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Book Review – Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook (Herbert W. Bateman IV)

Herbert W. Bateman IV. Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2013. 320 pp. $29.99.

interpreting the gen lettersThe third of a four-volume series (Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis), Interpreting the General Letters is designed to shape the way we think about, study, and teach the General Epistles (Hebrews, James, the Petrine letters, the Johannine letters, and Jude). This book provides valuable background information as well as a step-by-step process for interpreting and communicating the General Letters; though the focus is specifically on the General Epistles, some of the information and skills are easily transferable to the Pauline epistles and even to the other genres of the New Testament.

Chapters 1 and 2 lay the foundation for interpreting the General Letters by providing information on the genre and background, respectively. Chapter 1  illuminates the component parts of a letter in the Greco-Roman world, the types of epistolary correspondence in the Greco-Roman world, and how determining the type of a General Epistle may benefit our studying, interpreting, and teaching them. Chapter 1 ends with a look at the use of amenuenses and the issue of pseudonymity in the Greco-Roman world and in the General Letters. Chapter 2 provides important background information into the Greco-Roman world and the Judean-Roman relationship, concluding with a look at the implications of this background information on interpreting the General Letters. Because implications differ from epistle to epistle, Bateman illustrates by way of three examples: wisdom in James, household codes in 1 Peter, and rebellion in Jude.

Chapter 3 continues laying the foundation with an overview of the biblical theology of the General Letters and its specific canonical contributions. The chapter first looks at the era of promise in the Hebrew Scriptures and the era of fulfillment in the General Letters, providing an overview of biblical covenants from a dispensational perspective. Then Bateman provides a summary of the predominant theological theme of each of the General Letters, recognizing that every dominant theme is undergirded by several other theological themes.

Chapters 4-6 provide a step-by-step approach for interpreting the General Letters. Below are the nine steps. For each step, Bateman uses specific examples from the General Letters to illustrate the process.

Chapter 4: Preparing to Interpret the General Letters
Step One: Initiate a translation
Step Two: Identify interpretive issues
Step Three: Isolate major textual problems

Chapter 5: Interpreting Passages in the General Letters
Step Four: Interpreting structure
Step Five: Interpreting style, syntax, and semantics
Step Six: Interpreting Greek Words

Chapter 6: Communicating the General Letters
Step Seven: Communicating exegetically
Step Eight: Communicating the central idea
Step Nine: Communicating homiletically.

The last chapter provides an exposition of Jude 5-7 and Hebrews 10:19-25, pulling together the previous six chapters to provide examples of the teachings of the book in action. The book ends with a very helpful bibliography that groups sources by category (e.g. sources for comprehending first-century letter-writing, sources for building a biblical theology, sources for interpreting Greek words, etc.), a guide for choosing commentaries in general, and suggested commentaries for each of the General Epistles.

Interpreting the General Letters is an excellent introductory guide to interpreting and communicating the General Letters. A basic knowledge of Greek (probably one-year level) is necessary in order to get the most out of this book. For any pastor, Bible teacher, and serious student of the Word with a working knowledge of Greek, this would be a valuable book for guidance in interpreting and communicating the General Letters. I imagine it would also be a suitable supplementary text for seminary courses on the General Letters.

*Thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review!

Purchase: Amazon

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  1. Biblical Studies Carnival – June 2014 | Reading Acts
  2. Book Log: June 2014 |

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