The “General Letters” of the New Testament are often the neglected “step-child” of the 27, especially in comparison to the letters of Paul and the Gospels. Sure, they are referred to and quoted often (especially Hebrews and James), but it is much rarer (in my experience) to hear an exegetical sermon series through one of these books as opposed to the plethora of series on the Pauline letters. Why is this? Perhaps it’s because some of the books are seen as insignificant (though that would never be said audibly). Perhaps others are difficult to understand and interpret, such as Hebrews. Sure, they’re easy to quote from to make a point, but much more difficult to exegete and preach verse by verse. Perhaps others are just neglected, not for any particular reason, but are just simply forgotten about (First and Second Peter, for example).
Regardless of the reason, a new book by Herbert Bateman in the series, “Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis,” will at least help the pastor and/or teacher with the task of interpreting these general letters, and will provide him with greater confidence to teach these books verse by verse. The book is called, Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook, and deals with the NT books of Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter, 1-3 John, & Jude.
The book offers a step-by-step process of interpreting, analyzing, and communicating the general letters. The first 3 chapters deal with some introductory issues, such as understanding the genre, background, and theology of these letters. After setting the groundwork with these chapters, the author moves into the actual task of preparing to interpret the letters in chapters 4 and 5. These chapters deal with issues such as translations, potential textual variants, Greek syntax and word studies, and the overall structure and outline of the general letters. Finally, chapters 6 and 7 focus on moving from academic exegesis to faithfully and clearly communicating these letters in the context of a church, Bible study, classroom, etc. There are very helpful sections in these chapters on communicating the clear idea of the passage, as well as some samples where the author goes through his 9 steps of interpretation in 2 different passages — Jude 5-7 and Hebrews 10:19-25.
The 9 steps that the author proposes for interpreting the general letters are:
- Step One: Initiate a Translation
- Step Two: Identify Interpretive issues
- Step Three: Isolate Major Textual Problems
- Step Four: Interpreting Structure
- Step Five: Interpreting Style, Syntax, and Semantics
- Step Six: Interpreting Greek Words
- Step Seven: Communicating Exegetically
- Step Eight: Communicating the Central Idea
- Step Nine: Communicating Homiletically
Overall, this is a very helpful resource for interpreting the general letters of the New Testament. The author approaches the issues of authorship and the authority of the letters and of Scripture from a committed Conservative stance. This book is not like a commentary, which will delve into specific issues in whatever text you are dealing with. Rather, it is intended to give the reader (pastor/teacher) an overall framework to use when approaching any of these New Testament books. I plan to put this volume right in the middle of my section of commentaries on the general letters and refer to it often as I preach/teach through one of these books. I recommend you do the same.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Kregel Publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.