If I were to survey the current state of hermeneutical exegesis, I would get the strong sense of a blathering mess of chaotic interpretation fostered upon Holy Writ by people who simple have no idea what they are doing. Perhaps I would then seek to find ways of helping them to bring order to chaos and engineer something of a return to sound dogmatic portrayals of Scripture. To assist me, I would need to turn to easy-to-understand books appealing to both the trained and untrained. I believe Herbert W. Bateman’s book, Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook, is easily one of the volumes I would use.

Un/fortunately, there is little in the way of telling the reader why this book should be used so I’ll fill in the gaps. There is a constant urge among us proudly post-modern members of our species to interpret everything according to our own experiences. This has led to an increase in biblical illiteracy and a terrible mess of practical theology. Thus, we need books that will train us to think biblically — in the sense that our interpretative strategies should be rooted in what lays before us rather than what we see. Further, unlike other books that give a broad stroke approach to biblical exegesis, this book (and this series) breaks down the various components of the New Testament and focuses on them. Thus, you will get a focused approach, and extended examples, to interpreting Scripture according to standard practices.

Interpreting the General Letters is divided into 8 chapters. Let me further offer a division of these chapters. The first three chapters provides the basic setting of the letters, including genre (ch 1), context (2), and theology (3). Chapters 4 and 5 deal with the working out of interpretation. It is a pleasant surprise to see that step one (in chapter 4) is actually creating a translation and attempts to help the reader avoid common pitfalls. Only then can the reader move into English translations. The final portion of the book, chapters 6 and 7, deal more with extending what you have done in chapter 5 to a general audience, such as preaching. Communication (ch 6) and Exposition (ch 7) not only carry your work off the page, but puts it into a realm where it will be challenged, and hopefully, where it will challenge others. Finally, chapter 8 serves almost like a substantial appendix where the author gives sources for everything discussed in the book — sources that will propel the reader, and exegete, to better exegesis. A very helpful chart is given on commentary selection, although the use of “liberal” in describing some of them (Hermeneia) seems a bit pejorative.

When I went to seminary, one of the books we were required to purchase was one on general biblical exegesis. You probably know it. It was helpful in many ways, but having a book like Bateman’s helps to really focus the skills we are trying build. While Bateman may easily reveal his hermeneutic tendencies (hint, read the Preface), I do not see any such restrictions placed upon his readers.In fact, I believe his work will give great freedom, within proper boundaries, to those earnestly attempting to read and communicate the Sacred Text.