How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible

by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1993. 265 pages. paper. $14.99

This book is being used as a required text in courses we teach here at Quartz Hill School of Theology, specifically the Bible Summary course, which is a required by all students. The book deals with the issue of how to understand, the Bible. Although anyone can understand the Bible, it is easy to make thoughtless and foolish mistakes in reading it, and this little book can be a big help in aiding the non-scholar so that he or she does not make silly errors. As some wag once wrote, common sense is none too common; this book attempts to inject a little bit back into how folks read their Bibles.

As the authors point out:

The first reason one needs to learn how to interpret is that, whether one likes it or not, every reader is at the same time an interpreter. That is, most of us assume as we read that we also understand what we read. We also tend to think that our understanding is the same thing as the Holy Spirit's or human author's intent. However, we invariably bring to the text all that we are, with all of our experiences, culture, and prior understandings of words and ideas. Sometimes what we bring to the text, unintentionally to be sure, leads us astray, or else causes us to read all kinds of foreign ideas into the text. (p. 14)

The book is broken down into convenient chapters which give the reader the basic tools for interpretation, some of the pitfalls to avoid, and then explains some of the special needs of the various sorts of material or literary genres that go into making up the scripture. The reader must learn to distinguish between poetry and prose, and learn how to understand both.

As the authors point out:

Anyone who has tried, for example, to read through Leviticus, Jeremiah, or Proverbs, as over against 1 Samuel or Acts, knows full well that there are many difference. One can get bogged down in Leviticus, and who has not felt the frustration of completing the reading of Isaiah or Jeremiah and then wondering what the "plot" was? In contrast, 1 Samuel and the Acts are especially readable. We hope to help the reader appreciate these differences so that he or she can read intelligently and profitably the nonnarrative parts of the Bible.

It is as big a mistake to allegorize something that should be taken at face value as it is to literalize something that should be understood as metaphor. Fee and Stuart have done a fine job in presenting the basics of reading and understanding the Bible. Their book is a short, well-written and easy to understand guide to basic Bible interpretation.


Reviewed by R.P. Nettelhorst
Academic Vice President, Quartz Hill School of Theology
Editor, Quartz Hill Journal of Theology