Sunday 25 January 2009

Six of the Best 1: Books for Beginners on Interpreting the Bible

I hope to write a monthly series of ‘Six of the Best’ books in a particular area related to engaging with Scripture for the relaunched LICC website (due March). I’ll probably start with books on biblical interpretation written with the ‘beginner’ in mind.

The following titles are among the best I have come across at an introductory level, written in an engaging, accessible style. They all include discussion of basic principles of interpretation (such as the importance of literary context, the historical background of the text, genre, translation, etc.) and they are all concerned, to a greater or lesser extent, to help readers think about how the Bible applies to today.

Books for the so-called ‘beginner’ are also useful for those of us who are further down the road, because they often remind us of ‘first principles’, and provide examples of good teachers in action, giving tips of how we might pass on insights and skills to others.

Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach, Dig Deeper! Tools to Unearth the Bible’s Treasure (Leicester: IVP, 2005).
A very helpful user-friendly guide for beginners. This is an excellent place to start if you feel new to the area, and a good book to give to others starting out. The book contains short, easy-to-read chapters on different ‘tools’ for reading the Bible, with worked examples on biblical passages.

Richard Briggs, Light to Live By: How to Interpret the Bible (Bletchley: Scripture Union, 2005).
First published in 1998 with the title Be an Expert in 137 Minutes in Interpreting the Bible, this is one of the best and most enjoyable ways into biblical interpretation. It has less of a ‘workbook’ approach than others in this list, but has more discussion of some of the over-arching issues in biblical interpretation more generally, introducing contemporary thinking in the area in a highly engaging way.

Jerry Camery-Hoggatt, Reading the Good Book Well: A Guide to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007).
A user-friendly way in to different aspects of interpreting biblical passages, with lots of worked examples – from the way language works generally as well as from the Bible. Although still accessible for beginners, this is probably the most ‘difficult’ of the books in this list. Someone stating with Beynon & Sach (above) or Duvall & Hays (below) could move on to this for more extended discussion of methods of reading biblical passages.

J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Journey into God’s Word: Your Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008).
An abridgement of a fuller work by the authors, this is a very helpful book for newcomers to the area, with separate chapters covering the major types of literature in the Bible as well as issues related to interpretation and application more generally.

Ray Lubeck, Read the Bible for a Change: Understanding and Responding to God’s Word (Bletchley: Authentic, 2005).
This one, the fullest in this list, explores four steps to a method of Bible study: seeing (what does it say?), understanding (what does it mean?), sharing (what truths is it teaching?), and responding (so what?), all with plenty of examples to show the ‘working out’.

Andrew Reid, Postcard from Palestine: A Hands On Guide to Reading and Using the Bible, 2nd edn. (Kingswood: Matthias Media, 1997).
The oldest in this list, this one adopts a ‘workbook’ approach, and suggests a seven -step method for showing how readers can travel back to ancient Palestine, hear what God said, and travel back to the 21st century to apply it. Contains lots of examples and exercises, and is suitable for small groups as well as individuals.

Future ‘Six of the Bests’ will be devoted to intermediate books on interpreting the Bible, advanced books on interpreting the Bible, books on reading the biblical story, genre, theological interpretation, translating the Bible…

No comments: