Even more tragic than not reading the Bible at all is to read it incorrectly and to think it says something it doesn’t say. Another tragic mistake is to think the Bible promises something that it doesn’t and then to get angry with God because He didn’t do what you thought He should do because you didn’t understand what the Bible passage was truly about.
To keep readers from making these mistakes and many others as they read their Bible and to help you understand and apply the Bible properly, I highly recommend How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Douglas Stuart and Gordon Fee. First published in 1981, it was revised and updated in 2014. I consider it an invaluable guide to understanding the Bible and use it as a key reference in my preparation of the Bible805 podcasts.
Genre makes all the difference
The approach taken in the book is genre-based and here is how the authors describe what this means:
. . .the basic concern of this book is with the understanding of the different types of literature (the genres) that make up the Bible. Although we do speak to other issues, this generic approach has controlled all that has been done. We affirm that there is a real difference between a psalm, on the one hand, and an epistle on the other. Our concern is to help the reader to read and study the Psalms as poems, and the Epistles as letters. We hope to show that these differences are vital and should affect both the way one reads them and how one is to understand their message for today.
Here is the Table of Contents that shows how they divide and discuss the various genres:
Table of Contents
1. Introduction: The Need to Interpret
2. The Basic Tool: A Good Translation
3. The Epistles: Learning to Think Contextually
4. The Epistles: The Hermeneutical Questions
5. The Old Testament Narratives: Their Proper Use
6. Acts: The Question of Historical Precedent
7. The Gospels: One Story, Many Dimensions
8. The Parables: Do You Get the Point?
9. The Law(s): Covenant Stipulations for Israel
10. The Prophets: Enforcing the Covenant in Israel
11. The Psalms: Israel’s Prayers and Ours
12. Wisdom: Then and Now
13. Revelation: Images of Judgment and Hope
Appendix: The Evaluation and Use of Commentaries
Tips for getting the most out of the book as a lay reader
It was written by two seminary professors and can at times the depth of some of the sections and the details discussed are can come across as a bit dense for a lay reader. What I found the most helpful was their summaries of how to interpret the various genres.
For example, their summary statement that the prophets were “covenant enforcers” in itself helps explain them. When we understand that they were calling people to be true to the covenant they made with God to obey his laws their words make much more sense than simply angry rantings without context.
Understanding that the Old Testament narratives usually do not teach doctrine, nor are they promises that just because God used David or Daniel in a certain way doesn’t mean he promises to use other believers in those same ways can help us avoid any misunderstandings.
You don’t have to understand every in-depth example they give to learn from the book. You will learn a tremendous amount on how to read and interpret your Bible correctly if you skip over some of the detailed examples and focus on introductions and summaries to the genre types.
Where to get the book
You can get the book in all formats by CLICKING HERE. Please note this link is for your convenience only. Bible805 does not participate in any affiliate programs where we make money referring you to various resources. When I recommend something, it is because I feel the book is useful to you and for no other reason.