by Eugene Peterson
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2006
It is with a bit of trepidation that I begin this review. While the book is easy to understand, it is written in a scholarly style which makes me think it would be better reviewed by a seminary student or pastor or professor, not by me, your average lay person. However, the growth I experienced from my interaction with this book motivates me to give it a try.
The title of the book comes from the places in Scripture where we are told to eat the Word. Not just read the Bible, but eat it. Assimilate it into our very selves. When we eat food, it actually becomes a part of us. Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are digested and assimilated into our bodies. Peterson contends that, in the same way, the words of Scripture need to be chewed and savored and swallowed, and it is then that they become formative.
I found this helpful as I read through the Bible. There are many reading plans designed to get you through the Bible in one year, but this book caused me to see these plans in a different light. In order to savor Words, there are times I need to read slowly, stop and think, muse a bit more, and then read on. The Words are not for gulping down in big bites.
In this book I received my first introduction to lectio divina, ie, spiritual reading. This traditional Catholic practice of reading Scripture consists of four steps: reading, meditating, praying, and living out the text. Peterson says that the most important question we should ask of a ‘text is not, “What does this mean? but “What can I obey?” We should read the Bible not for information, but for a revelation of God.
I found the most interesting and instructive part of the book the section on the translation of Scripture. While I found the entire book profitable, this section was particularly enlightening as I learned how the Holy Spirit caused the New Testament to be written in the common language of the time, not literary Greek. What an encouragement it was to see that God wants us to understand the Bible! I was struck by how the forty-seven translators of the King James version changed Tyndale’s ‘plough boy’ text into something the royal court would appreciate, but which was, unfortunately, beyond the grasp of the common man. As Peterson says, “The King James translators put out a version of the Bible that became the literary classic of the Western world, but at the expense of Tyndale’s plowboy.” From there, Peterson goes on to tell how he came to write The Message, a paraphrase (not translation) of the Bible.
This book is not one that can be read casually; it requires a slow reading with time for pondering, in much the way that Peterson would say we should read the Scriptures. Although I did not use it, there is a study guide that goes along with this book that might be helpful for some readers. I recommend this book if you are interested in how to read the Bible. You may come away with a few nuggets of truth that will stick with you and change the way you read the Bible.