Review of @KregelAcademic’s “Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook”

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.

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8 Replies to “Review of @KregelAcademic’s “Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook””

  1. If there is one thing 17th century British politics proved, it was that the Bible can be used to support almost any agenda.

    At the same time, 17th century printing of the Bible provided some curious translations. There was the Wicked Bible. It commanded the faithful to commit adultery!

    Later centuries provided their own curious twists of Scripture. The late 18th century Murderer’s Bible advised killing the children first. Since then, there have been less notorious typos.

    Beyond typos and other screw-ups, every translation of the Bible is both a product of time, place, as well as personal prejudices and/or groupthink of the translators. This extends back to original Bronze Age authorship. The notion that man was created in God’s image and the earth on which he walks is little more than Ancient Hebrew male hubris.

    For the Romans – the people rather than the letter – Paul was a necessary law-and-order counterbalance to the radical prescriptions of Jesus. Today’s God and guns conservative theophilosophy is a latter day example of a fact of life that is woven into the fabric of Judeo-Christian history. So is the recent feminization of biblical pronouns.

    Trying to understand what the original authors, and even later translators, were thinking is tricky for two reasons. First, except for the dead language of Latin, the context and meaning of words changes over time. Second is seeing history in the rear view mirror.

    Both of the above become painfully evident in repeatedly failed attempts to reestablish a church as it supposedly existed at the time the Gospels were written.

    1. Mostly, the typos were pointed out and joked about – and had no bearing on developing Christian theology.

      As far as hubris, I’m not sure I would go that far. the hebrew theology shares a lot in common with other ANE myths. further, i don’t think we quite understand “image” yet.

      we don’t know jesus except by paul and pauline influence. we cannot suggest that there is a stark separation because we do not have the facts to back that up. the gospels, later than paul, show a remarkable pauline influence – even john. the gods and guns part is not really christianity, so much as it is americanism-anity.

      we can actually understand a lot of what the authors meant – because we have discovered more about their time and their literary styles. to suggest we cannot is to not understand how far linguistic criticism has come.

      I don’t think we can really establish what a 1st century Jesus-community looked like.

      1. Yet, when one considers the sheer number of Christian religions produced by America – never mind the rest of the world – it becomes painfully obvious that the Bible can say whatever someone wants or not wants it to say. There’s Adventism, Christian Scientists, Church of All Worlds, Church of Satan, Disciples of Christ, fundamentalism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Jesus Freaks, Nation of Islam, New Thought Movement, Pentecostal , Scientology, and Unitarian (Universalism).

        Gee, have I covered them all? When it comes to religions, the United States is like the old woman that lived in a shoe and had so many children, she didn’t know what to do…………………

        For the most part, Christians in America are anti-intellectual. Many see higher criticism as a tool of Satan. This is nothing new. It’s been there since the First Great Awakening – even before there was a United States! As with their language, politics, and television news, Americans tend to like their religion(s) simplistic.

        1. Nation of Islam isn’t really a Christian religion…

          Neither is Scientology.

          And yes, American Christians are often anti-intellectual.

          But when all of this happen? It is due to the Reformation when every man because his own king

          1. I should have simply said religions. Nevertheless, the proliferation of homegrown American religions reveal that the United States is a religion-mad country. Given its history, the nation is likely to become much like Iran – only without either Islam or oil.

            The seminal difficulty isn’t the number of religions in America so much as it is village idiots taking THEIR brand of religion a little too seriously. One reason, as L. Ron Hubbard pointed out, there is big money to be made from founding a religion. Likewise, as Billy Graham and others have proved, peddling religious pabulum is also profitable. Religion in America isn’t so much a trail a faith as a paved road to lucre!

  2. Here’s another intriguing question related to Bronze Age hubris:

    Has post-modern monotheism brought the world back to the Bronze Age of the Middle East?

    After all, Middle East during the Bronze Age was both a heterogeneous and volatile mixture of self-important deities. This Bronze Age mythology is difficult to trace because records are scares and translations of deity names varies.

    Nevertheless, there was Wise Lord known as Ahura-Mazda and his sons Atar and Mithra. According to Zoroastrian mythology Saoshyant was waiting in the wings to offer assistance when needed. Their arch enemy was perpetually evil Ahraiman. It has been suggested that Ahura-Mazda inspired other gods of the era. Among them was Yahweh.

    Today, more commonly known as God, Yahweh was the deity of the biblical Old Testament. Among his creations was mankind – which, although Adam was created in his image, he preceded to wipe out with the exception of Noah and his family. Of course, according to Ancient Hebrew mythology, Noah saved the rest of God’s creations.

    According to a Middle Iron Age spinoff of Judaism, Yahweh had a son. His name was Jesus. A few centuries after Jesus died, Yahweh became more commonly known as Jehovah. The rest of the story is church history.

    In time, Allah became a spinoff of Yahweh worship. Although essentially the same as the old Hebrew Yahweh, he is the lord of Islam.

    Like Ahura-Mazda, Yahweh had his arch enemy. Among other names, he would eventually be called Beelzebub. However, the origins of Beelzebub may have actually been the rival Canaanite deity Ba’al. It’s the old story of one’s enemy or rival’s god being the personification of evil. Yet, Ba’al had his arch enemy in Yam.

    The Phoenicians had Eylon. He was presumably the son of Ba’al. The Persians worshiped Ameretat. Marduk was the Assyrian principal deity.

    Belphegor was Moabite enemy of their polytheistic deities. Among them was Kemosh for Moab. Edom had Qaws. Ammonites worshiped Milkom. There was also the Egyptian deity Ammon.

    During this period, the various groups fought proxy wars with the presumed assurances that their gods would make them victorious over the supposedly inferior gods of their enemies.

    As with the Bronze Age Middle East, today’s world stage is dominated by individual groups claiming to represent rival deities. The situation is not unlike boys on a schoolyard playground claiming their father can beat up some other guy’s father and then punching him in the face to prove it!

    It’s really all rather silly because the two principal deities involved – the Judeo-Christian God and the Islamic Allah are the same Bronze Age deity. Yet, each side is perceived by the other as worshiping a devil! After all, it’s not all that different from Ba’al becoming Beelzebub.

    On a smaller scale, much the same is true of the split between Catholics and Protestants in Christianity, as well as between Sunni and Shia in Islam. The fact that both Christians and Muslims tend to hate the Jews, and vice versa, would be equally amusing if it wasn’t so deadly. It seems that no one involved is pausing long enough to ask: Am I my brother’s killer?

    In the end, it all boils down to hubris – the same hubris that caused man to think himself created in the image of a supreme being and the earth on which he walked to be the center of the universe.

    Small wonder that, whether one approaches the mythology from the Hebrew or Gilgamesh perspective, mankind deserved to be drowned in a flood. Given today’s global insanity, it just may be time for a stray asteroid visit, or another Mount Tarawera and Krakatoa!

    Yet, the question remains: Has supposedly human progress simply brought mankind full circle to his religion’s origins?

    As a bonus: Was John Westley’s Methodism little more than a reaction to The Enlightenment?

    After all, The Enlightenment had a decidedly anti-religious fervor the extolled the virtues of human worth – something that was an anathema to colonial mentality of the British Empire at the time.

    Conversely, was Methodism a reaction to the formalism that gripped the Church of England propelled by much the same underlying factors that spawned the Protestant Reformation?

    Could it have been both – with Westley being either the right guy at the right time or the wrong guy at the wrong time, depending on one’s point of view?

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