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. Dennis Nineham, The Use and Abuse of the Bible Macmillan: London, 1976, xii + 295 pp., £10.00.

This book consists of the Edward Cadbury lectures which Dr.Nineham They are addressed to people who read gave at Birmingham in 1971. the Bible in the hope of receiving religious enlightenment, , whether they be biblical scholars or dogmatic theologians or ordinary Christians.
Nineham believes that such readers have not yet fully the great difference between the cultural situation in which the Bible was written and the cultural situation in which we read it today. They are like the psychoanalysts patient who is suffering from the sort of emotional disturbance which results from a conflict, real or supposed, between some influence or relationship in his distant past and something arising out of the The real conflict, circumstances of the present or recent past.I however, is not between the Bible and our way of thinking but between earlier interpreters and ourselves. They looked upon the Bible (as indeed other ancient authors) as a virtually infallible authority, with a definite ascertainable meaning. The business of theology was merely to understand the mechanics of the great divine acts of creation and redemption of which it told. Modern science and modern historical study have, however, destroyed the Bibles authority in that sense.


Responses to the new situation have tended to minimise the gap The authority of the literal between Bible reading then and now. meaning of the Bible has been transferred to its real meaning,, e.g. the accounts of creation are not really cosmology or prehistory but are concerned with the total dependence of the world upon God. Or the authority of the Bible as a whole has been transferred to the events as they actually happened. Nineham feels that biblical theology has given many of the biblical stories the benefit of the doubt. It is not as easy as biblical theologian make out to discover what events the biblical authors were respond-L to. To some extent the exodus has been created by Israels faith: it is belief in narrative form.


a suggestion of Professor Maurice Wiles, Nineham says that the Bible provides us, not with verifiable accounts of Gods mighty acts, but with stories embodying a faith. Their historicity is a secondary matter, and there is no final meaning to be sought. It is wrong to assume that someone in the past knew the truth and that all we have to do is to get back to it. All past insights may be illuminating, but we still need to decide for ourselves what we believe. Our story may include many things of which the Bible knows nothing, and may have little or nothing to say about matters which figure prominently in the Bible. We cannot simply translate the Bible into modern terms (modern translations in fact increase the sense of distance by making clearer what the Bible really said). But the effort of thinking ourselves into the thought world of the Bible will, like foreign travel, give us a sharper sense of what we are and what we believe.


Nineham would be the first to admit that he is better at the critical task than at the constructive. The reader is bound to finish the book feeling that he knows far more about how not to use the Bible than about how to use it. Nevertheless, the insistence that many approaches to the Bible are legitimate and that the original meaning is not the only one that matters is a salutary one for the professional biblical scholar.


intending reader should also be warned that the book is not very well organised and that he will have to draw the threads of the argument together for himself. Examples of the difficulty we may have with biblical ideas are scattered throughout the book, introduced more or less as the author thinks of them.
the book is a long essay rather than a work of reference. Nineham is content to rely on his no doubt acute impressions of past interpretation of the Bible rather than to give detailed illustration. He speculates on what mediaeval and Reformation exegesis would have to say about usury instead of finding out what it did say. Which needs to be weighed before you part with E10.00.




Congregational College, Manchester, M16