Book Review: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: Critique

Pages: 6 (2003 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … Bible

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart's How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth aims to be a guide to Biblical hermeneutics and exegesis designed for the layperson. Their emphasis however, is on heremeneutics, described in their introductory chapter as "the great urgency that gave birth to this book,"[footnoteRef:0] Yet the chief difficulty with this book is, perhaps, the way in which the authors define the layperson. This is a book informed by a specific doctrinal bias and therefore cannot claim to be a mere guide to Biblical hermeneutics, when the authors pause occasionally to point out why Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses are engaged in heretical reading of scripture -- it is worth recalling that no less distinguished a Protestant exegete than Martin Luther himself believed it would be heresy to read Joshua chapter 10 and derive any conclusion besides the notion that the sun revolves around the earth. As a result, this book does not feel like impartial or ecumenical scholarship, and while some of its approaches are certainly welcome to correct the more repellent notions that circulate in American Protestant Christianity in the twenty-first century (such as the so-called "Prosperity Gospel"), it is worth noting that this book is not exactly presenting a distant finding of fact, or even offering competing claims. It is a doctrinal book, implying that its authors do not trust their readers (Christian or otherwise) to sort between competing narratives or points-of-view. [0: Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993. p.12.]

The structure of the book itself gives some sense of what Fee and Stuart are attempting to do. After a brief preface, they offer two initial chapters, an introduction of sorts entitled "The Need to Interpret" and then a chapter on "The Basic Tool: A Good Translation." The first of these ends up seeming smug, insofar as it presupposes the reader will agree with many standard American Evangelical readings of the texts in question, and thus ends up feeling essentially circular in its reasoning -- naturally American Evangelicals enjoy a good pork barbeque and do not feel guilty in the eyes of God, so therefore it's necessary to let them know that those pesky passages in Leviticus regarding unclean foodstuffs have been handled in such a way that the reader of the Bible can take it as self-evident. Because this is the most obvious example for many people, most American Evangelicals are primed with the automatic reference to Peter's vision in the New Testament, but are unable to meet with a follow-up question of why we should then retain the older Levitican passages in our texts, rather than blot them out -- because there is inherent value in learning how to undergo these baby steps of casuistry? Yet the first centuries of church history show that nothing about the doctrinal certainties on which Fee and Stuart rest their ample posteriors should be taken for granted -- yet apart from the briefest mentions of the most obvious names (Augustine, Arius) the notion that Biblical hermeneutics is something that has been fought over and fiercely negotiated for two millennia seems absent here. One searches the text in vain for a reference to Marcion, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Pelagius. Perhaps these are names for divinity school students only, and not for believing Christians -- but if that is the case, why put scripture into the hands of the average believer in the first place? This is, of course, not an idea outside mainstream Christianity -- it largely summarizes the Roman Catholic attitude toward hermeneutics (namely that laypersons should not be entrusted with the responsibility for it) -- but it is hardly addressed by Fee and Stuart's approach. If hermeneutics has such urgency for Fee and Stuart, it is surprising that the actual history of hermeneutics gets such short shrift.

Instead what the book goes on to present after its first two chapters is a kind of structured introduction to the "genres" of Biblical texts -- as they put it -- which is in itself a tendentious form of hermeneutic indoctrination. Paul himself trained with Rabbi Gamaliel, who presumably taught Paul to begin with a close study of the Torah. Fee and Stuart begin their study of actual Biblical texts with Paul, and the actual Torah is split between discussions in Chapter Five (which deals with narratives in the Old Testament) and Chapter Nine (which deals with laws in the Old Testament). As a result, the bloated significance that the Pauline epistles receive in the contemporary American Evangelical community -- based perhaps on the fact that the Pauline epistles mainly treat the subject of how to internally police the thoughts and beliefs of an evangelical community -- is ratified by Fee and Stuart, with nary a glance at how Paul himself might have approached hermeneutics. One might think, for example, that a guide to Christian hermeneutics might begin with the words of Christ Himself, but that would underestimate the tendentiousness of this particular guide to Christian hermeneutics. It is worth noting that American Christianity was not always like this -- anyone who has ever seen a "red letter Bible" is aware that some interpreters place a greater significance on the words of the text which were spoken by the Son of God, and those which basically constitute memoranda for how to successfully run an evangelical church. Fee and Stuart seem aware of this as a potential critique of their text, and indeed frontload this objection into the first of their two chapters on the Pauline epistles: "One might try leading a group of Christians through 1 Corinthians, for example, and see how many are the difficulties. 'How is Paul's opinion (7:25) to be taken as God's Word?' some will ask, especially when they personally dislike some of the implications of that opinion. And the questions continue."[footnoteRef:1] However their bizarre and somewhat disingenuous justification for beginning with the Pauline epistles is stated up front with the claim that "one of our reasons for starting here is that they appear to be so easy to interpret."[footnoteRef:2] in reality, they give Fee and Stuart an easy way to let their readers believe they are engaged in serious Biblical interpretation, when in reality all they are doing is comparing their own experience of church groups to the dynamics of Paul's early church as recorded in these documents. This makes it easy for church ladies in Texas to turn the cold shoulder to some unlikeable person simply because Paul engaged in excommunication. [1: Ibid., p.49.] [2: Ibid.]

The hermeneutic strategies that continue to be employed in the book are equally dependent upon a very specific late twentieth and early twenty-first century American social context. This becomes far more apparent when Fee and Stuart venture into the interpretation of the Old Testament, as for example in their short handling of the Book of Ruth on pages 94 to 98. To inform Christian readers that the importance of Ruth comes from the fact that she was "David's great-grandmother and an ancestor of Jesus" tells us absolutely nothing about what the original context of this work was.[footnoteRef:3] Yet they harp on about Ruth's descendants, and the locus of the story in Bethlehem (described here as a model of piety) despite the fact that they have insisted in their chapters on the Pauline epistles that "a text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author and his or her readers"[footnoteRef:4] (emphasis in original). The notion that the Book of Ruth might have something to do with pre-Christian Jewish marriage laws, while pretty self-evident to anyone who reads the Book of Ruth and wonders what it might be about, receives very little attention here. The literal meaning of the story is essentially effaced in favor of a rather specific interpretation peculiar to American Evangelical Protestantism, which basically makes this a picturesque narrative about female piety that provides an interesting Ancestry.Com blurb for Jesus of Nazareth. This is an account of the Book of Ruth that never uses the word "intermarriage" once. Even other competing Christian denominations must find this strange. After all, one of the most famous Americans of the present day, Oprah Winfrey, has explained that her first name was her mother's fanciful version of a name from the Book of Ruth (Orpah) -- but then again, African-American a.M.E. churches have social discussions about the concept of intermarriage that are very different from those had by Fee and Stuart, or by Hassidic Jews, or by any other religious denomination (Christian or otherwise) that might include the Book of Ruth in their scriptures. Yet Fee and Stuart emphasize in their title on Old Testament narratives that they are instructing the reader in "Their Proper Use." [footnoteRef:5] This indicates that their interest is hardly in establishing the historical or even literal meaning of these texts, but rather in enforcing a sort of doctrinal consensus. [3: Ibid., p.96.]… [END OF PREVIEW]

Bible the Ten Commandments and Moses Term Paper


Bible for All Its Worth Book Review


Messiah Kaiser, Walter C. Research Proposal


Divorce in Regard to Christian Ethics Reaction Paper


Metaphysical Poetry Journal Exercise 3.1A: Addressing Love Journal


View 31 other related papers  >>

Cite This Book Review:

APA Format

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: Critique.  (2014, April 6).  Retrieved August 25, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/read-bible-worth-critique/8922282

MLA Format

"How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: Critique."  6 April 2014.  Web.  25 August 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/read-bible-worth-critique/8922282>.

Chicago Format

"How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: Critique."  Essaytown.com.  April 6, 2014.  Accessed August 25, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/read-bible-worth-critique/8922282.