I have just finished a fascinating read: ‘Journey Into God’s Word: your guide to understanding and applying the Bible’ by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, published by Zondervan in 2008. I bought this through an Internet based bookshop in preparation for a Theology course that I’m just embarking upon. It’s a slim volume packed with (for me) new ideas.
I’ve become familiar with a fair chunk of the Bible over my quarter-century as a Christian, but more as a casual friend than as a the family member that God wants us to be: it turns out that I’ve been skimming, picking and choosing, taking the low hanging fruit, and guilty of the down-sides that follow familiarity.
Duvall and Hays teach the reader to follow an ‘interpretive journey’ when studying the Bible, forensically examining God’s Word down to the individual written words. It’s quite a challenge! The authors propose a four point ‘journey’ into any passage (five in the New Testament) when interpreting any passage of scripture, taking into account the type of writing/literature that we’re looking at (for example: is it a piece of poetry, a letter, a narrative, a gospel?), as well as it’s historical and cultural context. First, what did the writing mean to the people to/for whom it was written?; next, recognise that there is a difference between those people and times and our own and try and establish what those differences are (the authors call this a ‘river’ of differences); thirdly, to cross the river use a ‘principlizing bridge’ – using the theological principle of the text, the thing about God that applies both sides of the river; and finally applying that principle to our own time and situation. In Old Testament study a fifth step is inserted after crossing the bridge – asking how the New Testament teaching might modify or qualify that of the Old.
The book can be used as a study guide, and is laced with group discussion questions and written exercises, encouraging the reader to apply the techniques being taught. I found the layout easy to follow, analysing the process of ‘careful reading’ from sentence structure (“Work hard! Dig deep! The feast awaits you!”) to the context of a particular passage within surrounding passages, chapter, book, Testament and Word. The authors talk about the different translations that are available, and the effect that that choice can have on our understanding (they suggest that one uses more than one ‘version’ when studying the Word, as well as suggesting the use of commentaries and handbooks/dictionaries along the ‘interpretive journey’.
The book focuses on ‘authorial intent’ rather than ‘reader response’ as the right approach to the Bible – the writer (God) determines what the Word means, not the reader (in which case we can make it say what we want to hear rather than what God is saying to us). With this in mind, the authors take us through a series of chapters outlining key parts of the Bible through the tool that is their suggested ‘interpretive journey’. We are encouraged to look at the New testament letters as windows into the ‘struggles and victories of the early church’ as well as being personal, instructional messages between friends and between shepherds and their flocks. When reading the gospels, we are told that we ‘must reflect on how to apply their message to our lives’. Jesus is the central figure throughout, as this book covers Acts and Revelation, and finishes with chapters covering the interpretation of the Law, Psalms and Prophets of the Old Testament.
I thoroughly enjoyed, and was really challenged by the approach outlined in this little book, and look forward to applying the principles as I embark on a formal course of theological study.