40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible

During the two years I was a M.Div. student at Southern Seminary, one of my favorite professors was a young New Testament scholar named Rob Plummer. I took a fruitful year of Greek from Rob-I still remember some of the silly songs that he and my now SEBTS colleague Ben Merkle wrote to help us remember Greek paradigms. One of the things I liked best about those Greek classes was the way Rob’s heart for missions came out in almost every lecture (no small feat for a Greek class!).

Because of my great respect for Rob, I was delighted to recently read his new book 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible (Kregel Academic, 2010). This is the latest volume in Kregel’s helpful 40 Questions series, which is edited by (déjà vu) Ben Merkle. In addition to Rob’s new book on biblical interpretation and Ben’s volume on elders and deacons, look for forthcoming 40 Question books devoted to Christians and the Law (Tom Schreiner), creation and evolution (Ken Keathley and Mark Rooker), election and atonement (Bruce Ware), eschatology (Eckhard Schnabel), and worship (David Nelson).

Let me say right off the bat that 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible is the best introductory book I’ve ever read about hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation). It is well-researched and covers all the major topics that need to be addressed. But it is also written at a level that can be understood by undergrads, seminarians, pastors and other church staff, and even (praise the Lord!) most “normal” Christians. In other words, this is a book that is not only appropriate for the classroom, but it is appropriate for the church. Rob’s use of humor, illustrations, and practical application, along with the format of the book itself, make 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible a joy to read.

All of the forty questions, around which the chapters are structured, are good ones, ranging from the more basic (Question 7 – What is the Best English Bible Translation) to the more advanced (Question 38 – What is “Speech Act Theory”?). The reflection questions make this book ideal for hermeneutics classes, church small groups, and church staff group study. Pastors and other church leaders who want to educate their congregations on matters related to the basics of text transmission, canonicity, biblical authority, and translations will be hard-pressed to find a handier resource than Part One of Rob’s book. The Select Bibliography is an excellent guide for those who wish to dig a bit deeper into some of the forty questions that are addressed.

I only have one quibble with the book, and it is a relatively minor one. Generally speaking, I am quite optimistic about the usefulness of the Theological Interpretation of Scripture* for orthodox Baptists and other evangelicals, but Rob is a bit less sanguine (see p. 93 and Question 39 – What is the “Theological Interpretation of Scripture”?). Don’t get me wrong-his treatment is not unkind. Rob’s tone is always irenic. I just wish he focused a bit more on the potential good of the movement rather than the possible pitfalls (and I agree there are potential shortcomings). I suspect at least one reason for our different postures toward Theological Interpretation of Scripture are related to his being a biblical scholar and my being a church historian.

This slight criticism aside, 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible is an excellent book and deserves a place in your library. For those looking for a helpful introduction to hermeneutics, this is your book. For busy pastors and other church staff who want a refresher, this is your book. And if you are a professor looking for a great introductory hermeneutics textbook, this is your book. Read it and you’ll be sharpened.

Author: Robert Plummer
Title: 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible
Publisher: Kregel Academic
Pages: 347
Chapters: 40 + introduction and select bibliography
Retail: $17.99
Amazon.com: $12.23 (32% off)

* For those unacquainted with the Theological Interpretation of Scripture, see Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice (Baker Academic, 2008) and the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series.