Why Read The Bible? - a review

Having spent a few hours in class being taught by Tom Wright, I was not surprised to find that Why Read the Bible? managed to communicate plenty with simplicity, clarity and brevity (necessary in a book of less than 50 pages). It also, characteristically for Tom, does all this with a warmth and lightness that makes the book feel like a letter from a wise friend.

How to read the Bible coverThe best of the book comes in the first chapter where Tom sets out the story of the “Bible’s composition, collection and distribution” (7). He neatly handles the hot topic question of canon, stressing the historical reliability of the documents. He also helps us understand the difference between the Old Testament, New Testament and the Apocrypha. It is at this level that the book is most helpful – it could be put into the hand of almost any person and would give them a great bitesize introduction to each of these areas.

The next two chapters also have great strengths. Chapter 2 ‘Why is the Bible important?’ explains that the Bible is jointly authored by the Spirit of God and human writers deploying all of their individual personalities, gifts and talents to write Scripture. Tom argues that the Bible’s role is not merely to inform, amazingly it is how God by his Spirit moves and changes people. Chapter 3, ‘How is the Bible to be interpreted?’ stresses that Bible reading must carefully consider the intent of the human author. This is unlocked through looking at the context of the writing, including its genre.

There is so much that is good about the book, yet I still feel that there are a few missed opportunities.

There is much good, yet also a few missed opportunities

Firstly, considering it is a book about the Bible there is surprisingly little Bible in it. This is perhaps most apparent and disappointing in the final chapter where we are promised “A sample Bible study”. It seems like a perfect idea to finish this book on why to read the Bible with an opportunity to get people reading the Bible. I was excited with the bold idea to get our noses in the Bible, helping us to read it and experience God speaking to us and transforming us by his Spirit through his word. However what we ended up with was the longest chapter telling us what the passage meant from Tom’s perspective rather than helping us hear for ourselves what God says. A missed opportunity.

Secondly I found the book missed an opportunity to defend some classic points of doctrine, particularly the sufficiency of Scripture – that it contains all we need to know to be saved. Perhaps it is unfair to hold what Tom didn’t write against his book, particularly when it is so short. But a man of his wonderful talent could have helpfully shown us better why to trust Scripture’s sufficiency. For what it is worth I also think that his handling of the Bible’s authority could have been more helpful too.

Thirdly I am not convinced that the book gets us to the main reason we should read the Bible. That is that it is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16).

I wouldn't be afraid to give this to a friend who's just starting to think about the Bible

Why Read the Bible? is a book that I would not be afraid to put into the hands of a friend, particularly one who is just starting to think about what the Bible is. But I certainly wouldn’t leave the conversation there. Perhaps another short read (65 pages) like Unbreakable by Andrew Wilson would give a good balance, particularly as he emphasises traditional scriptural doctrines more. For more on how to interpret the Bible one could do far worse than look at Paul Helm’s Expositional Preaching, while for a real in-depth study of Scripture Tim Ward’s Words of Life is gold!

Tom Wright. Why Read The Bible? SPCK 2015, 48pp, £4.99

© 2017 Nick Batt