How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 2nd ed.
By Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart
Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
8.1 (Spring 1997) : 116-117
This volume is readable and helpful for those who want to understand what the Bible says. The authors provide specific principles for interpreting each of the basic genres (types of literature) found in the Bible. It is among the more popular of recent books on biblical interpretation.
Gordon D. Fee has authored a number of NT commentaries as well as significant works in the fields of hermeneutics and NT textual criticism. He is Professor of New Testament at Regent College. As an adherent to charismatic theology, he has become one of the movement's most scholarly spokesmen.
Douglas Stuart is Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has pastored churches in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and is currently senior pastor of First Church Congregational of Boxford, Massachusetts. Among his contributions are commentaries and a primer for OT exegesis.
The authors purposed to produce a guide for interpretation that would bridge the gap between scholars and laypersons. In order to accomplish their purpose, they teach the reader of the Bible to ask the right questions of the text, questions formulated with due regard to the genre of a Bible passage.
Fee wrote chapters 1-4, 6-8, and 13 concerning NT genres; Stuart produced chapters 5 and 9-12 presenting OT genres. The first chapter defines interpretation, exegesis, and hermeneutics. The second chapter discusses the choosing of a good Bible translation. Eleven more chapters deal with principles for interpreting various genres of the Bible: the NT epistles (two chapters), OT narratives, the Book of Acts, the Gospels (two chapters), the Law, prophetic books, the Psalms, wisdom literature, and the Book of Revelation. An appendix presents both criteria for evaluating commentaries and a list of recommended commentaries.
Bible students will find this book most valuable in its specific suggestions for interpreting each genre. Well-chosen examples reinforce the suggested principles for interpretation. At key points the authors refer the reader to other books that will provide additional help. They handle debatable interpretations with admirable objectivity for the most part. An example of this neutrality is Fee's statement that "Scripture simply does not expressly command that . . . Christians are to be baptized in the Spirit evidenced by tongues as a second work of grace" (109). In spite of his cautious wording, however, Fee's charismatic theology does surface a few times in the book.
Although the contents are mostly commendable, the book has some weaknesses. Fee's definition of the relationship between hermeneutics and exegesis is at odds with traditional scholarship. He defines hermeneutics as "seeking the contemporary relevance of ancient texts" (25). Therefore, he insists that exegesis precedes hermeneutics. In the current debate on the nature of hermeneutics, this volume is closer to the view that treats hermeneutics as the description of understanding rather than as the science of interpretation.
In the discussion of how to choose a translation, Fee neglected to provide the reader with any support for his conclusion that "the best translational theory is dynamic equivalence" (36). His preference is for the student to use the NIV, GNB, or NAB. Along with these freer translations, he encourages the use of at least one more literal translation from among the NASB, RSV, and NRSV. In addition, Fee advises the student to consult either the NEB or JB.
The soundest sections are the treatments of narratives and historical books in both testaments, OT poetry (the Psalms and wisdom literature), and the NT epistles. Due to some presuppositions regarding prophetic fulfillment, the chapters dealing with OT prophetic books and the Book of Revelation are more problematic. One such presupposition is that biblical prophecy consists mostly of prophecies whose fulfillments are already in the past for the present-day interpreter (see 166, 181-83, 242). Another presupposition concerns sensus plenior (fuller meaning). Stuart's acceptance of sensus plenior influences the view he takes regarding the NT's use of the OT (183-84).
Although a caution with reference to both authors' treatments of prophetic materials is necessary, there is still much to commend. Stuart's emphasis on covenant forms in prophecy touches on a vital issue. A proper interpretation of the OT prophets must take such forms into account.
In conclusion, the greatest contribution of this volume is its effective employment of genre in interpretation. Fee and Stuart have successfully fulfilled one of their primary goals in bridging the gap between scholars and laypersons in this area of biblical interpretation.