A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis
Blomberg and Markley have produced a concise yet thorough discussion of the process of biblical exegesis. The book focuses on ten components of the exegetical process: textual criticism, translation and translations, historical-cultural context, literary context, word studies, grammar, interpretive problems, outlining, theology, and application.
The authors’ desire is to produce a user-friendly volume that includes both appropriate methodological discussion as well as sufficient concrete examples of what the results of the process should look like. They believe that “exegesis is caught as much as it is taught” (p. xiii). Thus the book is intended for those wishing to learn and practice biblical exegesis.
For those without seminary training, chapter 1 on textual criticism may seem complex and involved. One strength of this volume is its appeal to the motivated lay person. However, it is unlikely that such individuals will benefit from this discussion. They will not have the experience or comfort level to make decisions on the most probable original reading among potential options. Some may find this process disheartening. Nevertheless for many readers this chapter will be helpful. In light of recent attacks on the textual basis of the New Testament, individuals who can handle the manuscript evidence and can competently do textual criticism provide an important service to the church. Hopefully, this chapter can encourage those who otherwise do not understand this process to learn about it.
Chapter 2 briefly describes types of translations, but the focus is on English. It discusses various translations and acknowledges the usefulness of multiple translations for different reasons. Today’s New International Version and to a lesser extent the New International Version are deemed probably best for most purposes (p. 58). Also the issue of gender inclusiveness is discussed in a clear and helpful manner (pp. 50–53). At the start of this chapter a reader may ask, Who is its intended audience? For those who know Greek the content should be well known, and for those who do not some of the discussion would not necessarily be of interest. However, the chapter deals with frequently asked questions about English translations, and Blomberg and Markley do a nice job in explaining the issues involved.
Chapter 3, “Historical-cultural Context,” is excellent. Here the authors emphasize the importance of understanding the first-century world to enhance one’s understanding of the text. Sometimes this material is treated by exegetes as secondary to the process; however, it is extremely valuable. Various nonbiblical sources are described, and their value for illuminating the text is discussed. The second part of this chapter focuses on social scientific analysis. Here the authors introduce the reader to areas such as honor and shame and patronage. They strike a fine balance between seeing the value in this information and providing caution for its use (p. 86). Though this material (both the nonbiblical sources and social scientific studies) can sometimes be daunting, this chapter helps readers understand how to use it.
Chapters 4–8 cover literary context, word studies, grammar, interpretive problems, and outlining. These chapters include brief discussions of theory, the process, and examples. Some topics such as word study and grammar include instruction about the use of published tools. The chapter on grammar does not discuss grammatical analysis; instead it gives examples that illustrate the importance of knowing Greek grammar (pp. 153–64). Especially helpful are the examples in the chapter on interpretive problems (pp. 174–93). The outlining chapter includes discussions on Greek layouts and English exegetical outlines. It also includes a section for non-Greek students (pp. 210–17).
Chapter 9 observes that most Christians learn and acquire some type of systematic theological understanding of their faith before learning anything about exegesis. The authors then discuss the dangers of systematic theology “trumping” exegesis (pp. 220–24). Few realize their own theological biases, and thus there is the danger of failing to see what the Bible actually says. Also the authors warn against exegesis when it does not lead to systematic theology (pp. 224–27). They note that a failure to go beyond exegesis could result in an overemphasis on the diversity of Scripture (p. 225). One’s theology should not prematurely end the exegetical process; however, any conclusion that leads away from one’s accepted traditional theological understanding must be tested with care. In apparent contradictions one should check his or her exegesis, reconsider one’s theological system, and as a last resort allow the possibility of diverse strands of Christianity to be expressed with an openness to future resolution.
Chapter 10, on application, makes a significant contribution. It is one of the longest chapters in the volume. In addition to describing the application process itself, the authors discuss the communication process (pp. 243–49) and the role of the Holy Spirit (pp. 267–68).
This volume’s usability is enhanced by the inclusion of a four-page summary of the exegetical process described in the book (pp. 269–72) and a four-page checklist for doing biblical exegesis (pp. 273–76). A discussion of computer-based resources is lacking.
The book has no discussion of critical methods and approaches to the Bible. This would have been especially helpful for seminary students. Of course many may not see the value in these theories. Nevertheless a short discussion exposing the reader to these areas and demonstrating their usefulness would have been appreciated.
This excellent volume is well researched and documented, and a high view of Scripture is demonstrated throughout (e.g., p. 171). Students would be well served by using this volume as a starting point in learning the exegetical process.
About the Contributors
Joseph D. Fantin
Dr. Fantin believes an accurate understanding of God’s Word will enable the believer to grow in his or her relationship with Christ, to love God and others, to bring Christ’s love to a lost world, to build up the church, and most importantly, to glorify God. He is committed to teaching exegetical method in order to help students understand, apply, and teach the Bible in order to achieve these goals. Dr. Fantin’s research interests include the first-century world, Greek language and linguistics, exegetical method, and exegesis of the prison epistles. He and his wife, Robin, have two children: Jillian and David.