Book Notice – Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook (Richard A. Taylor)

Richard A. Taylor. Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016. 208 pp. $21.99.

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature is the latest volume from Kregel Academic’s Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series, which offers a basic introduction to exegesis and proclamation of different genres of OT texts. The purpose of this volume is fourfold: to 1) provide an introduction to Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic literature; 2) situate OT apocalyptic literature within the context of ancient apocalyptic thought; 3) provide guidelines for interpreting this genre; and 4) provide a sample treatment of two OT apocalyptic texts.

Chapter 1 provides an introduction to apocalyptic literature, addressing renewed scholarly interest in this genre (with a note on Kasemann), distinguishing helpfully between apocalypse, apocalypticism, and apocalyptic literature, tracing the development of Jewish apocalyptic literature, and sketching the social world behind the literature. Chapter 2 addresses major themes in apocalyptic literature, dealing with major texts and then the genre as a whole. For Old Testament Prophets, a bit more attention is devoted to Daniel than the rest of the texts (which makes sense given the scope and aims of this book), summarizing its message, purpose, major themes, and structure. Then quick overviews are provided for Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Joel, Malachi. For extrabiblical texts, a brief introduction to types of apocalypses is first provided before surveying each of the five parts of 1 Enoch, then 2 Enoch, Jubilees, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, Apocalypse of Abraham, Testament of Levi, Testament of Abraham, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and Testament of Moses. Then Taylor addresses the question of whether Qumran was an apocalyptic community and surveys a few DSS texts with apocalyptic elements (Community Rule, War Scroll, and New Jerusalem. Chapter 2 concludes with some general characteristic features (revelatory content, dreams and visions, pseudonymous authorship, hiddenness and secrecy, and pervasive symbolism) and major themes (developed angelology, ethical dualism, deterministic outlook, imminent crisis, faithful remnant, divine judgment, and eschatological hope) of the genre of apocalyptic literature.

Chapter 3 focuses on the book of Daniel (since it contains the only true apocalypse in the OT) to address the issue of how to prepare to interpret apocalyptic texts, noting key exegetical procedures and tools . Taylor covers figurative language, reception history, the issue of bilingualism in Daniel and textual criticism,working with original languages, and benefiting previous scholarship. He provides an annotated bibliography of OT textual criticism, Bible software, lexical resources, grammatical resources for Hebrew as well as Aramaic, and primary and secondary sources for the study of apocalyptic literature. In chapters 4 and 5 Taylor addresses guidelines for interpreting and proclaiming apocalyptic literature, respectively. Finally, Chapter 6 models the process that has been taught in the rest of the book by working through Daniel 8:1-27 and Joel 2:28-32.

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature is an excellent guide to exegeting and preaching apocalyptic (and proto-apocalyptic) OT texts. It provides a valuable (albeit brief) introduction to the genre and sketches the Second Temple Jewish context, situating OT apocalyptic literature within the broader world in which it was birthed. I think this would be a great text for upper level bible college and introductory seminary OT courses. It would also be a great resource for self-learners unfamiliar with the genre (for whom the annotated bibliographies in chapter 3 would be particularly valuable), especially those with regular opportunities to preach.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

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Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook (Gary V. Smith)

Gary V. Smith. Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014. 224 pp. $22.99

Interpreting the Prophetic BooksThe Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis from Kregel Academic is a six-volume series (with two volumes yet to be released) designed primarily to help seminary students and pastors exegete and preach from the Old Testament. Each volume covers one of the major genres found in the OT (narrative, law, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, and apocalyptic) and follows a similar six-chapter structure from introducing the genre all the way to putting together a sermon. In the latest addition to the series, Gary V. Smith offers a primer on interpreting the prophetic books of the OT.

The first chapter provides an orientation to the genre of prophetic literature by providing an overview of the three temporal categories of prophecy (narrative, eschatological, and apocalyptic) and the genres according to which prophecies in these three categories were organized (judgment speech, covenant lawsuit, trial speech, disputation, oracle against foreign nations, woe oracle, summons to repent, salvation oracle, proclamation of salvation, sign acts, hymns, and visions). Because most prophecies are written in the form of poetry, Smith also spends some time on two key characteristics of Hebrew poetry: parallelism and imagery. Chapter 2 briefly highlights the main themes of each prophetic book and notes the common themes across the entire genre (e.g. God’s wisdom and sovereignty, His covenant relationship with Israel, oracles of judgment and promises of salvation, the coming Messianic King, and the eschatological day of the Lord). In chapter 3, Smith introduces the basic skills and tools necessary to prepare for faithful interpretation of the prophetic books. He provides an overview of the historical setting, introduces the false prophecies of the ancient Near East, and briefly addresses how to use textual criticism and biblical commentaries.

With the preliminary groundwork in place, the next chapter provides an overview of the interpretive process, focusing on six key interpretive issues in prophetic texts that deal with the future: whether a text is literal or metaphorical, whether it’s limited by its context, whether it’s conditional or unconditional, whether it’s about the near or far future, difficulties between a prophecy and its fulfillment in the NT, and the difficulty of some prophecies not being fulfilled. Next, chapter 5 addresses sermon preparation, discussing “how we can systematically move from an inspired prophetic message to an inspirational sermon that will change the lives of people today” (143-144). Finally, chapter 6 provides two examples to demonstrate how the process taught in this book work practically. Here Smith takes first Isaiah 31:1-9 and then Jeremiah 23:1-8, working step by step through the process outlined in the previous chapter.

Interpreting the Prophetic Books is a helpful primer on studying and preaching/teaching the  prophetic books. For those unfamiliar with this portion of the canon and/or the process from study to sermon, this book provides a helpful guide to the main features of the genre of prophecy, key tools for interpretation, and a step-by-step guide to crafting a sermon. It’s an excellent guide for the beginning Bible student/teacher/preacher as well as the layperson serious about studying the Bible. Those more advanced will likely not pick up any new insight and will at many points long for more detail and depth. But the book cannot be faulted for brevity since the aim of the series is to provide short introductory handbooks. Nevertheless, the brevity is especially stark in this volume since it covers such a huge portion of the OT (17 books!) in around 200 pages, whereas the other volumes in the series cover much fewer books.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

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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!

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