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).

Epistles

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]

Narratives

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.

Historical

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]

Gospels

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]

Parables

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.

Conclusion

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.

Bibliography

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).

Footnotes

[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.

Beck, James R. (Ed.). Two Views on Women in Ministry. Revised ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. ISBN: 978-0-310-25437-9.

Introduction

Dr. James R. Beck has compiled four scholarly articles that present the egalitarian and complementarian/hierarchical views concerning women in ministry with balanced counterpoints added to fully inform readers. The presentation of views seems to compare and contrast in a fair, balanced way that provides the reader with a good idea of the debate, with counter arguments presented at the end of each essay. However, the balanced approach to the presentation of both sides concerning women in ministry does not fully reveal God’s Truth; thus, the Two Views on Women in Ministry presents sincere but some flawed arguments with some conflict to the inerrant Word of God, possibly on both sides of the debate.[1] These differing opinions require Christians to sort through the issues with care, and compare and contrast the issues of both sides with a solid analysis that is dependent upon foundational, inerrant Scripture if the Truth of God is to be known fully.

Summarization of Belleville’s Essay Supporting an Egalitarian Perspective

Dr. Linda Belleville[2] addresses the role of women as equal to men in Christian leadership potential that should be given authority to assume pastoral duties and church leadership positions on an equal footing with male Christian leaders. Belleville seems to take a feminist, no hierarchy in principle/no hierarchy in practice spectrum[3] in her egalitarian position by setting the stage in identifying the problem as the backwards, traditional, hierarchical view that God created men to lead and women to follow. This argument, often prevalent amongst liberal, egalitarian feminists, formulates the beginning debate upon modern social advancement rather than solid Scripture exegesis with a repudiation that traditionalists’ views based solidly upon inerrant Scripture is actually the main issue.[4] Rather, she begins her argument with the supporting statement that it is now general agreement that women have the same spiritual gifts as men, but often denied leadership positions, based upon social issues that are prevalent in our society today.[5]

Belleville is a careful scholar; once the foundation of socially progressive egalitarianism vs. backwards, socially repressive, hierarchical traditionalism is laid, she then begins to carefully build her position with Scripture support. Thus, in her worldview, Genesis 1 and 2 affirms equality of man and woman, with the obligation to split subjugation duties of God’s creation on practical considerations as spiritual, personal, and social equals.[6] She conveniently disavows the definition of woman as helper to mean the inflammatory words of “submissive assistant” that probably is not often a traditional scholar’s choice of words. The traditional argument for man’s purpose to rule supported by Genesis 3:16 is elevated to shared partnership with co-dominion, with personal commentary that mocks traditional belief as a “sad state of affairs” when gender hierarchy is claimed.

Belleville presents the usual arguments and defense of women in Scripture that has risen to prophetic and teaching roles; however, these points are not at the crux of disagreement. While several Scripture, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (women commanded to be silent in church), 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (women are not permitted to have authority over man), and 1 Corinthian 11:2-16 (different roles) are presented as important points in Belleville’s defense, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is the defining biblical text that directs attention back to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3. It is these two Scripture issues (the hierarchy of male and female roles and the authority of women in church) that must be argued effectively if change to the complementarian view can begin.

Critique of Belleville’s Defense of Egalitarianism Perspective

Belleville’s defense of the lack of hierarchy in God’s creation of man and woman does not argue well from her modern views of desirable social norms. If her arguments were based upon Genesis 1-3 fully, without reference to modern relationships between the sexes today, her ideas would be more intriguing; however, her modern foundation clouds her points and develops suspicion of feminist agenda that bends Scripture to form liberal interpretation of Scripture.

Additionally, her arguments of the non-existence of established hierarchy are untruthful; Genesis 1-3 clearly shows an ordered creation, with traditional belief that this also emulates the subordinate role of Son of God to Father,[7] with husband as head and wife as helpmate that establishes a hierarchical role between men and women. Either God has developed a more equalized role for men and women throughout His relationship with mankind, or He has not. Belleville’s essay does not offer proof that hierarchal order of male and female has been increased to equal and shared order. There can be no middle-ground interpretation choice given by God in this matter; either a hierarchical order exists, or it does not. Any belief concerning women’s role in church leadership must address the hierarchy issue, with strong Scripture reference, that shows change from creation status, before traditional belief can be advanced. An increased development of the male and female order must be shown from the starting point of the Creation account that progresses as God’s will is revealed to man, or Genesis 1-3 must remain the standard of hierarchal order. Denial of established hierarchal order recorded in the creation account denies the inerrant Word of God.

However, she does approach 1 Timothy 2:11-15 more critically, and admits to the difficult understanding the Greek expression oude authentein andros that is commonly translated “nor to dominate (nor to exercise authority) over a man” found in verse 12. She convincingly argues that these Greek words, with considerable reference to extrabiblical text, have specific translated meaning “to domineer” that shows Paul is prohibiting teaching by the Ephesus women that are seeking the upper hand through extemporaneously teaching false things against God. But then, her conclusion returns to the sociological and psychological impact of a traditional view of women in leadership roles that undermine the Word of God, and cancel out any trust in her position that might have been gained in her numerous scholarly arguments.

Summarization of Blomberg’s Essay Supporting a Complementarian Perspective

Dr. Craig L Blomberg[8] defends the traditional Christian position that supports the complementarian/hierarchical view that differentiates ministry roles by gender and often forbids appointment of women to leadership roles in Christianity.[9] He makes an important point that often women trump biblical evidence by declaring the personal call of God to the ministry that places profound dilemma upon conservative leadership determination in churches today.[10]

Like Belleville, Blomberg discusses the examples of women in Old and New Testament times, including Intertestamental Period. Once again, this information is accepted on both sides of the argument, and irrelevant to the conflict. He identifies four key Scriptures that are often controversial between the different views; Galatians 3:28 (there is no male or female), 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (headgear with praying), 1 Corinthians 14:33-38 (silence of women in church), and 1 Timothy 2:8-15 (the Ephesus women). Blomberg agrees with Belleville concerning the connection to false teaching with the Ephesians women. He challenges the word definition hesychia that commonly does not mean silence in Acts 22:2 or 2 Thessalonians 3:12.

Critique of Blomberg’s Defense of Complementarian Perspective

Blomberg’s defense is weak on Genesis 1-3 and agreeable with the egalitarian perspective concerning 1 Timothy 2:8-15. It should not be surprising that Blomberg supports the hierarchal order and the woman in the role as helper to man initially; however, it soon goes awry. Blomberg fairly addresses this issue as occurring during the perfect love period of Adam and Eve before they chose disobedience to God that shatters their harmony forever; thus, the idea of love is transformed into domination after distortion due to sin.[11] But, Blomberg falls short of Scripture support by declaring that there are just “hints” of divinely intended male headship found in Genesis 1-3 and he discounts the reference quickly.[12] Once again, it seems as if a conservative scholar has found it necessary to present politically correct evaluation, and ignore the strong position of God that expresses and ordered hierarchy between male and female found in Genesis 1-3. Blomberg makes a common mistake by interpreting the Old Testament with New Testament ideas of women’s roles[13] and civil rights of modern day.[14] Egalitarians are in the winning position when modern-day views are considered, and Traditionalists often bend to accommodate this popular position rather than provide a biblically and theologically compelling alternative.[15]

Blomberg analyzes verse 1 Timothy 2:12 by debating the odd Greek verb authenteo chosen to translate into “exercise authority,”[16] and declares the only thing Paul is prohibiting women from doing is occupying the office of overseer or elder, with all other leadership offices are open to women Christian leadership.[17] He resolves the debate by declaring male headship timeless, but, only the highest office of eldership is prohibited to women.[18] This view assumes a great deal of Scripture support for an obscure, complex idea that is less visible than is the strong hierarchical order in Genesis 1-3 that he declares merely a hint; this tendency of modern-day civil awareness complicates even the conservative complementarian positions.

Once again, the inerrant Word of God must be examined in balance, without bias, and fully open to discovery of the Truth of God. Both Blomberg and Belleville fail to fully comprehend the full teachings of God because they fail to measure their position completely upon the inerrant Word of God.

Conclusion

Dr. Beck has developed a scholarly work that balances both principle views concerning women in Christian leadership positions. In his revision, he includes Dr. Craig S. Keener’s perspective on the egalitarian view and Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner’s views on the complementarian perspective. The four essays, with the defense or objections of these authors upon each other’s works, give a good deal of knowledge of the actual debate that helps reflect opposing sides. Most importantly, it gives direction to those seeking Scripture support, and defines the arguments to narrow the reader to specific places of exegetical inquiry.

Through the limited examination of just two of the essays, the need for strong Scriptural support is glaringly evident. This complex issue cannot be fully resolved without the Word of God providing foundation to the discussion. Both liberal and conservative Christians should read the essays in Two Views on Women in Ministry in their entirety with attention to each detailed presentation, without bias, and consider the balanced points, with a Bible close at hand. Both sides have a great deal to learn, and Beck’s collection of articles informs the reader about this complex issue.

It is imperative that all Christians, especially those in male and female leadership roles, recognize that the position taken concerning this divisive issue might well subvert the Holy Spirit, or deny the will of God from advancing, or corrupt the theological system that His providence has established, should the wrong position be taken that conflicts with Scripture. While both positions do not reach the level of soul-robbing false teachings, leadership works by both males and females must be clearly represented by Scriptural support, or the entire system accomplishing the works of the Lord can be compromised and remove opportunity from those intended to receive the things of God through the hands of His selected leaders.

Bibliography

Beck, James R. Two Views on Women in Ministry. Revised Kindle ed., Edited by James R. Beck. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Burk, Denny. “Younger Evangelicals and Women in Ministry: A Sketch of the Spectrum of Opinion.” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 12, no. 2 (2007).

Carlson-Thies, Christiane. “Man and Woman at Creation: A Critique of Complementarian Interpretations.” Priscilla Papers 18, no. 4 (2004).

Cowan, Steven. “The Metaphysics of Supordination: A Response to Rebecca Merrill Groothuis.” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 14, no. 1 (2009).

Dever, Mark. “Young Vs. Old Complementarians.” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 13, no. 1 (2008).

Grenz, Stanley J. “Anticipating God’s New Community: Theological Foundations for Women in Ministry.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38, no. 4 (1995).

Moore, Russell D. “After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians Are Winning the Gender Debate.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 3 (2006).

Footnotes

[1] James R. Beck, Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed. James R. Beck, Revised Kindle ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), Kindle Location 179 of 6852. Though Beck acknowledges the concord of presenters that either position can obtain orthodox support with inerrancy, this seems unlikely. Careful exegesis of Scripture can only reveal one absolute Truth of God in this matter; it cannot be both ways nor based upon doctrinal worldview, regardless of sincerity of belief.

[2] Dr. Linda Belleville, (Ph. D., St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto) is a Professor of New Testament at Bethel College, Indiana. She has taught religion, theology, and biblical studies for North Park College and Theological Seminary and is also a translator for Tyndale House’s The New Living Translation, and the author of several commentaries and books.

[3] Denny Burk, “Younger Evangelicals and Women in Ministry: A Sketch of the Spectrum of Opinion,” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 12, no. 2 (2007): 35.

[4] Beck, Kindle Location 220 of 6852.

[5] Ibid., Kindle Location 258 of 6852.

[6] Ibid., Kindle Location 279-302 of 6852.

[7] Stanley J. Grenz, “Anticipating God’s New Community: Theological Foundations for Women in Ministry,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38, no. 4 (1995): 598.

[8] Dr. Craig L. Blomberg is a distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and past research fellow in Cambridge, England with Tyndale House. He has authored and edited 15 books, including The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Interpreting the Parables, and other theological works.

[9] Steven Cowan, “The Metaphysics of Supordination: A Response to Rebecca Merrill Groothuis,” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 14, no. 1 (2009): 42.

[10] Beck, Kindle Location 2380-6852.

[11] Ibid., Kindle Location 2459 of 6852.

[12] Ibid., Kindle Location 2459-6852.

[13] Christiane Carlson-Thies, “Man and Woman at Creation: A Critique of Complementarian Interpretations,” Priscilla Papers 18, no. 4 (2004): 3.

[14] Mark Dever, “Young Vs. Old Complementarians,” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 13, no. 1 (2008): 20.

[15] Russell D. Moore, “After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians Are Winning the Gender Debate,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 3 (2006): 568.

[16] Beck, Kindle Location 3000 of 6852.

[17] Ibid., Kindle Location 2044 of 6852.

[18] ibid., Kindle Location 3222 of 6852.