This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2007 vol. 164 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Exegesis: Taking the Fear Out of Critical MethodIVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL September 16, 2005
This helpful guide is intended to be a more manageable option to the formidable volume by Gordon Fee, New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, 3rd ed. (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2002). Erickson, associate professor of New Testament at Fuller Seminary Northwest, has drawn on his years of teaching exegesis to produce this volume. The book is packed with helpful information that will give beginning exegetical students a solid foundation in working with the biblical text. The student-friendly feel of this volume is evident in even the titles of the chapters. For example the chapter on epistolary genre is titled, “Letter: Reading Someone Else’s Mail.”
The book begins with a preface, “Read Me First,” in which the author describes his purpose for writing the book. Ten chapters are devoted to the exegetical process. The book concludes with a brief glossary (just over three pages), an annotated bibliography, and two indexes (subject and Scripture).
Chapter 1, “Framing Your Mind, or How to Pronounce Zmrzlina,” discusses the author’s assumptions as well as important preliminary information about the exegetical process. The author is committed to the inspiration of the Bible. Noting the importance of trained exegetes to help guide believers, Erickson suggests that the Holy Spirit plays an important role in the interpretation process. He says the Spirit’s role is seen more as a guide than as an interpreter who “tells” the Bible student what the text means. However, given the difficulty of the subject, further discussion and clarification here would have been helpful. Erickson emphasizes the fact that the exegetical task helps project readers back into the biblical world. Yet exegesis is hard work, study of the original languages is important, and exegetes must be open to different and often previously unconsidered options. The remainder of the chapter provides an overview of the rest of the book, including the entire exegetical process enhanced with a chart. The interpretation process begins with a message contextualized for its original audience, the analysis of the message, and the message repackaged for the modern reader. The focus in this book is on the analysis of the message. For the most part the process is similar to what is found in other exegetical manuals.
Chapters 2–5 include basic Bible study topics such as textual criticism, word studies, syntactical and discourse analysis, and broader contextual matters (history and culture). The chapter on textual criticism is enhanced by a discussion of the standard critical editions, including sample pages. Possibly the most innovative section in this part is the chapter on syntactical and discourse analysis. It is refreshing to see discourse analysis brought into the exegetical process instead of being seen as an appendix to the whole. For other approaches to discourse analysis interested readers may consult Stanley E. Porter, “Discourse Analysis and New Testament Studies: An Introductory Survey,” in Discourse Analysis and Other Topics in Biblical Greek, ed. S. E. Porter and D. A. Carson (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1995), 14–35.
Chapters 6-9 focus primarily on genres: epistles, narrative, and apocalypse. More space is devoted to this than to the previous section (chaps. 2–5). This reveals a correctly perceived need that such material will be less familiar to readers. Some discussions relate more to scholarly debate (e.g., types of Gospel criticism) than to the exegetical process. However, these issues were often important in the history of interpretation and thus can be helpful to interested readers. The chapter on apocalyptic literature provides helpful principles for handling such material competently.
Chapter 10 focuses on application. Various topics are addressed, including sermon preparation and an exhortation to apply the text with care (pp. 214–16). The chapter concludes with ten helpful suggestions for lifelong exegetical study of the Scriptures (pp. 218–20).
—Joseph D. Fantin