Tag Archives: bookreview

Reading the Bible as Literature – Part 1/2

How to Read the Bible as Literature
Leland Ryken Ph.D.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Zondervan, 208p
ISBN 978-0-310-39021-3

Introduction

How to Read the Bible as Literature by Dr. Leland Ryken is a call to all those engaged in Bible study to included literary analysis in their interpretive methodology and to allow a more complete personal engagement with the Biblical text. Dr. Ryken proposes that the traditional, exclusively intellectual approach to interpreting the Bible does a disservice to the literary nature of the text. This disservice results in a loss of interpretive content. Through the examination of literary devices in the various genres of Scripture he demonstrates the literary nature of the bible. He further develops appropriate sets of guidelines for the literary analysis of each genre, illustrating that this method yields a more complete exposition. He implies that tradition interpretive method alone relegates the emotional and affective content of the Scriptures to an inferior position within Scriptural analysis. This fails to allow the text to engage the reader fully, and as a result, a substantial amount of the intended communication is lost. He contends that complete engagement of the reader was the original biblical intent, a fact supported by the deliberate use of literary forms throughout the Scriptures. His solution is the use of literary analysis in hermeneutics. I agree with his position, though with some misgiving concerning application.

His techniques are able to add a significant wider perspective to both devotional and theological bible study. This supports his contention that literary analysis should have a prominent place in Hermeneutical instruction.

Background Information and Context

The present text stems from Dr. Ryken’s observations over many years in the classroom, primarily at Wheaton College in Illinois. As an English Professor in the seminary environment, he observed that while the tradition, intellectually based approaches to Scriptural interpretation were well addressed, the literary perspective was either ignored or considered inappropriate. He came to see this as completely at odds with his view of the Scriptures as literary writings. Further, he observed that a great deal was being missed in exegesis and interpretation though the omission of literary content which the Biblical authors had included through literary genre and device. This book attempts to address these omissions by developing a literary approach to interpretation. This is accomplished by introducing applicable literary genres and demonstrating techniques for literary analysis of each genre.

Summary

Dr. Ryken summarizes his book as “a ‘grammar’ of literary forms and techniques” (p10). However, in providing this exposition of forms and techniques, the book also provides extensive justification for their use as parallel techniques on equal footing with the standard grammatico-historical method. He proposes that “there is a preoccupation among biblical writers with artistry, verbal craftsmanship, and aesthetic beauty” (p9) which speaks to the experiential and emotional side of the interpreter. This important communication from the biblical writers has been ignored or denied in classic hermeneutics.

The book proposes that the sheer weight of deliberate literary devices used by the biblical writers supports a view of the Scriptures as literature. The bible also illustrates a strong propensity for communicating through the story as a primary medium, as opposed to theological discourse and proofs. This alters both the way the bible should be read and the communication it provides. As a result “The story does not primarily require our minds to grasp an idea but instead gets us to respond with our imagination and emotions to a real-life experience. Literature, in short, is affective, not cool and detach.” (p15).

The affective nature of the Bible, conveyed primarily through story but also expanded in almost all bible genres, is developed as the discussion addresses each genre individually. Beginning with the primary genre of  story, successive chapters extend this theme into poetry, proverbs, the Gospels, Parables, the Epistles, Satire, and Apocalyptic books.

Each genre is addressed with a definition, exposition of appropriate literary devices and textual examples. The examples not only demonstrate the literary devices but add additional weight the evidence in support of the Bible as literature. A set of interpretive rules emerges for the literary analysis of each genre. These rules provide a framework for the reader to apply the techniques to other texts.

The Bible is shown to be a book for stories, some related by biblical characters and others written in the lives of those historical characters. These stories communicate precepts through the experiences of people. A set of guidelines or rules are developed for reading the story genre. Similarly, other genres such as poetry have sets of guidelines for using literary analysis for interpretation. For example: ”Interpret as figurative any statement that does not make sense at a literal level in the context in which it appears.”(p102).

Throughout the discussions of each literary genre, Dr. Ryken demonstrates the use of the literary forms to communicate to the reader experientially. The motif of experiential communications is shown to be consistent over all genres and therefore throughout the Bible. For example, in discussing simile and metaphor within poetry, he states that “There is an irreducible quality to metaphor and simile that we should respect, both as readers and expositors”(p92). This irreducible quality speaks to the experiential and emotional, which is a common thread throughout the book.

The book concludes with discussion of the literary unity of the Bible as a story which “which has a beginning-middle-end pattern, a unifying plot conflict between good and evil, a focus on people in the act of choosing, and a central protagonist who is God.”(p179). These techniques are shown to combine to form a unified theme and convey “archetypal plot motifs” (p191).

All of the forgoing literary genres and techniques combine into an “affective power”(p196) which engages the whole person of the reader. The expositor and interpreter are stronger encouraged to participate in this engagement.

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Keep Your Greek – Book Review

So, you maybe know a usable amount, or a lot, of NT Greek. You did the basic grammar courses, added a syntax and exegesis course, and maybe a related preaching or teaching course. Lots of sweat and a little inspiration. And voila, usable Koine Greek (hopefully).

We all agree that this is invaluable if not vital do quality study, preaching and teaching of the Word.

Now the real challenge begins. Retaining a language that you do not actively speak every day means deliberately keeping it up. But how?

Keep Your Greek

Keep Your Greek

Keep Your Greek, Strategies for Busy People by Constantine Campbell was created to address this problem.

This book was not created in the vacuum of the academic study. Each chapter of the book was created through a blog post and associated blog comments (a subset of which are included in most chapters). I followed this process online and the result is a timely compendium which hits the mark.

The book is clearly written and addresses each issue concisely. There is lots of (Greek geek) humour and a point of view that those using Greek will appreciate. In short, it does the job in an engaging fashion, which is half the battle.

It is not that this book contains a lot of surprises, since there is little new under the language learning sun. However, it pulls together most of the tips and tricks appropriate to Koine under one roof. This is uniquely useful and encouraging.

The main requirement, as expected, is ongoing, consistent effort. No surprise there, but the encouragement is appropriate and appreciated.

Along with the expected suggestions (keep your vocabulary up, practice parsing), there are a couple of strategies for retention and increased usability that are not as often suggested:
– skim reading, as you would in English, to practice getting the ‘just’ of the text. This is rarely suggested for this type of language work, especially for the less advanced.
– varying reading speed deliberately.

Lastly, there is a section on recovering your dormant Greek.

Overall, this is a useful, engaging and most of all encouraging look at a problem shared by most serious bible students. It is a welcome addition. Constantine Campbell is to be commended.

I should close by mentioning that Zondervan gave me a copy of this book for review. Irregardless, I would likely have purchased it and my opinions to do consider that.

 

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Reading the Bible for All Its Worth – Part 2/2

Some Reservations

The presentation falters somewhat through an overly extensive addition of warnings for each genre. These warnings describe how interpretation is likely to fail in a myriad of ways, and they cast something of a cloud over the methodology. Though valid in some interpretive cases, presenting them in this manner is counter productive and largely unnecessary for the lay bible study student. After three decades teach and designing post secondary curriculum, I have serious pedagogical reservations about this approach. The most likely effect is to convince the reader that their likelihood of interpretive success is very low. This is a pedagogical flaw.

In reading this text, one must also bearing mind that Fee and Stuart (particularly Fee) are longstanding proponents of and participants in the more liberal side of the NIV translation. Fee is also a major proponent of gender-neutral translation. This particularly raises a serious doctrinal flag for this reviewer.

Conclusion

This book is appropriate for lay bible students who are willing to participate in the exercises presented through the examples. The effectiveness of the text would be seriously diminished by a lack of engagement through the sample Scriptures.

Due to my reservations, I would normally recommend this book for an instructor-lead delivery model (ie. Adult Bible School), or to those with an appreciation of the doctrinal caveats. Within that context, it can be very edifying.

Overall, many lay bible students would benefit from this presentation and it would enrich their Bible study. I have recommended it to numerous people.

 

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Reading the Bible for All Its Worth – Part 1/2

With the previous review of Ryken’s text in mind, it seemed appropriate to dust off an old copy of Fee and Stuart’s book for another look and a review…

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 2nd Edition
Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart,
Grand Rapids, Michigan,
Zondervan, 265p,
ISBN 0-310-38491-5

Summary

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is a brief, but reasonably complete lay introduction to hermeneutics. Their goal is to facilitate both bible reading and bible study, with an emphasis on bridging the gap between the meaning of the text for the original recipient and the meaning for the present reader. The initial chapters explain the need for a systematic approach to bible study, as opposed to simple reading. A clear distinction is drawn between exegesis and hermeneutics as distinct, ordered activities. The selection of an appropriate study translation is also explored.

Commentary

The body of the book defines and discusses the Biblical genres in a tradition format, addressing the Epistles, Old Testament Narratives, Acts, the Gospels, the Parables, the Laws, the Prophets, Psalms, Wisdom books and the Revelation. An appendix addresses the selection of quality commentaries. Each genre taught by means of both explanation accompanied by appropriate sample Scriptures. In most cases, the discussion of each genre instructs the reader to work actively through the example Scripture. This yields a continuous set of inline exercises, which maintain reader engagement and avoid the problems of passive description. This is an effective pedagogy.

Lastly, but very significantly, many chapters have summary lists of the analytical guidelines for that genre. This strongly supports subsequent use and it a feature that was noted in my previous review of the Ryken text as a significant omission.

Throughout the portion addressing each genre, the text consistently stresses two activities – repeated reading of the Biblical text under analysis, and the importance of context. This repetition is very effective, and is reminiscent of the same recommendation by A.I. Pink in his book “Knowing God”.

The need for reasoned, common sense bible study, the division between exegesis and hermeneutics, and the differentiation between original and present meaning are all very effective presented. The tradition division into genres and the use of extensive reader participation in processes is well executed and effective. Assuming that the reader participates in the process as requested in the text, a good foundation will be laid for genre based analysis.

 

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Books in review…

My library grows slowly but continuallyt (it is listed as part of my cataloging project posts) and as I read various books I thought it might be interesting jot down some notes – some comprising a review, some an outline, some just impressions and such.

There is no particular order in these reviews  and they represent only the books that I have had time or inclination to write about.

Maybe someone will find them of interest…

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