Book Review—Interpreting the New Testament Text

Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis edited by Darrell L. Bock & Buist M. Fanning. First edition. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2006). 480 pages. $29.99/hardback.

intNT.jpgPurchase: Crossway, CBD, Westminster Bookstore, Amazon

Special features: [bibliography after each chapter in Part One. Exegetical Methods and Procedures, Scripture Index, and a General Index including both subjects and authors, etc.]

ISBNs: 9781581344080 / 1581344082

LCCN: BS2331 .I58

DCN: 225.601

Subject(s): Hermeneutics, NT Interpretation

Darrell L. Bock (Th.M., Dallas; Ph.D., Aberdeen) is Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminar and Professor of Spiritual Development and Culture at the Center for Christian Leadership Research. His main areas of study include Gospel Studies, Luke-Acts, Historical Jesus, Hermeneutics, and Integration of Theology and Culture.

Buist M. Fanning (Th.M., Dallas; D.Phil., Oxford) has devoted more than 30 years to teaching New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary and an equal length of time to various service and leadership positions at his local church. This continuous balance of scholarship and ministry is evident to students in his New Testament literature and exegesis classes. His research interests include New Testament Greek syntax and exegesis of Hebrews and the General Epistles.

Interpreting the New Testament Text is a well-written, thorough introduction to New Testament (NT) exegesis that serves as a reminder of the richness of the NT in meaning and of the essentiality of hard work in uncovering those riches. In this textbook, the editors address not only the exegetical method of studying the NT text for the purpose of interpretation but also the presentation of that interpretation to others. They are attempting to develop in the reader the fundamental skills of understanding the Word and of sorting through the various views of people about any one particular text.

The book covers the basic steps of exegesis through introductory essays on various aspects of NT exegesis (Part One) and through examples illustrating the use of the methods introduced (Part Two). The editors assume that the reader needs to discern the original authorial intent of the NT text and that he knows Greek well enough to study the text in the original language. Inherent in this assumption is the understanding that the author established the meaning in the text and that the reader will come to an understanding and proper application of that text by using an exegetical method, counterbalanced by insights from other exegetes. They also assume that the reader will make informed judgments about the text’s meaning and that he intends to use these judgments as the basis for a ministry of practical spiritual teaching.

In Part One, the editors do an excellent job of presenting the method (or science) of exegesis without forgetting that there is a strong element of art in understanding and interpreting the text. Almost no area of exegesis was left out. However, a chapter on book analysis, before actually diving into the particular text, would have been helpful. It is assumed that analysis and paragraph divisions will be made, and, for this reason, bibliographical help is given. But it seems that an introduction to analysis rather than simply references to it could have found an early chapter in this book.

The shorter Part Two shows various applications of the principles previously taught. Although these applications are done well, these chapters usually did not seem to be on the same level as the ones presented in Part One—with the exception of Scott Cunningham’s excellent treatment of the difficulties with “The Temple Motif” in Ephesians 2:19-22. This is more the result of reading the chapters in the order in which they appear in the book. Those teaching may correct this problem by having the student read the application chapters in conjunction with the chapters being applied.

As already implied, this book is probably intended to be used as a first-year seminary text and should certainly be useful for some years. Of course, the seminarians will be required to buy it, and a number of pastors who will also find it useful as a book to be read every year or so for the purpose of reminding them not to get sloppy in dealing with the text. A number of pastors who seriously study the Word but have not studied Greek or are weak in languages will find certain sections to be laborious reading. But the insights given will prove helpful to the pastor who desires to apply himself despite his disadvantages and to learn about the issues he faces in interpretation.

For a “textbook on … a form of high-tech Bible study, where options and nuances are weighed and appreciated” (p. 17), this book is quite readable. It is not a popular treatment of the subject but is certainly a human (and occasionally humorous) one. Each contributor, all of whom are either former students or colleagues of Dr. Harold Hoehner, pay tribute in some way or another. Either in a footnote, in a paragraph, or through a mention of his work on Ephesians (at least a half dozen mentions), they show that this book is as much due to him as to the editors, faculty, and contributing alumni of Dallas Theological Seminary. The reader even discovers in one footnote that Dr. Hoehner, the former farm boy, had talents outside of the classroom. In another footnote, we learn that Cheetos is a favorite snack of his.

Not all of the memorable writing is meant to be humorous. For example, on the importance—in the age of flabby minds—of sentence diagramming, clausal layouts, and exegetical outlining, Dr. Jay E. Smith writes, “[Paul’s] writings are complicated, and his logic is often difficult to follow. And sadly, we have not been taught to read such discourse, and nearly everything in our culture entices us away from this invaluable but hard-won skill” (p. 74).

There are also challenges to the Bible student and teacher scattered throughout the book. On the subject of validation (i.e., exegetical problem solving), Dr. David K. Lowery writes that “it is a regrettable fact that many sincere (though misguided) people carry out research and writing as theological lawyers rather than biblical interpreters. Please do not be one of them” (p. 156). This warning jumped out at me because I am studying and teaching on divorce and remarriage in the Bible. Whatever the subject, one must approach the Word willing to change his mind or his life based on what he finds in the text. An additional strength of this book is the evaluation of different helps, both from print and digital. They should be helpful although the digital recommendations could easily be soon out-of-date in our technological age.

As a pastor reading this book, I found almost every chapter in Part One addressing some subject that was pertinent to my current preaching and teaching schedule. I even put down the book to try my hand at sentence diagramming, a process I had forsaken before in frustration. I found some of the tips in the book to be very helpful. I also found helpful insights and tips in the chapter on narrative genre.

There are some non-reference books one constantly refers to and consults because they challenge and guide one repeatedly. Usually these are not textbooks. This one could be a notable exception.

r_talley.jpgRobert Talley is pastor of the Fellowship Bible Church (Castleton, VT). He and his wife, Dawn, have two children. They served 11 years in church planting in German-speaking Europe (Munich, the Austrian Alps, and East Berlin) through Baptist Mid-Missions (Cleveland, OH). Robert is currently working on a Master of Ministry degree from Temple Baptist Seminary (Chattanooga, TN).
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