Saturday, August 2, 2014

"Interpreting the General Letters" Review

Kregel Academic has been releasing a set called "Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis." This set is designed for pastors with a working knowledge of Greek to more ably exegete the New Testament. The newest volume Interpreting the General Letters by Herbert W. Bateman IV continues the purpose of this series by focusing on in-depth exegesis of the General Letters (Hebrews, James, 1 &2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude). So is this volume worth a spot on your shelf?

Let me start off by saying that I theologically differ from the author. He holds to a dispensational view of biblical theology while I lean toward a New Covenant perspective. Disagreement aside, I still think this is a solid volume full of excellent advice and is full of help for pastors who want to hone their exegetical abilities. The first chapter is devoted to exploring the genre of the general letters. I particularly enjoyed the charts that Bateman included. This is not thrilling reading but it is necessary for a proper interpretation of the text.

The second chapter is devoted to the background of the General Letters. This chapter was actually pretty interesting. It involved a fairly intensive look at some of the influences of the General Letters. I learned several new things (including a plausible background of the rebellion in Jude [see pages 84-87]). The author spends a great deal of time focusing on the Greco-Roman background of the text.

Chapter three, in my opinion, is my favorite chapter in the book. Again, I disagree with the theological position of the author, but I still found is discussion of covenants and the fulfillment in the book of Hebrews enlightening. The chart on Hebrews on pages 111-113 is just fantastic. There are a number of other visuals in this chapter that really help bring to life the General Letters. 

Chapters four through seven, involving the actual process of exegesis all the way to preaching. There are numerous examples and charts that really help the exegete. I would actually suggest that this section is fairly exhaustive. I must also be honest: this is dry reading. I found it was best to read this section with my Greek New Testament open and a product of caffeine by my side.

Which makes me ponder a deeper question: why do so many exegetical works make the actual task of exegesis so dull? Chapters four through seven read like a textbook. Authors such as Michael Bird have made works of theology and exegesis interesting. Is there nothing to remedy this? I know I leave myself open to the charge of being immature or unprofessional but I will wager this: if I find this section unbelievably dull, the pastors it was intended for will to.

Let me go one step further: the pastor who is busy with his day to day work will not only struggle to make it through this text, he will become increasingly disenfranchised with the entire process of in-depth exegesis. That is tragic and frustrating. So how do I sum all this up?

I think the information here is valuable. I think it is helpful. I just do not like most of the way it is presented. It is dense. It is technical. It is not thrilling to get through.




I think pastors should buy this. I think they should struggle through it. I think they should endure the difficult and technical nature of this work. Why? Because our churches need sound exegesis. The method laid out in this work is incredibly beneficial (albeit time consuming).

So it is worth a buy. Be aware this is not an easy, breezy text. You make disagree with elements of it. Yet ministry leaders need works like this because exegesis is an art. This book is a reminder of it.

*Thanks to Kregel Academic for the free book in exchange for a fair review*