Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book Note: Smith & Bennett's "How the Bible Was Built"

Charles Merrill Smith & James W. Bennett, How the Bible Was Built (Eerdmans, 2005):  97 pp.

I’m always on the outlook for works that seek to explain how the Bible came to be in a simple and approachable manner.  I saw this little work referenced somewhere so I ordered a very cheap used copy on Amazon.  It’s less than a hundred pages so it was a quick read.  A draft of the book was originally written by Smith, a United Methodist bishop. The unpolished manuscript was left at his death and then was edited and put in its final form nearly twenty years later by his friend Bennett.

The book uses the analogy of building to describe the formation of the Bible.  The Hebrew Bible was the “First Wing,” and the New Testament the “New Wing,” with the apocrypha a “Passageway” connecting the two.  Though written by a Methodist bishop, the book makes the distinctly non-Protestant assertion that the apostles accepted the apocrypha as Scripture (p. 26)!  This is one of many signs of danger in the book.

Though the book makes the initial claim that it will stick to the basic facts about the Bible’s formation in such a way that persons of all theological persuasions will be able to agree with its content, a quick read makes clear that this isn’t exactly the case.  The primary author (Bennett) writes as we might expect a United Methodist bishop to write.  That is, his view of the Bible is that of a liberal mainline Protestant who has wholly accepted the “assured results” of modern historical-critical scholarship.  So, he assumes Markan priority and the existence of Q, rejects Pauline authorship of the Pastoral epistles, and presents the formation of the canon as essentially a human process.  One encouraging note is his very brief reference to the role of Gutenberg in the functional closing of the canon (pp. 68-69).

In the end, I can’t recommend this book.  If you want a brief but engaging book on the how the Bible was “built,” the best work IMHO is still W. Harold Reid’s How God Gave Us the Bible (Welch, 1982).  Get that one and leave this one alone.



A. J. MacDonald, Jr said...

Thanks for the tip about Reid's book. I just ordered a copy from AbeBooks. The title is actually "How God gave us the Bible".

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Thanks A. J. Title corrected. I have the book on loan to a young man in my church and was going on memory. Always a danger. Reid's book is good, through I take exception to a few things in it also. Smiles. Still, it is a very good introduction with lots of information.