would be able to recommend to those wanting to develop their relationship with Christ and deepen their knowledge of the Bible.

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Ibid., 150.

9 BIBLIOGRAHY “Academic.” Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. http://www.gordonconwell.edu/academics/view-facultymember.cfm?faculty_id=15891&grp_id=8946 (accessed July 20, 2012). “Faculty/03/retired.” Regent College. http://www.regent-college.edu/faculty/retired/gordon-d-fee(accessed July 21, 2012).

Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2003.