How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas K. Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2003.

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, two seminary professors, set out to write a book capable of assisting students of the Bible in understanding what they are reading and then discover the appropriate personal application.[1]  While there are many books on how to read the Bible, Fee and Stuart felt it was necessary for academics to provide a book that could serve not as a simple list of rules to be mechanically applied, but rather a discussion to bring about an understanding of principles.  After reading How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, the authors imply that with a better grasp of concepts discussed in the book like context and literary devices, for example, their readers should be able to return to the Bible with a greater ability to correctly understand and apply what they read.   This critique will examine Fee and Stuart’s claim, as well as the tools they suggest make the claim possible.  A brief overview of the authors’ backgrounds will open this post, followed by a summary of the book, an interaction of the author’s work, ending with a conclusion. 
According to his website, Fee is “Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies, Regent College.”[2]  Not only is Fee the general editor for the New International Commentary Series, he also serves on the NIV review committee.[3]  The Assemblies of God denomination has ordained Fee as a minister and he teaches and speaks at conferences.  He is the author of a number of books to include, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, God’s Empowering Presence, Gospel and the Spirit, The Desis of the Health & wealth Gospels, To What End Exegesis?, and Listening to the Spirit in the Text.  Many commentaries round out his published work including Corinthians, Philippians, and 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, of which are part of the New International Bible Commentary Series and part of this critic’s personal library. 
Douglas Stuart is a professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the senior pastor of Linebrook Church in Massachusetts.[4]  He also worked with Fee on How to Read the Bible Book by Book.  In addition, his other books and commentaries include New American Commentary: Exodus, The Preacher’s Commentary, Vol. 20: Ezekiel, Word Biblical Themes: Hosea-Jonah, and Old Testament Exegesis

            As early as they could—the opening of Chapter 1—Fee and Stuart pitch their tent in the camp with those who believe that correct interpretation, often with sound exegesis and hermeneutics is extremely important to the proper understanding and application of God’s Word.  While it is unlikely that a Christian from the other camp, that of “any person with half a brain can read it and understand it,” as the authors describe this argument, would pick up this book, Fee and Stuart do appear to feel the necessity of arguing for their principles from the start.[5]  Once the tent is firmly standing and the camp flag raised, they move into a basic overview of what interpretation is, how everybody does it, be it poorly or rightly, and a brief discussion of the tools used in studying the Bible.  As they are presenting their argument and overview, they raise a point this critic has not seen elsewhere.  They present an argument that to use an English translation, or any translation for that matter, is to be involved in interpretation.  “For translation” writes Fee and Stuart, “is in itself a (necessary) form of interpretation.”[6]
            Next, Fee and Stuart address the matter of translation.  As is typical of these discussions, they outline the differences between formal and functional equivalence.  They demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of both and further explain why a translation group would select one over the other in their translational theory.  And just coming off their argument of the importance of proper interpretation, they offer an example of poor interpretation from Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Version.  It is also as a part of this discussion that they deal with the problem matters of weights and money, euphemisms, vocabulary, grammar and syntax, and gender.  By the end of the chapter, they recommend that a student of the Bible should have two or three different translations from a list of translations they feel are good.  As for the the ESV, they pay it no attention, greatly preferring the TNIV. 
            At this point, the book takes a shift.  With each new chapter, a couple different hermeneutical questions and principles of interpretation are demonstrated with the use of sections of Scripture. Fee and Stuart start with the epistles.  They started here because on the surface, the epistles appear to be easy, but in fact, they can be rather complex.[7]  Through the epistles, the concept of thinking contextually is presented as are some introductory hermeneutical questions.  Next, they spend some time in the Old Testament in and effort to teach on the proper tools for understanding the narrative.  This is followed by a look at Acts and the historical precedent.  What was prescriptive and what was descriptive; what is normative.  This teaching model continues throughout the rest of the book.  The Gospels are used to show the many dimensions and complexities of Scripture.  Fee and Stuart then look at how to read parables, then the law, and on to the prophets.  Stuart’s strong point, Hebrew poetry, is dealt with next as the lessons draw from the Psalms.  The Psalms present a challenging question, surprisingly not mentioned by C.S. Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms, but extensively addressed by Fee and Stuart.  “How do these words spoken to God function as a Word from God to us?” ask Fee and Stuart.[8]  As the book is wrapping up, the authors deal with the then vs. now concepts of interpretation and use the wisdom books as their teaching aid.  Revelation serves as the conclusion of the book.  Following the last chapter, an appendix on the use of commentaries is offered as is a list of commentaries these two commentary writers recommend. 

            Before a critique is offered, the authors should be commended for attempting to write a book that captures the heart of exegesis and hermeneutics from a perspective different than others on the shelves.  The book straddles the easy tone of books for a broad audiences but remains close to the academic tenets of interpretation found in seminary lectures and the large textbooks on the student’s desk.  Given that How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is in its third edition with over half a million copies sold, it is evident that this book offers something of value to its readers.  It is the belief of this critic that the value of this book is not purely entertainment, but educational and thought provoking. 
            Possibly the greatest strength of Fee and Stuart’s work is their tone.  The material is approachable because it is presented using questions that could very easily be asked by the reader.  There are memorable examples.  One such example is the preacher that says topknots are unbiblical.[9]  And many examples taken from Scripture are offered.  It seems as if at lease one passage from every book of the 66 books of the Protestant Bible are addressed and many books are dealt with in great detail.
            The greatest weakness of the book comes out in the areas where teaching methods of interpretation affords opportunities for specific denominational understanding and interpretation to take center stage over the methods themselves.  Hints of their interpretation rise to the surface concerning the controversial matters of speaking in tongues, roles of church leadership, and gender issues for example.  There are many different understandings of the book of Revelation, but rather than addressing the need for caution in the hermeneutical principles as they suggested in their opening arguments, they offered more commentary than teaching on hermeneutics.  It is difficult to demonstrate any blatant arguments from personal agenda because the insight into the author’s positions comes in bits and pieces.  For example, when discussing gender issues in translation, the ESV translation is branded as a translation that has an agenda to “stem the tide” of feminism and gender neutral language.[10]  However, in the previous section on formal equivalence, the authors state that the objective of the translators is to best match the words even if it becomes more difficult for the reader.[11]  The ESV is attempting to be a formal equivalent translation but then it is attacked by the Fee and Stuart for its formal equivalence.  Rather than demonstrating how the ESV incorrectly translated the words, the matter is simply dealt with by appealing to the shift in attitude.[12]  This is even more complicated when contrasted with the problem of vocabulary in the same chapter.  And by the time women in ministry or women teaching men is address, the authors have already reviled an area where they seem to be letting their preferences lead their interpretation, the very thing they argue against.      

            Many of the principles taught in the book are sound and the teaching, if applied, will lead to a greater understanding of God’s Word, despite some of the weaknesses presented here.  Therefore, unless an alternative book with a similar tone for the laymen can be found, this book might be the best option.  It is not too cumbersome, dry, or technical so the reader stays interested, and yet it is not as light or shallow as one might expect seeing it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.  With a slight caution, it is still worth recommending to the Christian that desires tools to better understand what he or she is reading in God’s Word.  If the student of the Bible is willing to go for a larger text book, then Grasping God’s Word by Duvall and Hays is a better selection.        

“Douglas K. Stuart.” Gordon-Cronwell Theological Seminary.
     prospective_students/douglas_k_stuart (Accessed November 14, 2010).

Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas K. Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Grand Rapids,
     Mich: Zondervan, 2003.

“Gordon D. Fee.” Gordon Fee. (Accessed November 14,

     [1] Fordon D. Fee and Douglas K. Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2003), 13-16.
     [2] “Gordon D. Fee,” Gordon Fee, (Accessed November 14, 2010).
     [3] Ibid.
     [4] “Douglas K. Stuart,” Gordon-Cronwell Theological Seminary,
students/douglas_k_stuart (Accessed November 14, 2010).
     [5] Fee & Stuart 2003, 17.
     [6] Ibid, 19. 
     [7] Ibid, 55.
     [8] Ibid, 205. 
     [9] Ibid, 30. 
     [10] Ibid, 50. 
     [11] Ibid, 40. 
     [12] Ibid, 50.

* This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website. 
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