Book Review: The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture by Michael Graves
Author: Michael Graves
Publisher: Eerdmans Publishing Company
Reading Level: Moderate
For Christians, the Holy Bible is the standard for faith and obedience. Understandably, the interpretation of these Scriptures has been the principal activity of the church since its foundation. In The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture (henceforth TIIS) Michael Graves presents a sweeping introduction to the thoughts and perspectives of early church fathers in this field, knowing that “many of their beliefs about Scriptures prove to be not only helpful but even essential for contemporary Christians who want to read Scripture and hear its divine message” (3). Working on the basis that the concepts of inspiration and interpretation were knit tightly together (2), Graves presents these men’s views through some simplified and uniform categories.
The many quotations and analyses Graves presents bring to life church history on the subject of the Scriptures. In spite of the astounding number of footnotes, quotations and summaries of the early fathers, TIIS is remarkably easy to read. Graves’s writing makes accessible this weighty and potentially controversial subject. With clear language, a pleasant tone, and a friendly approach to criticism, Graves shows the views of the early fathers to be both powerful and practical to laymen, students and pastors. Far from a blanket of acceptance, Graves presents both the highs and lows of the early church and how they can, or should, impact the modern church (especially in the concluding chapter 7).
TIIS is separated into topical chapters such as “Usefulness” (chapter 2) and “Agreement with Truth” (chapter 6). Across these broad subject headings, Graves presents twenty more detailed propositions derived from the early church. The clearness of this presentation allows the chapters and sections of TIIS to be readable standalone or straight through. Basil’s understanding of the Scriptures as a remedy to the soul (18), Origen’s thoughts on the benefit of merely hearing the Scriptures (20-21), and Augustine’s perspective on numerology (25) highlight the chapter pertaining to the “Usefulness.” The proposition entitled “God is Directly and Timelessly the Speaker in Scripture” (70-75), in “Mode of Expression” (chapter 4), presents excellent examples of benefits and dangers derived from a “divine author only” perspectives which minimizes the text’s “occasion of revelation.” Associated historically with the more allegorical method of interpretation, the insights from the “dive author only” perspective find application to modern spiritual method(s) that would benefit from a more stringent ad litteram (literal sense) approach.
For modern readers, the chapter on “Historicity and Factuality” (chapter 5) certainly provides the strongest set of challenges to current thought. Origen teaching “it is common for genuinely historical stories to have some impossible elements woven into them” (84), Antiochene interpreters teaching “the book of Job contains factious speeches,” (86) and the section on the Scriptures not having “Errors in Its Facts” (87-92) presents a wonderful introduction to pre-modern thinking that, though shocking, can be encouraging to present day Christians.
In conclusion, The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture provides a refreshing looking at the Bible through the eyes of the early church. Graves has provided an outstanding and unintimidating introduction to the expansive and enjoyable world of inspiration and interpretation. Students of God’s word will enjoy interacting with the thoughts of the early fathers and find themselves challenged to reconsider modern conclusions drawn when speaking about Biblical inspiration.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."