“My Bible is in English”, said my infuriated listener.
The week prior I had preached one of my first sermons; it was on the birth of Jesus, and in this sermon I had mentioned that our typical manger scene is probably not quite accurate. I had, apparently, ruined this dear ladies image of Christmas. The pastor informed me that I had “stirred up a hornet’s nest”.
In my youthful vigor and ignorance I assumed that I could simply explain to her the context of the passage, the Greek terms (which I didn’t know well myself), and a few historical facts and she would understand and not want to punch me in the kidney.
I quickly discovered that I had indeed entered into a hornet’s nest. She did not want a lesson on biblical interpretation. She wanted to know why this young whippersnapper was blowing up her Christmas.
In all honesty her methods of biblical interpretation was atrocious. My pride was worse. I would have done everything a million times different now. I would have been less concerned with showing off my fancy book learnin’ and more concerned about loving her and gently teaching biblical truth.
She didn’t want a hermeneutics lesson. She needed one. (And so do I). But she didn’t want one. In fact one of the great needs in the church today is a better understanding of hermeneutics.
Unfortunately, many believe that hermeneutics is something you catch on a mission trip to a third world country. That is because many of those that teach hermeneutics often insist on using technical terms that relates more to academia than those cracking open their Bible’s within the church. As a result sound hermeneutics are often relegated to the halls of academia and the average lay-person is left to sift through his Bible on his own. This only widens the gap between "preacher” and “pew”.
Hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) should be accessible to everyone. This is what motivates Dr. Robert Plummer’s latest book 40 Questions on Biblical Interpretation. As Plummer states in the introduction, “my goal [is] to be accessible without being simplistic and scholarly without being pedantic”.
Through these 40 questions Plummer discusses issues of canon and criticism, as well as issues of interpretation and meaning. About sixty percent of the book is given to interpreting various literary genres: parables, prophecy, letters, poetry, etc,. The final five questions provide a brief interaction with interpretive issues in recent discussion.
Each question is given about 6-10 pages for a brief yet thorough answer. At the end of each chapter the reader will find helpful reflection questions and also a few books and resources for further study. The reader, then, is not left with only six pages but also questions to provoke thought and helpful resources to assist with continued study of the topic at hand.
I have had Dr. Plummer for three classes now and I have enjoyed everyone of them. Few professors could make at 8:00am Greek class exciting—Dr. Plummer does. His obvious passion for Jesus and desire for edifying the church bleeds through in these pages. Occasionally the reader will even catch glimpses of Plummer’s humor and wit. (Who else has a New Testament professor that quotes Spinal Tap?)
In the past when people have asked me for a book on helping them study the Bible better I have scrambled to find one. I know there are really solid books on hermeneutics but they are typically so bogged down with technical language and scholarly discussion that they remain unhelpful to the person not familiar with the jargon and ongoing debates within academia. Then there are also those books that are written on a popular level but really do not provide as solid of help in biblical interpretation. Now that Dr. Plummer has written this book I know of at least one resource that I can hand them.
He deals with many of the questions that people in the pew are asking; but he does not stop there, he also deals with questions students will face. Plummer manages to deal with both types of questions in such a way as to be both satisfying and accessible.
If you have questions about biblical interpretation, or you want to hone your skills in interpreting God’s Word, you will find this book helpful. For twelve bucks you cannot find a better resource. Furthermore, Dr. Plummer is making many resources available for free on his website: here. This book would be ideal for a small group, Sunday school class, or even a resource to assist your children in learning sound bible study methods (especially with these free resources).
As a pastor I recently taught a series on biblical interpretation on Sunday evenings. I found myself time and time again going back to Dr. Plummer’s work. You will use this book as a great reference. Add it to your library.