Thursday, September 19, 2013

Making Sense of the Bible

Marshall D. Johnson, Making Sense of the Bible: Literary Type as an Approach to Understanding. Eerdmans, 2002.

Johnson's Making Sense of the Bible is a good introduction to the Bible and it various literary types. He makes it understandable for a broad audience. He introduces this book by showing how the Bible is used in contradictory ways: "No book in the Western world has evoked more diverse responses than the perennial bestseller, the Bible. It is appealed to as a prime authority by evangelists, nominal Christians, militias, politicians, and social reformers-- not to mention the large number of organized Christian denominations and branches of Judaism-- and we wonder at the variety of interpretations given it and the conflicting claims made on its behalf" (1). People often forget that the Bible is an ancient book and read it like today's newspaper. This is a welcome volume that explains the literary types in the Bible and how to interpret them.

Marshall D. Johnson is now retired from Fortress Press. He has been active in teaching and publishing in the area of Biblical studies for several years. He has also authored The Purpose of the Biblical Genealogies.

Making Sense of the Bible is divided into ten chapters. In the introductory chapter, Johnson describes the different types of literature included in the Bible. Chapter two discusses the "Wisdom literature." Some of the books discussed in this chapter are Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and James. Johnson says the Wisdom books are "personal rather than national, existential rather than historical, experiential rather than revealed" and so on.

Chapter three discusses Psalms as the "Worship Book of the Temple." He also looks at Christian Hymns and liturgies in the Bible. Chapter four discusses the historical literature and chapter five describes the prophetic books. Chapter six discusses the legal literature and chapter seven discusses apocalyptic literature. Chapters eight analyses the letters, and chapter nine the gospels. The chapter on the gospels is the largest chapter in the book. In chapter ten Jonson concludes by saying: "The Bible can begin to make sense when we appreciate the variety of literature it contains and the spectrum of interests on the part of the individuals and groups that produced it" (141).

Johnson has done a good job in explaining the different types of literature found in the Bible. Understanding the types of literature found in the Bible will help the reader to interpret. Making Sense of the Bible is an important reminder that the Bible is an ancient book that the reader must not assume that they can read like the morning newspaper. Complementary books to this one are Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart's How to Read the Bible for all its Worth, and Leland Ryken's Words of Delight: a Literary Introducton to the Bible. 

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