Saturday, 2 October 2010

How to read the Bible for all its worth

I am surprised I have not read this book by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart before, considering it was first published in 1981. I recently bought edition three (2003) though I understand a fourth edition has recently come out.

It is a helpful book, taking one through some general exegetical and hermeneutical principles before looking at different types of biblical literature - the letters, OT narrative, the gospels, parables, the Law, the Prophets, Wisdom, Psalms and Revelation.

Good - but. Many of the helpful suggestions for interpreting the Bible at the 'micro' level are undermined by restrictive perspectives at the 'macro' level. For instance, on OT narrative we are told: 'The story of Abraham's securing a bride for Isaac (Gen 24) is not an allegory about Christ (Isaac) securing a bride (the church / Rebecca) through the Holy Spirit(servant)'. Try telling that to the people who have heard Iain D. Campbell's masterful and powerful series on the marriages of Scripture as typical of Christ and the church - Isaac and Rebecca, Ruth and Boaz, the Song of Songs (and needless to say there is not a whiff of Christ or typology in Fee and Stuart's handling of the 'Song' or Ruth). (For Iain's sermons visit www.reformationand

We do not want irresponsible allegorising, but what of sane typology? As a message for today's church, one comes away from hearing these stories treated in a Christocentric way thinking - yes, that is the real meaning of the text.

Then in the section on the Psalms, there is not a mention of finding Christ anywhere in them, even in the 'kingly' Psalms. This may be 'p.c.' but it actually flies against a majority view in handling the Psalms in church history - even if one does not, with Luther, see all the psalms as Christ-centred. But one could do worse than that!

As for the OT law - well, it was part of the covenant with Israel and of course is only law for us if repeated in the New Testament. Discontinuity and antinomianism rule OK.

There are other weaknesses - for example, the repetition of some of Jesus' sayings in the gospels but in different contexts in different gospels, is referred too easily to editing and 'context creating' by the evangelists rather than to Jesus having said things more than once.

So it is not a book I would lend or recommend to a young Christian. We are dealing with a Christian public who, it is often remarked, seem to know their Bibles less well than in the past. Doubtless there are many reasons for this, but I would have to say that books like this do not help. Following this book's principles would not help me to get the richness out of the text, and as over 500,000 had been sold by 2003, we must assume it is quite influential in the evangelical world. Is it any wonder people do not know how to use their Bibles when the divine unity of the text and the One who above all gives it that unity, is not taught as the centre and soul of what we should be seeking in all of Scripture - as he himself taught (Luke 24: 27)?

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