TITLE: 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.
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.