Category Archives: Hermeneutics

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

Richard A. Taylor, Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook

Kregel Publications, 2016, 205pp., ISBN 978-0-8254-2761-9.

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature is sixth in the Handbooks For Old Testament Exegesis series by David M. Howard Jr. Taylor’s book is a step forward in the right direction for Old Testament exegesis. Avoiding the pitfall of assuming that all text should be interpreted in very same way Taylor opens the book by giving some foundational insight in to the type of literature the apocalyptic genre is.  He writes,

The expression apocalyptic literature refers to a type of writing that adopts to a significant degree the outlook of apocalypticism and portrays those themes through a vivid use of symbolic language.

Taylor spends the entire first chapter explaining the foundation of apocalyptic literature, defining terms, and talking method for understanding apocalyptic literature. In so doing he has established a solid start point for the discussion.  From here he explains seven major apocalyptic themes (chapter 2), basic guidelines for apocalyptic interpretation (chapter 4), teaching apocalyptic literature (chapter 5), and ends by providing sample apocalyptic texts (chapter 6).

Interpreting Apocalyptic literature is a well written and very necessary introduction to the topic of apocalyptic literature. At 205 pages it isn’t going to delve into every instance of apocalyptic literature found in the Bible. However the strengths in the volume is it’s easy to read style providing the pastor, seminarian, or laity with a solid resource for reading and understanding this particular genre.

RATING 4 out of 5


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review: Preaching Old Testament Narratives

Preaching Old Testament Narratives

Benjamin H. Walton (DMin, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

Preaching Old Testament Narratives

Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Mi 49505-6020, ISBN 978-0-8254-4258-2.


 

Why a book on teaching Old Testament narratives? Mostly because it has become a challenge for Pastors in a Church culture that expects teaching that is “practical” to provide honest reflection on the Old Testament text. Rather than gleaning from the high content already provided by Old Testament narratives the popular practice is to treat the Old Testament narratives as something like Aesop’s Fables. Instead of unfolding the history of redemption, it is assumed that the Old Testament narratives are there to show us some moral or practical life lesson.  This isn’t to say that moral or life lessons aren’t helpful. However, for Pastors the primary function is to Shepard God’s people with God’s Word and here in lies the challenge.

This way of preaching is what Walton calls “Preaching with Biblical authority” he goes on to say that this type of preaching “means that our sermons accurately proclaim and apply the message of their biblical preaching text”(29). Such an understanding realizes that our conception of reality is construed by finite understanding and thus requires an infinite God to explain His will to us. Therefore, unless the message comes from the text, we run the risk of misrepresenting God. What Walton wants to speak to is preaching whose authority is not derived from the pastor but from God’s word.

Preaching Old Testament Narratives is a comprehensive treatment of its subject matter. The 254 pages are broken up into two sections, Discover The Message and Deliver The Message. In Discover The Message, Walton provides a 5 step methodology beginning with selecting a complete unit of thought  or what Walton calls CUT(47). As the name implies this is simply choosing the preaching text. This is very helpful for obvious reasons. For Walton’s approach the objective in this stage of sermon preparation is to select a complete unit of thought so that the original theological message or OTM can be identified.

Steps 2 and 3 involve identifying the theological and historical contexts (45) and plot. Here Walton observes that Old Testament Narratives teach about God, hence the theological context. However, one further important step for Walton is the historical. Since we are looking at a different time period or era the thoughts and feelings of the people of Israel are different than those in 21st century America. Thus a proper understanding of the text looks and both these contexts of theological and historical. This leads Walton into Step 3 which is to study the plot. In order to provide thoughtful reflection on Old Testament narratives one should have a thorough understanding of the plot found in the CUT.

After arriving at the proper contexts and understanding the plot the next step seems fairly logical, discover the original theological message (OTM) and craft the take home truth. Discovering the original theological message for Walton. A complete unit of thought will have an original theological message that was intended for its original audience. The tenancy is to by pass the step and fabricate a message familiar to 21st century American experience. The problem is created when we don’t first seek to find out what that message communicated to Old Testament hearers. Once the original theological message is understood we can then move on to the next step in crafting the take home truth (THT).

The second part of the book deals specifically with delivering the message. Here Walton lays out the process of sermon preparation consisting of topics such as: creating the introduction, preaching through the complete unit of thought, stating and getting listeners to “buy” the take home truth, picture painting, making the move to Christ, and the conclusion. Each of these topics are well thought out and given a thorough treatment. Walton’s goal here is to give the reader the tools to execute on what he calls the four pillars of excellent preaching: accuracy, relevance, clarity, and inspiring.

Overall this is a pretty important book. This is an area that many pastors struggle with and Walton provides more than a foundation from which to build. Rather he walks the reader carefully through each step. There are some sections that have more to do with personal style which isn’t necessary for preaching Old Testament narratives. However the section on making the move to Christ is very well done and would prove to be helpful . I highly recommend this book for those still trying to navigate Old Testament narrative preaching or even for those who are quite comfortable with preaching Old Testament narrative and would just like a different perspective on the matter.

RATING 4 out of 5


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Bible Reading 101

As Christians, Bible reading is an important aspect to our faith. We believe the 66 books of the cannon of Scripture make up God’s word to us. Therefore, it is important for us to have a healthy reading diet. However, the challenge we face is how should the text of Scripture, God’s word to us, be read? This kind of question can actually fill volumes and be argued and debated so much so that a person would have a difficult time knowing what’s right. To add to our complexity many people just choose not to attempt to understand basic Bible reading. Obviously, we all know how to read, what else is needed?

I don’t mind discussing some of the fine points of Biblical interpretation (formally known as hermeneutics) but at this point, what is really needed is just some very basic understanding of key concepts to help analyze and understand the text. Therefore, I will be looking at three very fundamental points to help understand what is being read in the Bible. They are, what I call, reading redemptively, exigetically, and eisegetically. I will go into definitions of these terms below.

Redemptively, goes without saying. We cannot deny the work of the Spirit in our lives as well as in our Bible reading. No one approaches the Bible autonomously or without influence. If you are a believer you will read the Bible from the perspective of God’s sovereign authority. The natural man, as Paul tells us, suppresses the truth that he/she has about God and thus reads the Bible from the perspective of their own ultimate authority. Reading the Scriptures redemptively does not guarantee you a perfect read because we aren’t perfect people but it is the start point.

Reading the Bible exegetically, remember this ten cent term, trust me you are going to want to cash in on it some day. Reading the Bible exegetically is a descriptive approach where one seeks to understand the text apart from any opinions, feelings, stream of consciousness type stuff, etc. In other words one attempts to remove any subjectivity from their understanding of the text and attempts to read what the text is communicating. Just look at the exegesis, the prefix “ex” means to “come out of”. In exegetical reading, the information comes out of the text. If you are in a building that’s on fire what do you look for? The “ex”it sign because you want to come out of the building. CAUTION, this is a very disciplined task and requires patience and an inquisitive mind on the part of the reader. Some of the questions one might ask himself/herself are:

  • What type of genre (style of writing) is this?
  • What is the context? (this one is a biggie)
  • What do these certain words mean?
  • What is the author communicating?

There are others you might come up with but this is a good list to get you started. Remember, the goal is to think about the text on its own terms without imposing assumptions.

Lastly, one can read the Bible eisegetically. To be perfectly candid, this is the one that gets many Bible teachers in trouble, let me explain. An eisegetical reading of the text will always communicate what the reader thinks of the text as opposed to what the text actually says itself. Think of the prefix “eis” which means “into” because one is positing their thoughts “into” the text. This is dangerous business.

Now that I have given the precautionary warning  I am going to back peddle a bit. The reason is, there are situations where an eisegetical reading is warranted. The first one that comes to mind is once there has been a thorough exegetical reading. An impatient reader would rather bypass the exegetical reading and go straight for the eisgetical reading. However the best forms of eisegesis will showcase a thorough exegesis. One easy way to look at this is exegesis will ask what the author believes. Eisegesis on the other hand asks what the reader ought to believe.

This is a basic approach to reading the Bible. There are many sub-issues that would fall under these three categories or redemptive, exegetical, and eisegetical but for the purpose of this post one would do very well if he/she would keep these in mind during Bible study.

 

 

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BOOK REVIEW: Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook

ITPBTITLE: Interpreting The Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook

AUTHOR: Gary V. Smith

PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (214 pages).

I was very interested to see Interpreting The Prophetic Books(ITPB) as part of the Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis (HOTE)series. If you have not yet been exposed to this series it is well worth considering. The HOTE series attempts to provide students of the Bible with basic interpretive skills for Biblical exegesis. The HOTE series editor David M. Howard explains that “An appreciation for the rich diversity of literary genres in Scripture is one of the positive features of evangelical scholarship” (ITPB 15). It appears that consideration over genre is fairly recent in contemporary scholarship which makes the HOTE a very timely series. Moreover, one of the important areas where genre comes in to play is the interpretation of the Prophetic Books of the Bible. It has been a long held suspicion of mine that the neglect of the prophetic books in day to day preaching and teaching today is due in part to a lack of interpretive tools necessary for a proper interpretation of the text. Prophetic books can be demanding and without some of the proper interpretive tools teaching preparation can be a very daunting task. Gary Smith has I believe successfully provided the necessary tools to help students get the best and most out of their study of the Prophetic Books.

The book (ITPB) itself is a very manageable 214 pages of well written and understandable prose. It is broken down into six chapters that deal with The Nature of Prophetic Literature explaining the prophetic genre itself, Major Themes in the Prophetic Books providing a big picture perspective of the prophetic books, and while this book is not a book on homiletics the remaining chapters Preparing for Interpretation, Interpretive Issues In Prophetic Texts, Proclaiming Prophetic Texts, and From Text to Application are in essence instruction in homiletics. Some of the features of ITPB are a helpful outline at the beginning of each chapter that lays out the direction of the discussion. There is also a very helpful glossary of about 70 common terms used in OT studies as well as scripture and subject indices in the back of the book.

In chapter 1 Dr. Smith explains the genre of prophetic literature. He explains that prophetic literature of the OT was vitally important for the NT church because of their teachings on law, the coming Messiah, and God’s kingdom. However, the challenge for modern day readers is grasping the context of the prophetic books. The difficulty is that we are not only separated from the OT prophets by time but they wrote from various political, socio-economic, and religious settings. Because of this it is an over simplification to approach the prophetic literature the same way in every case without causing a distortion of the text. In order to keep the prophets teachings in their proper contexts Dr. Smith explains the use of various interpretive concepts that emerge from the prophetic text to assist the reader with analysis. Tools such as Temporal Categories of Prophecy, Genres of Prophecy, Parallelism, and Imagery help provide the way in which the Prophetic text ought to be examined and understood.

Chapters 2 and 3 are discussions that I would categorize as “preparation”. One of the pitfalls in a book like this which seeks to help students with interpretation is to impose an interpretation. ITPB works very hard at providing the framework without providing the interpretation. So in chapter 2 for example the reader is given a broad overview of each of the prophetic books with attention to the primary themes without offering too much by way of interpretation. Chapter 3 restricts itself to only providing background information about the prophetic books to include the use of textual criticism and further resources to assist one with the study of the prophetic books.

Chapter 4 deals with the thorny complexity of Interpretive Issues in Prophetic Texts. This chapter discusses some of the errors that we tend to make in interpreting prophetic books to include: is prophecy literal or metaphorical, metaphorical interpretation of prophecy, difficulties between prophecy and its New Testament fulfillment, and is prophecy always fulfilled. This isn’t a complete list of the discussions found in this chapter but they are some that I found very helpful.

While this isn’t a book on homiletics (the method of sermon preparation) chapters 5 and 6 provide a very good homiletic outline useful for anyone in the role of teaching. Chapter 5 covers more of the process of teaching preparation while chapter 6 has more to do with the practical application of prophetic text. Chapter 6 is lengthy but very important in that this process of practical application has demonstrated itself to be challenging for modern day teachers. While most teachers want to give practical application many times it is at the expense of the text. This is where ITPB demonstrates its merits by demonstrating how one can provide practical application without compromising the content of the text.

PERSONAL REFLECTION

There is so much substance in the prophetic books. Smith makes the point that “the prophetic books were of great importance to the New Testament church” (ITPB 23). While it is quite understandable why some are apprehensive about teaching the prophetic books because of their complexity, I think the ITPB reader will be pleasantly surprised by how helpful this volume can be to them in their teaching ministry. PERSONAL RATING: 5 Stars out of 5 ________________________________________

This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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