My maternal grandfather never finished the eighth grade. But like many of his generation, what he lacked in book smarts he made up in practical skills. He was a jack-of-all-trades. His garage looked like a hardware store. When the Lord called him home, he had more than enough tools to spread around to his three grandsons. In fact, in the twenty-five years since he died, I have had to buy very few tools. Unfortunately I don’t know what to do with most of the tools in my toolbox. A handyman I am not.
Thankfully I am a little handier with the sixteen tools in Beynon & Sach’s toolbox. Regardless of your interpretive skills, this book is worth reading. The authors, both of whom minister in Great Britain, have written an easy to read, practical manual on how to better understand the Bible. They sharpened these tools while working with college students, but I believe Bible readers of all ages will profit from this book.
The authors demonstrate their high view of Scripture in portions such as the following:
- Some of the joys of understanding the Bible correctly:
- You hear the voice of your heavenly Father speaking to you in the Bible
- You learn what he is really like from his own lips …
- You discover the wonderful truth of salvation and how to be sure of heaven
- You find out things that are on God’s heart …
- The truth actually changes you. Get this: it doesn’t just inform you of things, it does things in you. (p. 12)
The sixteen tools the book offers to help you dig deeper are these: The Author’s Purpose, Context, Structure, Linking Words, Parallels, Narrator’s Comment, Vocabulary, Translations, Tone and Feel, Repetition, Quotation/Allusion, Genre, Copycat, The Bible Time Line, Who Am I? and So What? Each tool has its own chapter, and each chapter includes examples and exercises.
Author’s Purpose is king. It is the tool par excellence, the Swiss army knife from which all of the other tools fold out, and which keeps them all together. In some ways, the whole point of having a Repetition tool or a Linking Word tool or any other tool is to help you to get a hold of the Author’s Purpose. Never forget it! (p. 30)
Next is the Context tool. Beynon and Sach contrast reading an encyclopedia with reading a novel. Many read the Bible like an encyclopedia, but it should be read more like a novel because context matters, as the Linking Word tool emphasizes:
If, since, consequently, for this reason, therefore, because, so that—these are all linking words and they’re worth their weight in gold. These words can help us to see the flow of an argument; they reveal cause and effect relationships between different statements. (p.49)
Although they recommend reading a variety of translations, they caution the reader to make sure they read at least one “literal translation” as opposed to only “dynamic equivalent” translations (p. 78).
I found the instruction concerning the Quotation/Allusion tool to be quite helpful (pp. 97-104). Realizing that sometimes the Bible quotes the Bible (later author quotes earlier author), they suggest always looking up the original context of the quotation. Most Bibles will give you the original passage in the margin. The example they used was Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus reads the scroll in the synagogue. By looking at the original passage from Isaiah 61, we discover that Jesus only quotes half of it in Luke. Jesus did not go on to quote Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the day of vengeance. The Lord in effect is saying this coming is the day of favor, but repentance must come while there is time, before the day of judgment. Only by reading the original passage would we realize the implication of Christ’s two comings.
There is a disappointing statement worthy of note. While discussing the Genre tool the authors state that Genesis chapter one is controversial because of the debate “on whether the creation in six days refers to a literal period of 6 x 24 hours, or whether it is a poetic way of speaking about the careful ordered way in which God made the universe” (p.105). Ironically (at least to me) the very next statement is, “When something is presented as historical fact, pause to consider that it really happened” (p.106).
The only tool that left me conflicted was the Copycat tool. In fact, the authors seem to be a little tentative on it themselves. They start with a caveat:
Not everything done by a Bible character is good. And even good things they do are not always normative; that is, they may not hold for all Christians at all times…. To put this another way, there is a danger in mistaking something that the Bible describes for something that it prescribes. (p.112)
Perhaps a check against abusing the Copycat tool is the “Who am I?” tool. By this the book means, “Who am I in relation to the text?” The authors warn against the “Moses-is-me syndrome.” We all have a tendency to make ourselves the hero of the story.
But we shouldn’t have to think very hard before we realize that none of us is the king who defeats God’s enemies and rules over God’s people (David), or the mediator who led his people out of slavery (Moses), or the one with the power to heal lepers or raise the dead (Elisha). There is someone else who fits those descriptions much better than we do! (p. 128)
Of course they are referring to Jesus Christ.
Beynon and Sach remind us that we must ask ourselves “So What?” All the Bible knowledge in the world is useless if it doesn’t impact our lives. I believe that if believers use these tools as they read the Bible, they greatly increase the potential for the change Scripture is intended to produce.
Greg Wilson was raised in a Christian home and led to the Lord at a young age by his father. He has been in full-time Christian ministry since graduating from Midwestern Baptist College (Pontiac, MI) in 1981. He has been married to Sharon for over 27 years and they have two married daughters and a seventeen-year-old son. He has been the pastor of the Community Bible Church (Palmyra, PA) since 1998. His website is fromthebook.org.