Thursday, April 11, 2024

How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth: Coffee Pot Conversations

Picture of open book featured

Big Idea: The book "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth" is extremely useful for understanding the Bible because it approaches the various sections of the Bible by genre, giving helpful tips for reading and interpretation.

Coffee Pot Conversations

Coffee pot in front of theological books
The joke goes like this. “Two Seminary Professors go up to a Barista…”

Seriously, though, it was in the Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary corridors that a New Testament scholar (Gordon Fee) ran into an Old Testament scholar (Douglas Stuart). 

The coffee pot was where most theological discussions took place at the seminary where my husband and I studied.

“Hey I’ve got an idea for a book on understanding the Bible. Could you look it over and give your thoughts?”

After reading it, Douglas Stuart suggested, “Let’s call it 'How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth'.”


Fee at Gordon Conwell

Gordon Fee, son of a Pentecostal minister with serious respect for the Word of God and its life application, became a preacher and seminary professor.

He got the idea for this book from speaking in churches. He often taught seminars or Sunday School classes on reading the Bible by understanding the genre in which it was written.

“Why has no one ever told us how helpful this is to Bible study?” people said over and over to him.

The rest is not history

It did not sell well immediately till an astute editor at Zondervan Publishing sent hundreds of copies across America to church teachers, and it took off like crazy!

Over a million copies are now in print.

There have been 4 updated editions and a couple of sequels.

Some have indicated this book is for seminary students. NOT TRUE! It’s for all who want to read and understand the Bible better!

holding up book

Also of note. The first edition 1981, Second edition 1993, Third edition 2003, Fourth 2014. It is useful to read any of them. Most of the updates have to do with updating newer, more reliable Bible translations and how they help. Some clarify things that were not understood in earlier editions. Gordon Fee died recently in 2022. Douglas Stuart is still a Biblical Scholar teaching at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

If you find an older edition at a thrift shop or used bookstore, feel free to grab it and glean from its wisdom. They still give a ton of great advice.

Why is it so helpful?

It teaches you to pay attention to the genre (style) of the Bible section you are reading. It is best to read for instance Psalmist poetry differently from Gospel parables. Your approach, understanding and application would vary greatly between the two.

This is not rocket science but most people never think of this, nor how helpful it can be.

The tips offered in each section are insightful. They unlock great keys to correctly discern the purpose and lessons.

It is great to know that both Fee and Stuart deeply love God, the Bible, and want it to be applied to people’s daily lives. They are not dusty old professors in a high tower of oblivion.

How the chapters work

Note this is my quick digest of the book. You will find someone has posted a very good outline (55 pages worth) on squarespace (click here) that you can read that is more thorough.

There is a PDF of the entire book second edition if you click here.

My digest of what the chapters address

1. Introduction: the Need to Interpret

What is the nature of Scripture, and what is Exegesis and Hermeneutics and why do we need to learn to do them?

2. The Basic Tool: A Good Translation

Since most of us don’t know the original languages of the Bible, we rely on good English translations. What is important to a good Bible translation?

3. The Epistles: Learning to Think Contextually

Each one of these are written for a specific audience and occasion. We should look at the historical and literary context of these passages to understand what they say to us today.

4. The Epistles: The Hermeneutical Questions

The two basic rules for interpretation are established. Guidelines are given for what is indifferent and matters that are vital. The cultural contextual guidelines specific to the New Testament are discussed.

5. The Old Testament Narratives: Their Proper Use

What narrative stories are all about, what they do for us and how we should not use them. Principles they present for interpretation are very valuable. Caution guardrails suggested are immensely useful.

6. Acts: The Question of Historical Precedent

The key focus and model that emerges through the stories of Acts give perspective. Three helpful principles are given to apply to these historical narratives.

7. The Gospel: One Story, Many Dimensions

There are four Gospels; none are written by Jesus. They give sayings and stories; each author with their own emphasis. The historical context and literary context are reminders how to examine them in this time period.

8. The Parables: Do You Get the Point?

Look at the audience to whom it was given, notice what kind of parable it is (story, similitude, metaphor or simile, epigram), how it functions for the original audience. Suggestions where to begin with interpretation.

9. The Law(s) Covenant : Stipulations for Israel

What the Old Testament law is, how to handle the Old Covenant in light of the New Covenant, what we can learn from the old laws even for those non-applicable for us today. Laws categorized; apadictic, casuistic, food, about blood, unusual prohibitions and blessings. Helpful list of do’s and don’t’s.

10. The Prophets: Enforcing the Covenant in Israel

The nature of prophecy, the function of prophecy, the task of understanding, forms of utterance (lawsuit, woe, promise), poetry and suggestions for interpretation with a caution, a concern and a benefit.

11. The Psalms: Israel’s Prayer and Ours

Notation that the Psalms were often not God’s spoken words to people, but words spoken to God or about Him (inspired by Him of course). Look at the Psalms as poetry, as literature, and how it was used in ancient Israel. Types of Psalms; Lament, thanksgiving, hymns of praise, salvation history, celebration or affirmation, wisdom, and trust. Three benefits of the Psalms explained.

12. Wisdom: Then and Now

The nature of wisdom, its’ abuse, limits, and who is considered wise. Ecclesiastes, Job and Proverbs addressed differently as well as the Song of Songs.

13. The Revelation: Images of Judgment and Hope

The nature of Revelation (as Apocalyptic, Prophecy and Epistle). Principles to apply to understanding it and helpful tips for interpretation give insight.

I highly recommend referring to this book when you are studying specific sections of the Bible.

The Word of God always comes first!

There are many great Bible tools around! Just be sure studying them does not replace the primary importance of the Bible! The Word of God always comes first! Read it today!

This series is about Bible study tools. There are many types of Bibles and helpful resources like a concordance or Bible dictionary. Information about their book and their electronic version are included. Cost and “how to use” are addressed.


Previous: What the Bible is All About: by the Amazing Henrietta Mears
Up next: Ten BibleProject Tips: Get the most out of BibleProject 



1. Have you ever felt afraid to try to interpret the Bible from reading it on your own?

2. Do you get much out of reading it? Why do you think that is or is not? What helps or what do you think might help? 

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. James 1:5 NLT

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