How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth

Section 1

1.  Why should a reader begin with the “then and there” meaning of the Bible before looking for the “here and now” meaning and what is the danger of considering one meaning without the other?

The “then and there” must be understood before the “here and now” because the first step in exegesis is to uncover the original author’s intent.  “God’s Word to us was first of all His Word to them.  If they were going to hear it, it could only have come through events and in language they could have understood.  Our problem is that we are so far removed from them in time, and sometimes in thought. This is the major reason one needs to learn to interpret the Bible” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p. 23).  The danger of considering one meaning without the other is “a text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or his or her readers” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.74).  True understanding of God’s Word begins with asking questions like: who wrote it, who was it written for, and why was it written and most importantly: what is the point.  Only once these questions are answered can one understand the singular scriptural interpretation, its principles and its applications.

2.  Explain the concepts of literal, free, and dynamic equivalent translations and include any advantages or disadvantages of each.

The problem with only using one translation is that you are limited by the exegetical choices of that translation.  In the literal translation, one attempts to keep as close as possible to the Greek or Hebrew root word.  “The closer one stays to the Hebrew or Greek idiom, the closer one moves toward a theory of translation often described as “literal.”  Translations based on formal equivalence will keep historical distance intact at all points” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.41).  With functional equivalence, the goal is to try and keep the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek word while putting it in a normal way of saying the same thing in English.  I am a fan of this translation because it is easier to understand.  “The more one is willing to forego formal equivalence for functional equivalence, the closer one moves towards a theory of “dynamic equivalent.”  Such translations keep historical distance on all historical and factual matters but “update” matters of language, grammar, and style (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.41).  In free translation, the focus is to translate ideas from one language to another.  With this translation, less emphasis is placed upon using the same words as the original.  I find with this translation that on occasion the true meaning behind a scripture can be lost.  “A free translation, sometimes called a paraphrase, tries to eliminate as much of the historical distance as possible and still be faithful to the original text” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p41).

3.  Briefly describe these four problems in interpreting the Epistles: extended application, non-comparable particulars, cultural relativity, and task theology.

In my opinion, the biggest problem arises in cultural relativity: deciding what was relevant to the people for whom it was written and what transcends to our current generations.  “The point is that it is extremely difficult to be consistent here, precisely because there is no such thing as a divinely ordained culture; cultures are in fact different, not only from the first to the twenty-first century, but in every conceivable way in the twenty-first century itself” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p81).  Problems that arise with particulars that are not comparable are that some texts speak only to first-century issues while others speak to issues that are highly unlikely to happen in the twenty-first century.  Extended application deals with comparable situations and comparable particulars.  However, it is important to remember, “God’s Word to us in such texts should be limited to its original intent” (Fee/Stuart, 2003 p.76).  Task theology is not without its own limitations.  “Much of the theology in the Epistles is task oriented and therefore is not systematically presented” (Fee/Stuart, 2003 p.86).  Another problem that arises occurs when we attempt to answer questions about moral decisions in our day with epistles that spoke specifically to issues during which they were written.

4.  What do the authors mean when they instruct us to interpret the Gospels by thinking horizontally and vertically?

Thinking horizontally means that when we study a passage in any one Gospel, we should be aware of the parallels going on in the other Gospels.  Because Jesus Himself did not write the Gospels, we must assume there was a reason why.  “…the fact that the gospels were not written by Jesus but about him is a part of their genius” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.128).  Two of the reasons for thinking horizontally are to give us an appreciation for the treasures found in any one of them and to provide a different kind of context.  Knowing that Mark wrote his Gospel first, then Luke and Matthew, and then John illuminates the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in doing so and these Gospels are a wonderfully made synopsis of the life of Jesus.  Thinking vertically takes a different approach in that its focus is placed on being aware of historical contexts: that of Jesus and that of the evangelist.  One error in thinking vertically is to reconstruct the life of Jesus.  Even though this should be of great interest, it is not the primary goal.  “Thinking vertically will reveal that the same point is being made at both levels” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.140)

5.  Describe these three forms of prophetic oracles: lawsuit, woe, and promise prophecies.

Many of the prophets used different forms of prophetic utterances is their books.  The lawsuit is one of my favorites used by the prophets.  In it, God is often pictured as the plaintiff, prosecuting attorney, judge, and bailiff in a court case against the defendant, Israel.  It flows just like a court case; you have a summons, a charge, evidence, and a verdict.  Not surprisingly the evidence always shows that Israel is guilty of breaking its covenant with God.  This literary form is brilliant in the way it gets the message across to the reader.  The woe oracle has three primary elements: an announcement of distress, the reason for distress, and a prediction of doom.  When an Israelite cried out “woe” it was because there was imminent disaster or death.  “Through the prophets, God makes predictions of imminent doom using the device of the “woe,” and no Israelite could miss the significance of the use of that word” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.195).  The promise or salvation oracle is used whenever the following elements are present: reference to the future, mention of radical change, and mention of blessing.  Many of the passages that fall into this category deal with abundance and blessing because of a radical change.

6.  Describe at least five characteristics of apocalyptic literature.

Apocalyptic literature is a literary form that does not exist in our own day.  In it, the common theme deals with coming judgment and salvation either in time of persecution or great oppression.  “The apocalyptists looked exclusively forward to the time when God would bring a violent, radical end to history, an end that would mean the triumph of good and the final judgment of evil” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.251).  In apocalyptic literature, the authors are agents of God speaking of things to come from the beginning.  The apocalyptic authors, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were told to speak what they were told or had seen.  Apocalyptic literature is often times presented in visions and dreams and typically has cryptic and symbolic meanings contained within it.  “The images of apocalyptic are often forms of fantasy rather than of reality” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p251).  Most of the literature was formally stylized, having a tendency to divide time and events, as well as, symbolically using numbers.

7.  Discuss at least five types of psalms and their characteristics.

Psalms are prayers or hymns to God or about God.  Laments represent the largest group of Psalms and they express deep trust in Yahweh.  They can individually or corporately help people through struggles, suffering, or disappointment by allowing them to express their feelings to the Lord. 

Thanksgiving Psalms operated in contrast to Laments since they expressed joy to the Lord because something had gone well, God had been faithful or provided, or any number of other reasons they had to praise God.  These psalms helped them express their deep gratitude to the Lord. 

Hymns of praise are similar to Thanksgiving Psalms in that they center on the praise of God but are not limited to a specific reference of personal misery or joy. 

Psalms of celebration and affirmation are broken down into several categories consisting of:  covenant renewal liturgies which are designed to lead God’s people to a renewal of the covenant established on Mount Sinai.

Royal psalms were used to demonstrate that even though most of Israel’s kings were unfaithful to God, He could use anyone to accomplish His purpose. 

Enthronement psalms did exactly what they sound like; they celebrated the enthronement of the king in ancient Israel. 

Songs of Zion celebrated Jerusalem as the holy city and the place in which the kingship of David exercised authority. 

Lastly, songs of trust focus on the fact that God can be trusted especially in times of despair and no matter what the circumstances.

8.  List and briefly explain six factors the interpreter should consider in deciding which Old Testament laws apply to modern believers.

We are to see the Old Testament law as God’s fully inspired Word for us and not His direct command to us.  We must use the Old Testament law as a basis for the old covenant, which is Israel’s history and we need to understand that the old covenant only applies to us when it has been specifically renewed in the new covenant.  We must see God’s justice, love, and high standards revealed in the Old Testament law while not losing sight that God’s mercy is made equal to the severity of the standards.  We must look at the Old Testament law through a lens that allows us to see it as a paradigm, one which provides examples for all types of behavior and we must stop viewing it as complete because it is not comprehensive.  We must never forget that the Ten Commandments and the two chief laws are repeated by the prophets and thus renewed in the New Testament and we must not expect the Old Testament law to be cited frequently in the New Testament by the prophets.  We must also see that the Old Testament law was a generous gift to Israel which brought tremendous blessings when they chose to obey it.  It was not merely a list of what they could and couldn’t do, limiting their freedom with annoying regulations; instead, it was a way to bring glory to God by obeying what He commanded.  The covenant was a binding contract between God and the His children, both of whom had obligations in the covenant.

Section 2

Part I: Compare and contrast the hermeneutical principles of interpreting narrative and specifically the book of Acts by both Gordon Fee/Douglas Stuart and Wave Nunnally.  Note both similarities and differences in the two approaches.

Hermeneutics is the science of interpreting ancient scripture and it is amazing to me how two brilliant evangelical Christians can differ in their opinion over Luke’s writings in Acts.   Gordon Fee and Wave Nunnally both seek truth, but their paths split when their views regarding the purpose and intent of Acts is revealed.  “We seldom think of the Old Testament histories as setting biblical precedents for our own lives.  On the other hand, this has been a normal way for Christians to read Acts.  It not only tells us the history of the early church, but it also serves as the normative model for the church of all times.  And this is precisely our hermeneutical difficulty” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.107).  Fee attempts to answer the question of how individual narratives in Acts function as precedents for the later church and if there is a word that not only describes the primitive church, but speaks to the church of all times.  In answering this question, he says it is crucial to understand whether biblical narratives describe what happened or what must happen.  Nunnally points out that for the past five hundred years that the goal of the Protestant church has been to allow the Bible to speak for itself.  “People from all walks of life, religions, and political views have willingly played the “this is what the Bible means to me” game.  Unfortunately, many who call themselves conservative Christians are not immune to the same self-centered trap of thinking that their own authority, agenda, personal revelation, personal experience, or unique insight is sufficiently weighty to override the original author’s intended message” (Nunnally, 2007, p.33).  Both scholars agree that God’s Word cannot mean something today that was not intended by the original author and that all scripture is God breathed.  This being said, Fee makes the distinction that we must discover what is prescriptive and what is descriptive in the book while Nunnally holds true to the idea that the main purpose of Acts is to be “an indispensible source of direction and inspiration toward a return toward the power and patterns of the first-century church” (Nunnally, 2007, p.32).  It is only through sound exegesis that we can truly understand what is normative or one-time-only.

The question arises: To what degree do we adhere to the practices held by the first-century church and can theology and doctrine be based on narratives and where should the precedent be set?  Nunnally believes that these narratives were given for future churches to emulate and strive for.  Fee holds true to the notion that narratives primary purpose was to give an account of historical record.  “Unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is only narrated or described does not function in a normative way – unless it can be demonstrated on other grounds that the author intended it to function in this way” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.118).  I believe the purpose of narratives is not only to teach us, but also in some areas to establish precedents.  The one principle that we must adhere to is that scripture interprets scripture so when contradictions appear to exist, emphasis should be given to the multiple and clear passages over the isolated and obscure ones.  Both scholars hold true to the principle that the Bible is absolutely consistent and that it cannot contradict itself in matters of doctrine, ethics, or historical facts and they acknowledge that only scripture has the authority to establish matters of faith and practice.

Part II: Discuss how these approaches can potentially affect one’s viewpoint of the Pentecostal understanding of the doctrine of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.  Note both similarities and differences.   Address specifically the following two aspects: (1) Spirit baptism as a subsequent experience to salvation and (2) speaking in other tongues as the initial physical evidence of Spirit-baptism.

Interpreting narratives and deciding whether they are intended to teach or be normative will be a never-ending debate among scholars.  Fee attempts to establish that doctrinal statements fall into several categories: (1) Christian theology-what Christians believe, (2) Christian ethics-how Christians ought to live in relation to God and others, and (3) Christian experience/practice-what Christians do as religious/spiritual people.  Within these categories he goes on explaining that there are two levels of statements: primary and secondary.  “At the primary level are those doctrinal statements derived from the explicit propositions or imperatives of Scripture (i.e., what Scripture intends to teach).  At the secondary level are those statements derived only incidentally, by implication or by precedent” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.119).  Many of our practices, we do because God commands it, but how we do them and how often is sometimes based upon tradition and precedent.   In contrast, Nunnally says, “when something is reported multiple times and in varied contexts, it is likely that something of eternal relevance is being communicated” (Nunnally, 2007, p.36). It is this principle which he uses to establish his view of normativity, instead of just one-time events.  He provides the following example: “Luke presents baptism in the Holy Spirit as a normative experience for all believers; tongues of fire accompanying this experience is reported only once.  Therefore modern believers can expect to experience a baptism in the Spirit, but should not expect accompanying tongues of fire” (Nunnally, 2007, p.36).  Fee’s argument and position seems much more logical to me because Nunnally’s logic is: since there are multiple examples of speaking in tongues, this should be a normative experience for everyone who comes to faith.  He furthers this argument by establishing since there are multiple accounts in Acts, that the church should establish it as a precedent. To me, this sounds like a disaster just waiting to happen and in many cases, I am sure it has already done so.  Fee concludes, “Likewise, on the basis of the narrative of Jesus’ reception of the Spirit at his baptism, two different analogies have been drawn that move in quite different directions.  Some see this as evidence for the believer’s reception of the Spirit at baptism and thus support by way of analogy for baptismal regeneration; by contrast, others see it as evidence for a baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to salvation.  There can be little question that Luke himself saw the event as the moment of empowering for Jesus’ public ministry” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.123).  Unfortunately, none of us have God’s authority to reproduce the exegetical efforts of the New Testament authors.  “The issue of interpreting narrative and whether or not it is intended to teach is a continuing discussion among scholars.  It is important to note that several non-Pentecostal evangelical scholars as well as some noted Pentecostal scholars affirm that some narratives are intended to teach.  They suggest helpful guidelines for determining if a passage is intended to be prescriptive (normative) or if it is merely descriptive (a unique historical event that occurs only once)” (Stronstad 1984 & 2005, Duvall and Hays 2001 & 2005, and Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard 1993).

Regarding the issue of tongues being  the official evidence of a Spirit-baptism, Nunnally states that “when something is reported multiple times and in varied contexts, it is likely that something of eternal relevance is being communicated” (Nunnally, 2007, p.36).  He concludes that since there are several examples of believers experiencing a Spirit baptism that this means: Luke is presenting baptism in the Holy Spirit as a normative experience for all believers.  I have a problem with this because it bases precedent solely on historical events and not on the teaching.  Even though we know all the narratives took place, it does not make them all normative experiences for the church today, even though most of them should be.  When Scripture commands we do something, we should do it and in areas that are not clear, we must pray and trust that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the truth for us to see it and obey it.

Part III: Present appropriate plans for applying the concepts in this assignment to your ministry.  Contextualize the concepts you have learned to the sub-culture or setting of the people you are ministering to or plan to minister to.  How have you personally benefited from this assignment?

Currently, I lead several small groups at my local church ranging from youth to adults.  For me, this course has definitely been worth all the time and effort I have put into it.  I feel much more confident in my ability to teach.  My ability to perform exegesis has dramatically improved and in turn, my ability to communicate the author’s original intent to my students has gotten much better.

Personally, I have benefited in realizing that even though brilliant scholars cannot agree on certain secondary truths, we can all agree on the primary truth of God’s awesomeness.  We are not to lean on our own understanding and if God wanted us to simply have a list of things to do and not do, He would have given that to us, but instead, He chose to provide us with narratives, poetry, parables, prophecy and stories that could teach us, be an example and most importantly: help us understand how majestic our God is.

Reference List

Duvall, J. Scott and J. Daniel Hays. 2005. Grasping God’s Word. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Fee, Gordon D., Stuart, Douglas. 2003. How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth: Third Edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Gibbs, Carl, B., 2004, Principles of Biblical Interpretation: An Independent-Study Textbook, Springfield, MO: Global University

Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard. 1993. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Nunnally, Waverly E., 2007, Hermeneutics and Interpreting Acts: A Pentecostal Perspective, Springfield, MO: Global University.

Stronstad, Roger. 2005. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

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4 thoughts on “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth

  1. Reanne says:

    Hi Thank you so much for this! This really helped me understand the book more. God bless!

  2. Karen H. says:

    Thank you so much Jeff, your valuable insight has helped me greatly!

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