Favourite Books on Understanding the Bible

Understanding the Bible is not always easy. Yeah, you noticed that already. Good!

Of course, I would say, as well as many of our fathers and mothers of the faith, that the essentials concerning salvation and the foundational beliefs of Christianity are quite discernible to those who faithfully read and study the Scriptures (ala 2 Tim 3:14-17). But it’s not always so easy as opening up the Bible, reading it and then coming to a well-formed biblical theology.

Thus, at times, we need helpful resources – from theologians, even scholarly theologians. Of course, we have to want to dive into other helpful resources. I’d say it is important for us all, if not on a daily or weekly basis, then at least some kind of ongoing basis. Snacking is ok, but there are times when we need full meals. Sipping wine is ok, but there are times when we need to drink the full glass down to the dregs.

And this calls for us to engage with other resources outside the simple (but good) approach of devotional reading – ‘God, speak to me from this text.’

So I list a few of my favourite books on understanding the Bible. Most of them are not a step by step of how to do hermeneutics, the science (or art!) of interpreting, understanding and applying the biblical text. But rather these books are helpful in giving a bigger picture for understanding the Bible.

I list 5 of them:

1) The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight. Again, this book is not so much about the detailed how-to’s of hermeneutics, but rather about understanding the bigger picture of the Bible. McKnight emphasises that the Bible is ultimately a story and what that means. He also lays out how to deal with what he identifies as ‘blue parakeet’ passages (passages we don’t like dealing with), all the while introducing us to the hermeneutic of trajectory theology (though he doesn’t call it that in the book). A top book from one of today’s top theologians (at least in my mind). My review of the book is here.

2) Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today by N.T. Wright. Noting a very similar subtitle as that of McKnight, you can guess what the underlying emphasis of the book is. Yet, Wright approaches things quite differently from McKnight. In the book, Wright mainly looks at what it means for the Christian to confess they believe in the authority of Scripture. He also gives (as in most of his books) a sweeping narrative understanding of God’s work across the Old and New Testaments, and then spends quite a good bit of time looking at the church for 2000 years has understood the nature of Scripture at various points in time. I am just finishing up this book this week, so I hope to soon post a review of it.

3) Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns. The subtitle of this book can throw one a little, or at least make them think it is only worth reading if you are interested in Old Testament studies. While such is true, there are actually important issues addressed in the book that are much more far-reaching than simply Old Testament studies. Hence my recommendation of it for understanding the whole of the Bible. In the book, Enns puts forth his great incarnational analogy for understanding Scripture – that Scripture is both fully from God and fully from man (as Christ is both fully divine and fully human). This, I believe, helps us understand how God communicated in an ancient near eastern time, quite different from our 21st century, western perspective. I posted a 2-part review on my blog: part 1 and part 2.

4) The Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson. This was the first book I ever read that helped me understand a bigger picture of the Bible. It was also the first book I read for my seminary degree. When I started my master’s studies in August of 2002, I had only been a Christian for about 5 and a half years. So I still had a lot of basics to learn, at least basic theological perspectives. Though this book approaches the whole scope of Scripture from a very reformed perspective, it is still quite good in understanding the covenantal nature of God through the full revelation of the Old and New Testaments. It also was foundational in helping me see that the dispensational perspective was not really the best approach in understanding the full sweep of God’s work. I don’t have a review of the book because I read it so long ago and was not blogging at that time.

5) Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson. This is a very practical and pastoral approach to understanding Scripture, which I appreciate knowing that much of the time my head is in the somewhat scholarly-theological books. I love Peterson’s approach, which is very liberating and life-giving, rather than overly stringent and dogmatic. He has received lots of slack for producing The Message version of the Bible. But, once one reads this book, especially the last couple of chapters, one will realise why he did such and why it can be beneficial. I posted my review of the book here.

If you are looking for more technical approaches to hermeneutics – such as genre recognition, interpretive methods and other such detailed techniques – then I would probably recommend these 2 books:

6) Let the Reader Understand: A Guide to Interpreting and Applying the Bible (2nd edition) by Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton.

7) Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation by Henry Virkler.


2 thoughts on “Favourite Books on Understanding the Bible

  1. Great post Scott. I picked up a few hermeneutics textbooks for my BTh this semester:

    The Hermeneutical Spiral (Osborne)
    Grasping God’s Word (Duvall & Hays)
    Eat This Book (Peterson)
    Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics (Kaiser & Silva)

    I’ll check out some of your other recommendations. 😀

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