Book Review: How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor

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Mark E. Hardgrove, PhD

I recently received a book entitled How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor by Mark M. Yarbrough (2015, published by FaithWorks). The title of the book seemed pretentious and frankly I wasn’t sure what kind of seminary professor he was referring to. I would never want to read the Bible like some professors I know at liberal seminaries. However, Dr. Yarbrough teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary, which is known for a conservative view of Scripture, so I decided to give it a read and I have found it be insightful and engaging.

Dr. Yarbrough begins with the example of a typical group Bible study where they read a passage and then ask, “What does this passage mean to you?” This approach, says Yarbrough, is a dangerous road to go down. It suggests that the text can mean anything to anyone depending on their background, culture, life experiences, etc. However, if the text can mean anything, then it doesn’t mean anything. He argues, “Interpretation isn’t open to subjective experience. Our experiences don’t change the information presented by the author. Interpretation is the process of understanding what the author has stated” (p. xiii).

The basic exegetical approach of Dr. Yarbrough is summed up in the motto: Know it, Work it, Live it.

    Know it: Understand the structure, story, and substance of Scripture. Identify how the Bible is packaged and presented.

    Work it: Learn the rules for studying Scripture. See with your eyes and think with your head.

    Live it: Use the instruction for everyday life. Embrace what the Bible says and put it into practice. (p. 3)

The book is every readable and even entertaining (at one point I was literally laughing so hard I cried – see pages 7-8). It is also practical and provides sound principles and examples of the exegetical approach he proposes. I have many books on exegesis and hermeneutics in my library (and I mean a lot!), but this is one the easiest books to read on this topic and could be used in a church Bible study. It probably should be a standard training work for all small group leaders who lead a Bible study.

After reading this we understand that the opening question at a Bible study should not be, “What does this mean to you?” but, “What does the author mean here, and how do we apply that meaning to our life?” Likewise pastors and preachers preparing a sermon should ask the foundational questions and engage in sound exegetical approaches before attempting prepare the sermon. For example, when preaching from the Pauline epistles, I ask, “What did Paul mean here?” before I presume to outline the sermon. The sermon should be an exposition on what the author intended to say, and not an exposition on what I want the author to say. As Yarbrough argues, “If ever we needed to know the truth of what the Bible says, it is today in a culture that rejects the truth, denies absolutes, and ignores our transcendent God” (p. xvii).
Mark Hardgrove