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Fall 2001 · Vol. 30 No. 2 · pp. 217–18 

Book Review

How to Understand the Bible

David Ewert. Waterloo, ON and Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2000. 240 pages.

Reviewed by Jacob W. Elias

Believers affirming the authority of Scripture sometimes cite and interpret biblical texts in ways that buttress opposing doctrinal and ethical positions. Some Christians largely abandon the Bible in favor of other avenues of achieving understanding and guidance, such as human reason, experience, or conscience.

The void created by both combative literalism and slippery subjectivism calls for a renewal of the commitment to read and interpret the Bible in ways that are faithful to the human and divine character of this Judeo-Christian anthology of inspired literature.

In How to Understand the Bible author David Ewert provides such guidelines and perspectives for biblical interpretation. An esteemed scholar and Mennonite Brethren church leader, Ewert here offers some of the fruit of his own many years of preaching and teaching the Bible in Canada, the U.S., and many other places around the world.

This book is organized into thirteen chapters. This structure makes it a useful resource for a three-month congregational class devoted to the theme of biblical interpretation. The language is nontechnical and quite understandable. His numerous forays into discussions of particular themes and issues, such as the ministry of women (121-24), illustrate well how the author himself goes about the process of trying to understand and appropriate the Scriptures faithfully.

In an opening chapter on the meaning and significance of hermeneutics, Ewert elaborates on the historical, cultural, and linguistic reasons to be attentive to how one moves from biblical texts to contemporary faith and life. His second chapter illustrates from the history of interpretation how interpreters’ pre-understandings often shape what they find the Bible to mean.

Chapter 3 deals briefly with the nature of Scripture and the emergence of the canon. Several subsequent chapters focus on the language of Scripture: its original languages and the nature of translations, biblical words and sentences, figures of speech in Scripture, and the use of various kinds of symbols. The reader who engages this part of the book and consults the Scripture texts referenced in these chapters comes away with a clear awareness that the interpretation of scripture needs to be informed by an acquaintance with its language and literary genres.

A chapter on “General Principles of Interpretation” and another on “Cultural Settings” provide helpful guidelines for both individual and {218} corporate study of the Bible. There is a survey of typical Old Testament and New Testament genres. The two final chapters are devoted to a discussion of how the Old Testament is quoted in the New, and to a treatment of both the unity of the two parts of the biblical canon and the notion of progressive revelation.

Even though this book breaks no new ground in biblical scholarship, Ewert has made a significant contribution by providing a readable, inspiring, and informative manual for the general Christian reader.

Jacob W. Elias
Professor of New Testament
Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana

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