The Westminster Guide to the Books of the Bible

By William M. Ramsey
Louisville, KY : Westminster/John Knox (1994). xi + 564 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
6.2 (Fall 1995) : 256-257

This work is an expansion of the author's earlier work, The Layman's Guide to the New Testament (1981). Its purpose is to provide an introduction for use by Sunday school teachers, pastors, and interested lay-people. The author posits himself in the "mainstream of biblical scholarship," but attempts to write with "respect for the scholarship and integrity of those in the very conservative camp and for those of the opposite extreme" (x).

 The book has two main parts, Old Testament and New Testament, with two smaller sections on "Interpreting the Bible" and "The Apocrypha." In the section dealing with interpretation the author clearly summarizes several schools of hermeneutical thought, showing his preference for the redaction and canon criticism techniques. He makes no mention of the Grammatical-Historical approach to interpretation, including instead only an unfortunate caricature of the "naive literalist" (2).

 In general the work is well laid out with summary charts for each book. The end-notes are thorough, but perhaps not as balanced as the author suggests. The absence of indexes and bibliography severely reduces the volume's usefulness. Beyond this, critical problems abound. Ramsey rejects traditional authorship (e.g., the Pentateuch, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, in the OT; the Gospels, Pastoral epistles, Ephesians, Colossians, Peter's epistles, and Revelation in the NT). In the OT section he generally accepts the theories of Julius Wellhausen dating the "final" version of the Pentateuch at 450 B.C. (18). Other instances of "late dating" is the author's placing of Daniel at about 166 B.C. (220) and Peter's Epistles at A.D. 120-25 (496). Without denying them outright, the author questions the literal reality of miracle accounts and the resurrection (359-65). With some qualification, he also refers to recent work of the "Jesus Seminar" as scholarship "which does a great service" (290).

In short, this book may have value as a compendium of the theories and interpretations of the last century of liberal scholarship, but as a work to introduce students to the Word of God it is not useful.