How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

4.1 38
by Gordon D. Fee, Douglas Stuart

View All Available Formats & Editions

Your Guide to Understanding the Bible

Understanding the Bible isn’t for the few, the gifted, the scholarly. The Bible is accessible. It’s meant to be read and comprehended by everyone from armchair readers to seminary students. A few essential insights into the Bible can clear up a lot of misconceptions and help you grasp the meaning of Scripture and


Your Guide to Understanding the Bible

Understanding the Bible isn’t for the few, the gifted, the scholarly. The Bible is accessible. It’s meant to be read and comprehended by everyone from armchair readers to seminary students. A few essential insights into the Bible can clear up a lot of misconceptions and help you grasp the meaning of Scripture and its application to your 21st-century life.

More than half a million people have turned to How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth to inform their reading of the Bible. This third edition features substantial revisions that keep pace with current scholarship, resources, and culture. Changes include:
• Updated language
• A new authors’ preface
• Several chapters rewritten for better readability
• Updated list of recommended commentaries and resources

Covering everything from translational concerns to different genres of biblical writing, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is used all around the world. In clear, simple language, it helps you accurately understand the different parts of the Bible—their meaning for ancient audiences and their implications for you today—so you can uncover the inexhaustible worth that is in God’s Word.

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Introduction: The Need to Interpret

Every so often we meet someone who says with great feeling, "You don't have to interpret the Bible; just read it and do what it says." Usually, such a remark reflects the layperson's protest against the "professional" scholar, pastor, teacher, or Sunday school teacher, who, by "interpreting," seems to be taking the Bible away from the common man or woman. It is their way of saying that the Bible is not an obscure book. "After all," it is argued, "any person with half a brain can read it and understand it. The problem with too many preachers and teachers is that they dig around so much they tend to muddy the waters. What was clear to us when we read it isn't so clear anymore."

There is a lot of truth in that protest. We agree that Christians should learn to read, believe, and obey the Bible. And we especially agree that the Bible should not be an obscure book if studied and read properly. In fact we are convinced that the single most serious problem people have with the Bible is not with a lack of understanding, but with the fact that they understand most things too well! The problem with such a text as "Do everything without complaining or arguing" (Phil. 2: 14), for example, is not with understanding it, but with obeying it--putting it into practice.

We are also agreed that the preacher or teacher is all too often prone to dig first and look later, and thereby to cover up the plain meaning of the text, which often lies on the surface. Let it be said at the outset--and repeated throughout, that the aim of good interpretation is not uniqueness; one is not trying to discover what no one else has ever seen before.

Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on, uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to "out clever" the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deep truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias). Unique interpretations are usually wrong. This is not to say that the correct understanding of a text may not often seem unique to someone who hears it for the first time. But it is to say that uniqueness is not the aim of our task.

The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the "plain meaning of the text." And the most important ingredient one brings to that task is enlightened common sense. The test of good interpretation is that it makes good sense of the text. Correct interpretation, therefore, brings relief to the mind as well as a prick or prod to the heart.

But if the plain meaning is what interpretation is all about, then why interpret? Why not just read? Does not the plain meaning come simply from reading? In a sense, yes. But in a truer sense, such an argument is both naïve and unrealistic because of two factors: the nature of the reader and the nature of Scripture.

The Reader as an Interpreter

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.

Thus, when a person in our culture hears the word "cross," centuries of Christian art and symbolism cause most people automatically to think of a Roman cross (†), although there is little likelihood that that was the shape of Jesus' cross, which was probably shaped like a "T." Most Protestants, and Catholics as well, when they read texts about the church at worship, automatically envision people sitting in a building with "pews" much like their own. When Paul says (in the KJV), "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13: 14), people in most English-speaking cultures are apt to think that "flesh" means the "body" and therefore that Paul is speaking of "bodily appetites."

But the word "flesh," as Paul uses it, seldom refers to the body--and in this text it almost certainly did not--but to a spiritual malady, a sickness of spiritual existence sometimes called "the sinful nature." Therefore, without intending to do so, the reader is interpreting as he or she reads, and unfortunately too often interprets incorrectly.

This leads us to note further that in any case the reader of an English Bible is already involved in interpretation. For translation is in itself a (necessary) form of interpretation. Your Bible, whatever translation you use, which is your beginning point, is in fact the end result of much scholarly work. Translators are regularly called upon to make choices regarding meanings and their choices are going to affect how you understand.

Good translators, therefore, take the problem of our language differences into consideration. But it is not an easy task. In Romans 13: 14, for example, shall we translate "flesh" (as in KJV, RSV, NRSV, NASB, etc.) because this is the word Paul used, and then leave it to an interpreter to tell us that "flesh" here does not mean "body"? Or shall we "help" the reader and translate "sinful nature" (as in the NIV, GNB, etc.) because this is what Paul's word really means? We will take up this matter in greater detail in the next chapter. For now it is sufficient to point out how the fact of translation in itself has already involved one in the task of interpretation.

Meet the Author

Gordon D. Fee (PhD, University of Southern California) is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Douglas Stuart is Professor of Old Testament and Chair of the Division of Biblical Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He holds the B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. Among his earlier writings are Studies in Early Hebrew Meter, Old Testament Exegesis: A Primer for Students and Pastors, and Favorite Old Testament Passages.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth 4.1 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 38 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book on interpreting the Bible and applying it to your life. My seven-member Bible study group (from an Evangelical Free church) did a 13-week study of this book. Everyone in the group gave the book four stars or five; most members gave it five. We agree with another reviewer: we don't recommend trying to read this book like a novel. You can't do justice to this book if you try to sit down and just read it cover to cover. There are two reasons why. First, the book is not light reading. You need time to read, struggle, and come to grips with each chapter. Second, the authors often ask the reader to read large portions of scripture as part of studying a particular chapter. In discussing the epistles, for example, the authors ask you to read through I Corinthians in one setting! Our Bible study group approached this book as if we were a book discussion group--that is to say, everyone read the assigned chapter of the book on his or her own time, one chapter per week. When we next met, one member of the group volunteered to lead us in discussing the chapter we had read. This differed from our usual teacher/students approach, but it worked well for us. This book is not a 'basic primer.' One member of our group rated the book at 4.5 stars out of five because 'the book is difficult reading in some sections.' Indeed, this does not seem to be a book for beginning students of the Bible. If you're looking for a basic primer, the authors themselves recommend 'Knowing Scripture,' by R. C. Sproul. OUR FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT THE BOOK: 1) The book is written by two seminary professors who tell us, in the book's preface, that they are 'believers, who think we should obey the biblical texts, not merely read or study them.' 2) The emphasis of the book is on helping readers struggle with the questions of applying the Bible to their own lives. 3) The book eases the reader into the subject matter by giving some general principles of interpretation and by discussing the relative strengths of different Bible translations. 4) The book then divides the Bible into different types of literature (e.g., parables, law, epistles, prophets, and so forth); this approach helps to clarify the 'rules of the road' in interpretation. As one example, the authors lay down some rules for understanding proverbial wisdom, and from these rules, we understand that Proverbs are not legal guarantees from God. (By the way, I hope points 3 and 4 above help you understand the somewhat obscure wording of this Web site's synopsis. I quote: 'This volume guides readers in understanding the literary dimensions of the Bible by incorporating techniques for interpreting Scripture, while it also maintains faithfulness to literary genres.' Yikes! See points 3 and 4 above.) OUR NOT-SO-FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT THE BOOK: 1) Even in the most recently printed version, there are some curious typographical errors. 2) A couple of members of our Bible study felt the book was 'difficult reading' in some places. 3) The book presents a particular point of view. For example, if you wanted to read several viewpoints about how Old Testament Law does or does not apply, or applies in part, to New Testament Christians, you'll need to look elsewhere. FINAL THOUGHT: If you are looking for more than a basic primer on reading and applying the Bible to your life, my Bible study group commends this book to you.
Christina Crea More than 1 year ago
My wife and I met in Bible college and this book is foundational to all Bible reading . This book will keep the rubber on the road and keep congregations anywhere from plenty of whack theology.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being a Bible researcher, medical scholar and 'Countway Library'-BML Fellow, I reviewed numerous journals, books and collections. This book by Stuart & Fee is exceptional, insightful, inspiring & delightful to read. I strongly recommend without hesitation !
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book presents some basic hermeneutical ideas. This big word I just used means it speaks on exactly what the title says it is about: how to read the bible. It is used as a textbook at my school, and while basic in principle, it is illuminating in concept - if churches understood these principles, most preachers would be able to sit down and let others speak each week.
Smooth59 More than 1 year ago
This book will aid you in getting a better understanding of the Holy Bible. A guide to the best translation to use and why was extremely helpful. Top notch scholarly work by the two professors who wrote the book. If you teach a Bible study then this book with it's information will take you to the next level in your ability to teach God's Holy Word.
gina61 More than 1 year ago
It may seem difficult at first but as you get the understanding of the terms you will then be able to comprehend it's teaching.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A great book showing the diversity of genres used in Scripture, this gem should be in every library. The authors take each genre, from wisdom literature, to proverbs, to gospels, epistles, and historical narrative, and show how God reveals himself using various means of literature. This is the most readable and helpful book on biblical hermeneutics and is an encouragement to us that a creative God speaks intentionally so that all may understand him.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is superb. I haven't come across a book this good for quite a long time. I really2 recommend this book for everyone who are in love with Christ and longs to know Him even more. This book will defenitely direct you in how to listen to His voice and understand His will even more. A++++++ must buy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago