Tools to unearth the Bible
Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach (Leicester: IVP, 2005)Blurb Review by Tim Anderson
Review by Tim Anderson
According to recent research some church leaders read the Bible on average for 3 minutes a day. There are many reasons for this. But one is, we don't know how to do it. We therefore eventually give up, or at least read it very little.
Dig Deeper! aims to restore a confidence in reading the Bible as ‘the very word of God'. According to the authors, the aim of this book is to help the reader ‘correctly handle the word of truth' so that we will experience God's clear guidance in our life, come to know the Bible better, and grow to love him more.
To achieve this aim there are sixteen chapters, each with a ‘tool' to use in handling the Bible. The exception to this is the very first chapter, which looks at what the Bible is and how we should use it. For the authors this is fundamental; ‘understanding the nature of the Bible leads us to the right way to approach it' (p.28). So because it is the very word of God, it is living and active, true and reliable, understood only with the help of the Spirit, and the ultimate authority for Christians. At the same time the Bible is also a human book written by real people in real situations. We therefore need tools to understand and interpret it properly.
Having laid this foundation the authors proceed to give the reader their sixteen tools. The first is the author's purpose tool urging us to ask the question - why does the writer say all this? The reader may wonder why this particular tool has been chosen as the first one. Helpfully, we're told. ‘It is the tool par excellence, the Swiss army knife from which all other tools fold out and which keeps them all together' (p.33).
So what are these other tools? Here are some examples. First, the context tool. This reminds us of the different levels of context (sentence, paragraph, chapter, bible book, whole bible) and the danger of reading a text out of context. The structure tool helps us to see if the author has broken down his material into sections, and if so how these sections hold together. This is important because it will ‘help us to move towards the unifying idea of the passage as a whole' (p.45). The linking words tool (‘for', ‘therefore', ‘if', ‘so that') show the flow of the argument. The parallels tool demonstrates that poetry in Scripture has a purpose, namely, emphasizing the meaning of a passage. The narrator's comment tool helps us to look out for the writer's explanation of the events within the narrative. The vocabulary tool encourages us to see that Bible words have bible meanings that are often different from the meanings we might give to the same word today. Other tools are translations, tone and feel, repetition, quotation and illusion, and genre.
Very helpfully, in the later chapters we are given some tools to assist us with right application. Again, some examples. The copycat tool reminds us to distinguish between what the Bible prescribes and describes - that is, what to copy and what not to copy. The Bible timeline tool, with the use of helpful diagrams, shows us where we are in relation to creation, the fall, the coming of Christ and his return at the end of the age. We are also urged to stop and think before identifying ourselves with some well-known Old Testament characters (the ‘Who am I?' tool). This is important because often these characters ‘are pictures of Jesus and so we should learn from them about him, rather than ourselves' (p.137).
The beauty of this book is its clarity and lightness of touch on the one hand. But on the other, its thoroughness and depth. The chapters are short and manageable, but not superficial. The authors are not frightened of getting technical. For example, in the chapter on the parallels tool, they give an explanation of the difference between antithetical parallelism and chiastic parallelism! But nor are they shy of being very practical. So to help us use the repetition tool we are advised to use coloured pencils or highlighters, choosing a different colour for each repeated word (p.96).
Each chapter has a Worked Example followed by at least one Dig Deeper exercise to help the reader begin to use the tool just explained. At the end of the book there is a Recommended Reading section that includes a selection of commentaries. There is also a short Appendix written by a student worker who describes how he successfully used the toolkit idea in small groups.
For those totally new to this way of reading the Bible, and who may be reading this book without any help from others, brief ‘answers' to these exercises might help. It may also be useful to group the tools into broader categories. For example, tools to observe (tone and feel, repetition, genre etc); tools to interpret (author's purpose, context, linking words etc.); and tools to apply (the bible timeline, so what? etc.). Fundamentally however, this book is written out of a deep conviction of the nature of the Bible as the very Word of God and flowing from this, the Bible's unity and integrity. Technically Dig Deeper! is robust, but without loosing its pastoral cutting edge and clarity. It therefore deserves a wide readership within our congregations and will help any serious reader to ‘unearth the Bible's treasure'.
- 1 Corinthians
- 1 John
- 1 Samuel
- 1 Timothy
- 2 John
- 2 Kings
- 2 Samuel
- 3 John
- Biblical Theology
- New Testament
- Old Testament
- Old Testament Theology
- Song of Songs
- Wisdom Literature