A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Joseph R. Miller
Cory M. Marsh serves as Professor of New Testament at Southern California Seminary in El Cajon, CA where he earned his BA in Biblical Studies and three graduate degrees including his MA, MDiv, and ThM. Marsh completed his PhD in Biblical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO, under the supervision of Andreas J. Köstenberger. Marsh has authored and edited multiple books and articles on biblical theology, hermeneutics, John’s Gospel, and dispensational thought. Outside of academics, Marsh serves as Scholar in Residence at Revolve Bible Church in San Juan Capistrano, CA.
A Primer on Biblical Literacy was intended to help Christians become biblically literate by bridging the gap between academics and church ministry. The material started out as a series of blog posts in Marsh’s local church. Realizing the need for biblical literacy was equally important outside his congregation, Marsh expanded his articles into a book. The volume is divided into three brief chapters that explore why Christians must pursue biblical literacy, what biblical literacy is, and how hermeneutics helps achieve biblical literacy by discerning the meaning and application of any Bible passage.
In chapter 1, Marsh shows that from the beginning of the church, through the great councils of the early centuries, and into the twentieth century every major doctrine of the Bible has been explored. “Yet,” writes Marsh, “there was never a century that was largely centered on knowing, studying, and formulating a doctrine of Scripture (2).” The lack of a clearly articulated doctrine of Scripture has, time and again, created opportunity for false teachers to distort the Bible and deceive Christians. The battle for the Bible has manifested itself in many ways over the centuries but, as Marsh shows, there are several common denominators among these movements. The core lesson we can learn from the various wolves who have deceived the sheep is the need for every Christian to pursue biblical literacy.
In chapter 2, Marsh argues, “A church that is biblically literate is a church that safeguards God’s Word from being distorted (22).” Yet, defining biblical literacy is not without its challenges and Marsh goes on to illustrate some of the difficulties of this task. One problem, writes Marsh, is the proliferation of trademarked Bible translations and merchandising of Bible related study tools. For many Christians, conferences and podcasts have taken priority over the Bible itself. Despite these challenges, the problem of biblical illiteracy can be fixed. In this chapter Marsh defines biblical literacy as a progressive awareness of God and a continuing proficiency in understanding the Scripture’s meaning. When Christians approach the Bible with a humble heart, they can overcome cultural blind spots, avoid deception, and navigate the extremes of skepticism and overconfidence. For Marsh, the fruit of biblical literacy in the life of each believer is consistency and spiritual maturity.
In chapter 3, Marsh outlines how the goal of biblical literacy is achieved through the literal (plain-sense), grammatical-historical hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is a tool every Christian can use to discover the meaning embedded in the text by each author and then apply that meaning to their context. Good hermeneutics begins with an understanding that meaning is contained in the text through authorial intent (54). As Marsh points out, upholding a commitment to authorial intent is an ethical obligation of the modern reader. Emphasized throughout the chapter is that the meaning of the Bible is not obscure or hidden. A consistent effort to apply sound hermeneutical methods that respect the text’s historical, literary, and theological contexts will lead to a clear understanding of the Bible. Marsh closes the chapter with two examples showing how his hermeneutical method can help readers discern the authorial meaning of Jeremiah 29:11 and Philippians 4:13.
A Primer on Biblical Literacy offers readers a clear and compelling case for the why, what, and how of biblical literacy. At a time in history when so many are being misled about the clarity of the Bible, Marsh’s book is a positive reminder that Christians can learn the skills necessary to understand authorial intent and apply the Bible’s meaning to their daily lives.
There are two special features of the book that readers will appreciate. First, the book includes five figures that illustrate key concepts like the Hermeneutical Cycle and the Hermeneutical Triad. Second, there are three appendices which include a reprint of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Marsh’s commitment to inerrancy is laudable, but not without controversy among some Evangelical groups who dispute this doctrine. The inclusion of the full Chicago statement is valuable because this allows readers to see for themselves the critical connection between inerrancy and biblical literacy.
A further positive of the book is Marsh’s distinction between biblical expertise and biblical literacy. While scholarship and formal education are a blessing to the church, expertise in things such as the biblical languages is not a requirement for biblical literacy. Readers who are not seminary trained can still understand the Bible and apply it to their daily life. As Marsh aptly observes, “Biblical literacy leads not to fat heads or egos but to transformed lives that mature in their understanding of God and joyfully submit to the authority of Christ (35).”
A Primer on Biblical Literacy is an easy read and practical tool for those who desire to become biblically literate. Leaders can easily adapt the content for use in a small group Bible study or Sunday school class. The brevity of the book also makes it a good tool for discipling new believers in the basics of reading the Bible.
Joseph R. Miller
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A PRIMER ON BIBLICAL LITERACY, by Cory M. Marsh