The past couple days i’ve redeemed the time listening to a series of three talks Gordon Fee presented on how to read the Bible. Fee, who is professor of New Testament at Regent College, Vancouver, is widely known for two books he co-authored with Douglas Stuart, How to read the Bible for all its worth and How to read the Bible book by book. These two are excellent books for anyone who desires to read and understand the Bible better, and i heartily recommend them.
As Fee says in this series of talks, “We need to become better readers of Scripture so that we can become better disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He begins by identifying some of the reasons for and results of our poor Bible-reading habits. He goes on to suggest how we can become better readers of Scripture. We must understand context, Fee stresses: chapter and verse divisions and a “promise box” approach to reading the Bible have resulted in us so often missing or misunderstanding the context. Fee reminds us that the Bible was not meant to be read a couple of verses at a time: that certainly is not how its early recipients read it. He points out how necessary it is for us to grasp the Old Testament, since that is the context for understanding the New Testament. Fee also talks about the importance of understanding the sweep of the Bible; indeed, this was the impetus for the two books mentioned. But that is a subject for another post on Biblical theology resources.
Taking examples from Malachi and Philippians, Fee demonstrates how a proper contextual reading will enormously aid our understanding and help guard against faulty (albeit popular) interpretations. He also suggests that we have forgotten how to read, largely because we are instructed from a young age to read silently. Fee encourages us to read out loud (“except in the library”); this is sage advice which i have found very beneficial: it involves more senses, thus helping me to remember better what i’m reading; it engages my mind more so that my thoughts are less prone to wandering; and it requires me to read with expression, which helps me to understand nuances of the text which are glossed over too easily when reading silently.
Lastly, Fee talks about the why of reading and studying the Bible. It must reach from our heads to our hearts to our hands. “Knowing how [to read the Bible] counts for very little if we are not willing for it to transform us.” He concludes with wise and challenging words about the authority of the Bible: if we believe in the authority of Scripture, we must be constantly humbled by Scripture. Indeed, if we are not transformed by the Bible, people will have a hard time believing that Scripture has much authority at all, he says.
These talks are very highly recommended. They are available from Union University and can be downloaded for free from the following links:
- Part 1: Why Christians read their Bibles poorly (mp3, 31MB)
- Part 2: Some helps towards good reading (mp3, 29MB)
- Part 3: Why read the Bible well? (mp3, 24MB)
(These talks were the plenary sessions of a broader conference which covered reading different genres of Scripture.)