While there are plenty of people who do not know about the Bible and do not care to know, there are many who really want to read the Bible and understand what it is saying. Many such persons experience difficulty when trying to make sense of the Bible-- it seems to be a foreign book to people in the twenty-first century. Many others labor under misunderstandings and misapprehensions about the nature of the Bible and the various books contained therein.
There is value, therefore, in having resources available that are easily accessible and yet clear about the nature of the Bible and the individual books that comprise it. Ryken's Bible Handbook, written by Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken, and James Wilhoit, is one such resource. The work presents an introduction to the Bible, a discussion of each individual book of the Bible, articles on issues related to the message of the Bible, a one year Bible reading plan, and many helpful maps.
Bible handbooks are nothing new, but Ryken's Bible Handbook is especially valuable because it focuses on the literary aspects of the Bible. The introduction explores how we got the Bible, why it was written, its form, its characters, and its overarching story. The discussion of each book features a general outline of the book, a fact sheet about the book, points of overview of the book, a short description of the substance or events of the book and how they flow and work together, suggestions on how to read, apply, and teach the book, and "perspectives" on the book-- quotes from various people regarding the book.
Thus, Ryken's Bible Handbook is a helpful accessory for Bible study-- it does present historical and contextual material, like other Bible handbooks, but the literary analysis and approach is rather unique and extremely beneficial for proper understanding of the various books of the Bible, how they are to be understood, and how they all work together.
The book suffers from some challenges. The authors promote Protestant and Calvinistic doctrines-- faith only, Augustinian-Calvinist views on predestination and election, and a lack of clarity about covenant distinction. Leland Ryken worked on the translation of the English Standard Version (ESV), and it is quoted in many places, but the main translation that is used is the New Living Translation because it is published by Tyndale. The ESV is preferable for its greater fidelity to the original Hebrew and Greek.
Yet there are other praiseworthy elements of the book. The authors recognize the dual nature of fulfillment of prophecies in the Old Testament, and advocate and practice contextual interpretation before finding Christological or soteriological interpretations of passages. The Psalms are recognized as presenting a range of human emotions that may go beyond what God specifically wills. While the authors promote the "Olivet Discourse" of Matthew 24-25/Mark 13/Luke 21 as referring to the "end times," their discussion of Revelation is bereft of dispensational premillenialism, instead focusing on the symbolic nature of the work and the use of the symbols therein, and declaring that at least part if not most of what John saw in the vision has taken place and/or continues to take place in cyclical patterns.
Ryken's Bible Handbook is a useful resource in working to interpret the Bible, and has value for students, teachers, and preachers. As long as one is mindful of the Protestant perspective of the authors, one can find a lot of structures and ideas that make the message of the Bible make sense. If you have found it challenging to understand the nature, purpose, structure, and literary methods of the Bible, or find it challenging to teach regarding such matters, Ryken's Bible Handbook will be of great value to you!
*- book received from Tyndale as part of an early review program.