The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms
Michael S. Heiser
Lexham Press, 2017. 258pp.
In The Bible Unfiltered, Michael Heiser makes an interesting contribution to hermeneutic literature in general and specific ways. In Part One, “Interpreting the Bible Responsibly,” Heiser makes his argument that the Bible is best interpreted on its own terms. The Bible was written in the context of ancient cultures and in ancient languages. Some interpreters are quick to make the leap from that age to our own without doing the necessary grunt work of mining out the original intent of the author and the immediate context of the text as best we can understand it. This often leads to faulty interpretation—assuming the Bible says something it doesn’t really say. Heiser says that the best advice he can give is this: “Let the Bible be what it is” (p. 19). He fleshes that out in this way:
I’m suggesting that the path to real biblical understanding requires that we don’t make the Bible conform to our traditions, our prejudices, our personal crises, or our culture’s intellectual battles. Yes, you’ll find material in Scripture that will help you resolve personal difficulties and questions. But you must remember that, while the Bible was written for us, it wasn’t written to us. What they wrote is still vital for our lives today, but we can only accurately discern the message if we let them speak as they spoke. (p.19)
Heiser holds a high view of Scripture and extols the importance of up-to-date scholarship rather than a tired dependence on decades-old commentaries. Heiser has respect for those works but recognizes the value in recent scholarship which has discovered much about the various contexts of Scripture that was unavailable to earlier commentators. He spends the balance of Part One dealing succinctly with basic interpretive matters like context, literalism, whether everything in the Bible is about Jesus, how to (mis)interpret prophecy, and a couple of other matters.
Having tended to general matters in Part One, Heiser uses Part Two to discuss particular issues across the wide swath of the Old Testament, among them: Did Yahweh father Cain?, the Angel of Yahweh, the ongoing battle of Jericho, Samuel’s ghost and Saul’s judgment, Jurassic Bible, and Solomon’s bride or Jesus’ bride.
In Part Three, Heiser addresses New Testament issues from the variety of New Testament genres, including Mark’s use of Isaiah, strange and powerful signs, spiritual adoption and sonship, and Jesus, our Warrior.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Since biblical interpretation is at the heart of a pastor’s ministry, any help we get is a good thing. Heiser offers some help here. Pastors who especially enjoy the science and art of hermeneutics will enjoy this book very much. The general discussion in Part One is most helpful. Parts Two and Three could provide a pastor interpretive help if dealing with any of the particular texts or issues raised in these brief discussions.
Heiser is an interesting writer, but he may have attempted to cover so many issues in just a couple of pages each that he didn’t do full justice to all the issues he raises. Still, the book would be a handy reference on some of those difficult texts. It gives a pastor a place to start and could whet his appetite for deeper study. I am confident I will keep it nearby when dealing with any of the texts addressed in the book. This is a worthy addition to a pastor’s hermeneutics library.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
This Lifeway Pastors review was written by John McCallum.