Bible for All Its Worth Book Review

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¶ … Bible for all its Worth

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For a book that many people think should be self-explanatory, the Bible can be an incredibly complex work. First, as a historical record, the Bible contains an incredible amount of information, which can make it a useful tool for a historian. However, because the Bible is a religious book, many people dismiss its historical usefulness, and suggest that people using it in a historical fashion need to take extraordinary steps to verify its contents, which may not be required if it was not a religious text. Second, as a piece of lasting literature, the Bible contains so many repeated themes and characterizations, that it difficult to digest, much less synthesize the various stories. Even for one who does not believe a single story presented in the Bible, it provides hundreds of allegorical tales. It would be easy to reduce these stories to the role of morality tale, except that, in the Bible, many times the victors are not those who have displayed the most moral behavior, but instead the greatest faith. In other instances, it is through displays of moral behavior that people can demonstrate their faith. Finally, as a religious text, the Bible can be baffling. An immense text with a variety of different authors, the various subgroups of Christians have not even been able to agree upon which books should be included as part of the Christian Bible. Moral lessons in the Bible can directly contradict one another. Moreover, behavior that was acceptable in the historic times in which the Bible was written, such as slavery and the virtual ownership of wives, is no longer considered humane, which can complicate understanding for the modern reader. Therefore, many people need guidance in how they should approach the Bible.

Intentions

TOPIC: Book Review on Bible for All Its Worth for a Assignment

In How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, Douglas Stuart and Gordon D. Fee attempt to provide readers with the tools necessary to become active readers of the Bible. While their tips and hints would be useful for any biblical scholar, it is clear that are gearing their book towards Christians who are reading the Bible with the goal of having a better understanding of Christian history, religious tradition, and religious requirements. Stuart and Fee acknowledge that the Bible is not an obscure text, and that part of its beauty is that it is accessible by most men and women.

In fact, they stress that the goal of biblical interpretation is not to find something new or unique, but to better understand the text.

However, they do not agree with those who dismiss the need to interpret the Bible. Instead, they acknowledge that there are several barriers to a complete understanding of the entire Bible if someone simply sits down with a Bible and begins reading. They believe that the challenges in doing so come from the innate nature of the reader, which are exacerbated by the nature of Scripture.

The reader is going to interpret, because that is what people do when they receive and process information. Interpretation is not something a person can consciously or unconsciously avoid when receiving new information.

People use their own experiences to fill in the connotation and denotation of words, and draw upon their knowledge of centuries of art and culture that have interpreted the Bible, much of it erroneously, when approaching the Bible. In order to understand the Bible, people must first perform an exegesis, which is "the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning."

Then, people must perform hermeneutics, which is to seek the "contemporary relevance of ancient texts."

One cannot engage in hermeneutics without exegesis, which demands a historical understanding of the text. Stuart and Fee aim to provide their readers with the tools necessary to do so.

Summary and Analysis

Stuart and Fee begin their guide by telling people that Biblical interpretation requires a good translation.

This cautionary statement is of critical importance, because many modern Christians seem to ignore the fact that the Bible was not written in English. Instead, the original books were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, and have been extensively translated. As the authors point out, one need only look through one of the several available editions of the Bible to understand that the different versions say different things. In some instances, focusing on this type of word choice can appear overly pedantic, but when one considers that the Bible has been translated so many times, seeing the differences that can appear in the translations from a single generation make it clear that translation invites interpretive differences. The authors give the example of 1 Corinthians 7:36, and how the different translations of that passage lead to very different conclusions.

In one translation, the virgin in question is a man's daughter, while, in another, she is his fiancee. One would expect very different behavior towards a daughter than a fiancee. Therefore, Stuart and Fee suggest that people need to read more than a single translation of the Bible in order to truly be able to interpret it.

Next, the authors tackle the issue of contextual thinking, and do so by examining the Epistles. They state that their reason for beginning with the Epistles is because they are deceptively simple; while they seem easy to interpret, in a modern context they are not as easy to understand as they first appear.

What they attempt to do is provide readers with a means of determining what information in the Epistles is relevant for the modern Christian. They suggest looking for matters of indifference, which are those elements that are based on culture, even religious aspects of culture, rather than morals.

They do acknowledge that some people may not consider these issues matters of indifference. However, they acknowledge that some people may disagree with them, but caution that "the free person is not to flaunt his or her freedom; the person for whom such matters are a deep personal conviction is not to condemn someone else."

This area of the book is problematic. Yes, there are some norms that are consistent from culture to culture, and they suggest that these cultural norms are what should form the basis for moral rules, and shape interpretation of the Bible. However, that argument seems weak when one considers what kind of behavior was culturally normative in that historical context. During Biblical times, especially Old Testament times, it was normal in most cultures for men to have child brides. Does the fact that that was culturally normative behavior mean that it was moral behavior? In addition, the authors specifically address the issue of consuming intoxicants, suggesting that is a cultural consideration. However, given what dramatic impact intoxicants can have on people, to dismiss that as a cultural rather than moral concern, without further consideration of the issue, seems dismissive.

After examining the Epistles, the authors turn to an examination of Acts and the issue of historical precedent. They consider Acts an important area for discussion, because, unlike the tales of the Old Testament, modern Christians look to Acts for guidance on how to live a modern life.

According to them, "It not only tells us the history of the early church, but it also serves as the normative model for the church at all times" (Stuart & Fee, 2003). Rather than that making Acts easier to interpret, it actually adds to the difficulty of interpreting the book. Stuart and Fee believe that "it is our lack of hermeneutical precision as to what Acts is trying to teach that has led to a lot of the division that one finds in the church."

As a result, they caution people to examine Acts carefully. When one looks at the state of modern Christianity, where so many diverse microreligions exist under the same basic umbrella, it is difficult to argue with their assessment. Therefore, they give guidelines for the reading and studying of Acts, which they believe will help one use it to help understand how the modern church should be. To explain this, the authors examine the text to try to determine Luke's intentions in writing Acts. The conclusion they come to is that Luke was not trying to write a history of the church, but, instead, was trying to provide a model for the how the church should work.

The authors provide similar examples for how one should approach interpreting certain parts of the Bible, as well as cautions for the particular problems one faces with each book of the Bible. After discussing the individual parts of the Bible, the authors include some very interesting information in the Appendix. They discuss the fact that they suggest readers consult commentaries.

This is an important suggestion because many Christians, especially members of more fundamentalist Protestant sects, reject the idea that a commentary can be useful in helping one understand the Bible. Stuart and Fee assert that a "good commentary is every bit as much a gift to the church as is… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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