Dig Deeper by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach

Nigel and Andrew's BookWe are recommending this excellent book as an extremely helpful companion to our training course ‘Understanding and Communicating the Bible’ on Monday evenings.

‘Dig Deeper’ will equip you with a whole range of sixteen very practical tools to unearth the Bible’s treasure. As one reviewer says: ‘it will help you to see the Bible as an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet rather than a ‘McQuick-and-not-very-satisfying’ nibble. Dig deeper and get to know God better.

Click here to read an extract from the introduction. Buy a copy of the book any Sunday at Emmanuel or click here to go to the IVP website.

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2 Responses to “Dig Deeper by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach”
  1. Nigel Styles says:

    We asked Pete Watts to read ‘Dig Deeper’ and write a book review for us. Here it is …

    Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach
    IVP, 2005

    This is a well-structured and clearly written book which aims to enable us to approach the Bible with confidence. It does this by equipping us with a set of ‘tools’ for Biblical interpretation and application. The book has seventeen short chapters. The first is an introduction to the very nature of the Bible (since understanding what the Bible is should inform any attempt at interpretation), and the following chapters outline sixteen different tools. The majority of these tools are simple explanations of how any Christian might effectively use methods developed by both Christian and non-Christian Biblical and literary scholars. Each chapter contains numerous Biblical references and there are also helpful worked examples as well as ‘Dig deeper’ sections which are exercises for the reader to put their newly-discovered tools into practice. The conclusion demonstrates how the tools can (and should) be used together, with a worked example from Psalm 33. There is also a good bibliography for further reading and an appendix in which Ed Shaw describes how the ‘toolkit’ has been successfully used by students in Bristol.

    The book is accessible to all, and one of its strengths is the clarity of the explanation of each tool and any necessary theological language that comes with it. The authors acknowledge that the idea of interpreting the Bible can be quite intimidating and encouragement is provided early in the book where it is emphasised that it is the Spirit who enables us to understand the word of God, and so ‘…everyone who is a Christian can understand the Bible for themselves, since all Christians have the Spirit.’ (p.24) Emphasis is placed on the first tool, ‘The Author’s Purpose Tool’ which explains the importance of the author’s historical situation and purpose in writing, and how to discover these things (there’s no shortcut to reading the whole book in question!) This is particularly significant given the stance of Beynon and Sach against ‘postmodern approaches’ to Biblical interpretation in which the reader brings their own meaning to the text. The other tools can be summarised as follows:

    The Context Tool – It is important to place what’s being interpreted within the context of its sentence, paragraph, chapter/section, Bible book and the whole Bible.

    The Structure Tool – This tool is used to discover the meaning which arises out of the appropriate division of passages. The chapter also introduces some technical aspects of Biblical structure, such as so-called ‘bookends’ (inclusio) – where the same word, phrase or theme provides a bracket around a section – and the use of the form of chiasm to provide emphasis upon a central theme (this is a good example of where the authors explain a potentially intimidating topic in an extremely clear and concise manner).

    The Linking Words Tool – Words such as ‘if’, ‘since’, ‘therefore’ and ‘because’ are discussed in terms of their importance for the flow and meaning of passages.

    The Parallels Tool – This refers to the common Hebrew (poetic) device of parallelism, where the same concept is expressed in two different ways. Antithetic parallelism (where the concepts are in opposition to one another) is also covered here.

    The Narrator’s Comment Tool – Consideration is given here to points where the narrator’s voice cuts through a text to provide an interpretation.

    The Vocabulary Tool – Warnings about the dangers of both unfamiliarity and over-familiarity with particular words used in the Bible.

    The Translations Tool – The differences between translations of the Bible are discussed and also the way in which translations can be usefully compared in Bible study.

    The Tone and Feel Tool – A slightly misleading name perhaps for a chapter on considering what emotion a passage might be conveying, including identifying what might be metaphor or allusion.

    The Repetition Tool – Explains how to identify where repeated words and concepts are providing emphasis (and where they are not!)

    The Quotation/Allusion Tool – This tool is about cross-referencing when presented with explicit or implicit quotations or allusions which hint that the author has other Biblical passages in mind.

    The Genre Tool – This advises the reader to ask ‘what type of text is this?’ Particular emphasis is placed upon what should be understood as literal and what is metaphorical (which is actually a far more complicated question than merely one of genre).

    The Copycat Tool
    – This is where the idea of application really enters in. The Copycat Tool advises us to think carefully about when a Biblical character should be a direct example to individual Christians today.

    The Bible Timeline Tool – This emphasises the importance of always approaching a passage within the context of the whole Bible, and in particular to understand the difference between the Old and New Testament eras. This tool should also be used to understand how a text might relate to Christ.

    The ‘Who Am I?’ Tool – This calls for Biblical characters to be understood in their own context in order to establish whether their situation might be applied to the present-day reader. Again, consideration should also be given to how these figures might relate to Christ.

    The ‘So What?’ Tool – This discusses how reading and interpreting the Bible might challenge and change the reader, and emphasises the importance of prayer as a response to God’s word spoken through the Bible.

    Admittedly some of these tools are a matter of common sense when reading, or skills that many people have learnt during English lessons at school or beyond, and the order in which they are presented might have been more carefully considered or explained (are they in order of importance? Is there any significance to the order in which we apply these tools?) I personally think, for example, that the genre tool ought to be introduced a lot earlier than chapter 13 since this can help us to further understand context (chapter 3), vocabulary (chapter 8) and tone (chapter 10), although it could also be argued that vocabulary and tone in particular help us to identify genre. A slight tension arises between the book’s emphasis on the intention of the human author of a text and the repeated acknowledgement that all texts have a divine authorship also. Does this not mean that we might start with a tool other than that of ‘The Author’s Purpose Tool’ to find out the Creator’s intention (i.e. ultimate authorial intention), and could this in fact be different from (i.e. beyond) the human author’s intention? Clearly the Author’s Purpose Tool remains important, but it is not necessarily ‘the tool par excellence’ (p.33) to which all the other tools are subordinate. Perhaps the problem here is that postmodern interpretation has been over-simplified, particularly in the introduction to the book, such that there is no room to acknowledge that not all approaches to Biblical interpretation informed by postmodernism are necessarily wrong or insidious. For example, some postmodern methods have allowed theologians to place greater emphasis on the unity of the Bible and the meaning that arises from this.

    Whilst the very informal tone of the book succeeds in making some of the more difficult concepts more accessible, it doesn’t stand up to repeated reading/reference in conjunction with Bible study. Fortunately though, the concepts should be easily remembered given the clarity of their presentation. One possible warning is that the encouragement provided by the book might prove to be misleading to the extent that whilst it is true that anyone can engage in Biblical interpretation, the results of this must be assessed with others in the Church. That is why it is so important to read what other people have to say about a text and to hear it being faithfully preached. Of course, we need to know what the Bible says to know what is faithful but the point nevertheless stands that we must be wary of isolating ourselves when it comes to understanding the Bible.

    It is nevertheless useful to have a number of aspects of Biblical interpretation summarised succinctly in one place with Biblical examples, and to be reminded of the basics which we can all too easily overlook. This book should serve as an excellent introduction to further reading on the subject of Biblical interpretation and good examples are given for appropriate follow-up material. Perhaps the most striking thing about this book is the way that it manages to provide a summary of methods for a more detailed and thorough understanding of scripture and yet manages to maintain a focus on the goal of reading the Bible – to discover more about God and his salvation through Christ and to be challenged by God’s truth.

  2. stanley Armes says:

    I appreciate the simplicity of this book a lot. many of the authors of hermeutics concerned with Greek and Hebrew and rightly so. I use the languages all the time. However; I teach in an African context where English is the 2nd or 3rd language of the person. We assume nuances and meanings that are very known to us. The problem is to get the same kinds of meaning in another language or to teach the African what these nuances are in the English. I do agree with the previous comment that some of the order of the chapters may be better places but at the same time I do not think this is something to fight about. A teacher like myself has the freedom to change things around to what ever order is necessary.
    I have found that some of the “Dig Deeper” exercises at the end of the chapter are really beyond what the chapter prepares the reader for. I have had to come up with quite a few more examples to get across what the book has to say. This is not necessarily a criticism for the authors most likely did not have matric level or lower English in mind or understanding when writing this material.
    I appreciate such chapters as the “tone and feel” Wow this is a hard concept to get across in another language yet, it is impossible to understand Scripture unless you get this part. This is not something that you get from Milton Terry, or Robertson McQuilkin.

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