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Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Grasping God's Word" (3rd edition)

TITLE: Grasping God's Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible
AUTHOR: J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, (3rd Edition), 2012, (496 pages).

This highly popular book is now into its third edition. With a very vivid cover image that shows a hand grasping a piece of rock, we can picture in our minds the desire of one who longs after God, by grasping the Rock, which is Christ. The writer of the foreward, Kevin Vanhoozer, a Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, makes five summary points about this book. First, it is a book that avoids twisting the biblical texts. Second, it is grasping via understanding what the text really says. Third, it helps readers move from literal understanding to practical application. Four, it encourages readers to hold on and to hang on to the text via relevant applications. Five, it is the way, the truth and the life in Christ. That is what the essence of the book is all about: Grasping God's Word, and letting the Word of God grasp our hearts that lead to action.

Five Step Interpretive Process Throughout

The latest edition also updates the bibliographies, illustrations, cultural references, since the last one in 2005. There are some slight differences. Rather than a literal reading approach, this edition aims to make the book closer to "God's great story." Instead of a four-step process for the NT and a five-step process for the OT, the authors have streamlined them and make it a five-step process for ALL biblical genres. These five steps are:
  1. SUMMARIZE ancient contexts for modern audiences;
  2. MEASURE the differences and similarities of Bible times and contemporary times
  3. LISTING of the theological principles in the passage
  4. CONSULTING the biblical map and how it fits into the overall story
  5. GRASP the text for our contemporary times for practical application.
The constant conviction is that all of these can only be done fruitfully if we learn to see the Bible and the reading of the Bible with an eye on God's overall story.

Reading, Interpreting, Applying

This book is a 'hands-on' attempt to help readers do three things:
  1. Reading
  2. Interpretation
  3. Applying
These three things are interwoven into the book's five parts. In Part One, the authors use five chapters to show readers how to read the Bible. It touches on an important area of Bible translations, in particular, English translations of the Bible. Due to the ever increasing offering of Bible translations in the market, this is a useful guide to understanding the different strengths and weaknesses of each translation, and what each seek to achieve. The authors make a special effort to explain how the Bible come into its current state. We read about the history of the translation process. We see several translations compared side by side. We learn about the main categories each translation lies. It also shows us the 'interpretive journey' needed with the tools such as using the biblical map, understanding the ancient world, and how to read the Bible in sentences, in paragraphs and in discourses, with an awareness of the genre written.

Part Two deals with extensive bridging of ancient cultures and modern times. Through questions, the authors show readers how to read the text with understanding. Like author's background, relationship with the readers, circumstances of the passage, and many more. There is also a chapter on how readers can unwittingly read their own circumstances into the text, something in which a student of hermeneutics will call 'redaction criticism' or 'reader response criticism.' I appreciate the gentle manner in which the authors are able to guide the reader in this respect.

Part Three moves into meaning and application, and sets into play the hard work done in Part One and Two. In fact, I assert that good due diligence in the initial reading and contextual understanding will make the interpretative and application process easier. Meaning is key in this part. The central issue is actually communication. Who is the writer writing for? What is God trying to tell them and us? What is the meaning in the text and the contexts? The authors really do a good job in making sure they cover as much ground as possible.

Parts Four and Five basically applies all the theory and teachings done in the first three parts of the bok. Part Four is devoted to the four genres of the New Testament, namely, the gospels, the letter, Acts, and Revelation. Part Five focuses on the five genres of the Old Testament, namely, the Law, the Narrative, the Poetry, the Prophets, and the Wisdom books.

That is not all. The appendices at the end of the book is a bonus for all readers, especially students. It has a chapter on the formation of the canon, dealing with inspiration and inerrancy matters as well. The authors make some good comments about some of the controversies generated by some modern books such as the Da Vinci code and Elaine Pagels's books on the gnostic gospels.

Closing Thoughts

This book is indeed a welcome addition to a needful area of learning to read the Bible well with an eye on handson approach. Some books tend to focus too much on the literal meaning of the text but lack the contemporary applications. Others are too practical oriented that they fail to help readers appreciate the historical and biblical worlds sufficiently. This book brings about a good balance of literal reading of the content, an insightful understanding of the contexts, and a bold application of the texts. I warmly recommend this book for Bible teachers, pastors, and leaders in the ministry of teaching and ministry.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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