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, softcover.

Critiqued by Kathy L. McFarland

Fee and Stuart’s book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth guides the beginning Bible student into the world of exegesis and hermeneutics in a practical approach that encourages a deep study of Scripture. It confronts a popular but faulty approach to the modern-day interpretation of Scripture that focuses upon philosophical analysis to make existential significance of Scripture to today’s world that is changing the definition of hermeneutics from a systematic study of the principles of interpretation of Scripture.[1] These “new hermeneutics” confuse the definition and encourage a man-centered interpretation allowing society to change the meaning of the Word of God.[2] Fee and Stuart’s book counteracts that error-prone hermeneutical interpretation effort as it guides students of the Bible with a progressive development of solid study tools that are designed to orientate readers to Scripture themes in each Book, then offers advice and tools in navigation with exegetical and hermeneutical context that provide a solid foundation to base Scripture interpretations upon.

The modern-day faulty approach to hermeneutics is tamed by the authors as they separate the exegesis of Scripture from the second process of hermeneutical analyses; this narrows the definition of hermeneutics considerably and provides a solid foundation for Scripture interpretation to occur. Fee and Stuart’s division of the hermeneutical processes into two parts allows exegesis to determine what was said back then with an analysis of the original intent of the author and only then apply the hermeneutics examination of its connection of God’s Word to the here and now.[3] Their approach to good exegesis requires the reader to carefully read the text and then form the right questions to fully understand context (historical and literary) and content (common meaning and grammar) to evaluate a good translation of Scripture text properly.[4] Then the hermeneutic efforts of interpretation are ready to be applied to a foundational truth-filled exegetical analysis of Scripture that contributes to application development from good interpretation from its meaning. This gives students of the Bible opportunity for applying the Word of God with a better understanding and obedience to Scripture, as well as placing the significance of its results in present-day applications that are separated from the examination of the role of the author and original readers.[5]

The nature of the Bible as being the revealed, inerrant Word of God given to human beings in their language creates a tension between the eternal relevance and its historical particularity.[6] While the original authors wrote specific words for a certain time, they were writing those words through the inspiration and direction of the LORD God; it is He that chose to express eternal truths in common vernacular words with a connection to particular circumstances in human history.[7] These eternal truths remain valid today, and give application to Christians’ lives when the words are evaluated with full attention paid to the author, the audience, and the purpose of words delivered to a specific people in specific times for specific purposes. According to the Fee and Stuart, that process follows exegesis, and progresses into hermeneutics, to give surety to the application of God’s Word with modern day understanding, association, and connection that was given to mankind through forty inspired authors in a 1500 year period from the time of Moses of the Old Testament to the times of the Apostles Paul and John of the New Testament era.

It is the full examination of the different genres that leads the reader on the path of hermeneutical application taught by Fee and Stuart to encourage the reading of the Bible and then living His Word. They fully develop their exegetical hermeneutical process through the detailed examination of the character and God’s intentions concerning the Epistles (pg. 55-88), Old Testament Narratives (89-106), Historical writings (107-126), the Gospels (127-148), Parables (149-162), Laws (163-180), Prophets(181-204) , Psalms (205-224), the Wisdom Books (225-248), and Revelation (249-264). They also offer comparisons concerning the different translation choices (33-54) with a bias toward their preferred TNIV translation, and a handy appendix that evaluates both Old and New Testament Commentaries (265-275).


Scripture epistles are difficult to interpret, according to Fee and Stuart, because of their occasional nature that answers problems of an audience that the modern-day interpreter might be unaware.[8] The effective tools developed by them to address this epistle issue are to examine the historical event through contextual evaluation with a Bible dictionary and commentary, followed with a reading and re-reading of the letter.[9] A literary evaluation should then be performed through a focused examination of paragraphs within the epistle to determine their specific reason for being written.[10]

Fee and Stuart believe this controlled exegesis is beneficial because it relies upon context within the document, without the need to go outside of the epistle to determine meaning of the specific words and ideas.[11] But, this benefit seems unclear since a consultation of historical commentaries is recommended before the exegesis of the specific literary contexts of the epistle. It seems the exegetical analysis would be more effective if the reverse were applied; first, attention paid to the Scripture according to its words, sentences, and then paragraphs, with a consultation of historical accounts to supplement the questions developed in the word study from the start. Also, their diversion from specific word meanings to paragraph exegesis might remove the likelihood of the deeper things of God from discovery by placing the epistles into a category of merely historical letters without the supernatural revelation of God contained within them.

Accordingly, the authors appear to recognize the deficient position of analyzing epistles through the lens of an occasional document; thus, they form rules that make real sense to focus upon the meaning of text to the original audience, and keep that meaning throughout the exegetical process when the same meanings that are shared in modern-day.[12] But, those rules do not prevent exegetical mistakes especially in the case of extended application in situations that are not shared with the original receivers of the letter that live in a different culture than us.[13] So, Fee and Stuart throw out any sense of extra-revelatory Scripture in the epistles, questioning its veracity by concluding that any extended application alone might not be the Truth of God.[14]


Fee and Stuart define the most prevalent genre of narratives in Scripture as “powerful stories retelling the historical events of the past that are intended to give meaning and direction for a given people in the present.” With this definition in mind, they identify three levels of narrative within Scripture, identified as the metanarrative that deals with the universal plan of God through creation, the narrative of the first covenant that God made with His chosen people, and then the first level narrative that combines them both.[15]

Once again, Fee and Stuart remove any sense of mystery from the exegesis of narrative Scripture; they reject hidden meanings within narratives and the connection of narratives to moral lessons.[16] They encourage the interpreter to be aware of the implicit teaching of the narrative that contains elements that are explicit elsewhere in Scripture.[17] The consideration of the narrative as a story with scene, characters, dialogue and scenes is beneficial to the interpreter, but, Fee and Stuart warn against the common errors of allegorizing, decontextualizing, selectivity, moralizing, personalizing, misappropriation, false appropriation, and false combination.[18] Most important to Fee and Stuart’s technique of exegesis is the avoidance of consideration that the Bible narrative was specifically written about you[19] thus possibly restricting the possibility of the Word of God speaking to a person’s heart through the moving of the Holy Spirit by just literally stating the facts.


The historical Book of Acts follows the same hermeneutical goals as the narratives in Fee and Stuart’s assessment with an important assumption that unless Scripture explicitly tells us to do something, we cannot assume that it is so.[20] However, some of their general principles in evaluating the Book of Acts address the condition of relationship that exists between a believer and His Spirit that can reveal an inspired message that is not of primary doctrinal significance that is explicitly stated in Scripture.

It is in Fee and Stuart’s careful explanation of the difference between primary and secondary doctrinal issues that holds some room for the teachings of the Holy Spirit to inspire believers through the Word of God; but, admittedly, Fee and Stuart take great care in avoiding the act of interpretation based upon this personal religious insight.[21] In that regard, the authors develop specific principles to govern valid illustrative, experience, and repeated patterns experienced through Christian relationship with God that connect with His Word, with strict guidelines of accountability first and foremost to literal Scripture reference.[22]


The four Gospels of Jesus Christ were written by four different men that were not connected with each other in their writings, yet they are harmonized in their presentation. A horizontal reading with historical context and literary contemplation is encouraged by Fee and Stuart, with a vertical reading that considers both Christ and the evangelist as each playing an important part in the accounts. [23] They encourage the same cautious exegesis based upon a literal, historical evaluation with the Gospels as they do for the evaluation of narratives; their tools used for Old Testament Scripture analysis work just as effectively with the teachings of Christ. But there is one important detail that must be noted; the Kingdom of God and Christ’s relationship to it must be understood fully if the full Truth of God is to be realized.[24]


The parables are unique in hermeneutical interpretation because of their nature that presupposes the original audience understood exactly the meaning through their immediate connection to them. Fee and Stuart surprisingly recommend a retelling with modern inclusions to have the same type of impact they had on their original audience.[25] They also stress the nature of parables that always portray the Kingdom of God through Christ’s teachings, and important point that must be heeded when interpretations of parables are undertaken.[26]

Other Genres

Fee and Stuart have prepared reliable tools and cautions for the hermeneutical application through careful exegesis of the Laws, Prophets Psalms, Wisdom Books, and Revelation. Each genre demands a different approach in some of their unique aspects; however, as a whole, the tools used for the Epistles, Narratives, and Gospels apply equally to them. Fee and Stuart encourage the use of careful exegesis based upon historical and literal examination of the original author’s intentions to deliver a specific message to a specific people for a specific reason in a specific time.


Fee and Stuart have developed specific tools to guide interpretation of Scripture with scientific precision in order to discern the intentions of God through the authors of His Word to their audiences. These tools are excellent for determining the literal meaning of Scripture, a necessary act if the Truth of God is to be known. However, Fee and Stuart are weak in their explanations of the contribution of the Holy Spirit within a believer to guide interpretation to greater depths that bring the mysteries of God to light. Probably, there are no tools that can be developed in this regard, since the relationship between a believer and their LORD God is governed by the Holy Spirit on a very individual basis. Fee and Stuart wisely approach the interpretation of Scripture by developing tools that can be used consistently and correctly by readers of the Bible without need of additional theological instruction and training.

If the Bible is read for all it’s worth, based upon the tools provided by Fee and Stuart, it is unlikely that there will be error within Scripture interpretations. It is also unlikely that you will have a Spirit filled journey of deep learning and experience the Mysteries of God that permeate His Inspired Word and await the Holy Spirits infusion into the mind and heart of the Believer, if their tools are used without relationship with Him. But, mere humans cannot make rules for that supernatural process since it is controlled by God alone. So, Fee and Stuart seem to have gone as far as they can in offering the best tools for the hermeneutical expression of the Word of God in the modern-day lives of believers, with careful exegesis rules and repeatable steps towards applying the Word of God in today’s Christian walks based upon sure exegesis of Scripture.


Fee, Gordon D., & Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004.

Shealy, Brian A. “Redrawing the Line between Hermeneutics and Application.” Master’s Seminary Journal 8, (1997).


[1] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004), 6.

[2] Brian A. Shealy, “Redrawing the Line between Hermeneutics and Application,” Master’s Seminary Journal 8, (1997): 83-105.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 23.

[4] Ibid., 23-29.

[5] Ibid., 29.

[6] Ibid., 21.

[7] Ibid., 22.

[8] Ibid., 58.

[9] Ibid., 59-62.

[10] Ibid.64-67

[11] Ibid., 67.

[12] Ibid., 74-75.

[13] Ibid., 76-87.

[14] Ibid., 76-77.

[15] Ibid., 91.

[16] Ibid., 92.

[17] Ibid., 92-93.

[18] Ibid., 103-105.

[19] Ibid., 105.

[20] Ibid., 119.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 123-125.

[23] Ibid., 135-139.

[24] Ibid., 145.

[25] Ibid., 160-161.

[26] Ibid., 162.


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