Making Sense of the Bible, by Adam Hamilton

Making Sense of the BibleAdam Hamilton envisions having a conversation with readers around questions they might ask of what the Bible is and what it teaches. He recognises that the Bible may be disturbing and  perplexing. It is not his aim to provide answers; he seeks rather to summarise ideas and encourage readers to think. He does this well, in clear language.

The book is divided into two broad  sections.  The first deals with the nature of scripture, beginning with biblical geography and a timeline before moving on to who wrote the books of the Old  Testament (Hebrew scriptures), when and why. Hamilton speaks of how the canon (accepted books) of the Old Testament was formed and discusses the place of the Deuterocanonical books that, for Protestants, are included in the Apocrypha. He moves on to discuss the formation of the New Testament, differences between the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John and  authorship of the letters attributed to Paul.

Having presented this in a very readable style, Hamilton addresses questions such as: is the Bible inspired? How does God speak through scripture? and is the Bible inerrant and infallible? He  sees inspiration as the Spirit’s influence on ideas and holds that sometimes biblical writers failed to understand God’s mind and character. If Jesus is himself the Word of God then, in Hamilton’s  view, the actual text of the Bible cannot be infallible in any absolute sense. Hamilton suggests that Jesus’ emphasis on love for God and neighbour is like a kitchen colander through which all the  teaching of the Bible should be strained.

The second section is titled Making Sense of the Bible’s Challenging passages. It deals with science, the Bible and creation, the violence of God in the Old Testament, the question of suffering,  attitudes to women and people who are gay and making sense of Revelation. Hamilton believes that God calls intelligent readers to ask questions and this is not unfaithful. He recognises that interpretation of scripture is not a matter of fixing on particular words or statements in the Bible but of constantly being involved in conversation.

Hamilton ends by saying that if we read with ears and hearts open to hear God will speak to inspire. This book is itself an inspiration and readers will find much to encourage their search for  greater understanding.

John Meredith

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