Second Reformed Church

Monday, June 01, 2015

Review: "Interpreting the Prophetic Books"

Interpreting the Prophetic Books:  An Exegetical Handbook by Gary V. Smith is one volume in a series called:  “Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis," edited by David M. Howard, Jr.

In the series preface, Howard explains that the series covers the six major types of writing in the Old Testament:  “narrative, law, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, and apocalyptic” (15).  And he explains the intent of the volumes to be used “as textbooks for graduate-level exegesis courses that assume a basic knowledge of Hebrew” (ibid).

Each volume is divided into six chapters:  “the nature of the genres, viewing the whole:  major themes, preparing for interpretation, interpreting the text, proclaiming the text, and putting it all together:  from text to sermon” (16).

The book is extremely well organized and consistent.  Words which may be unfamiliar are bold-faced in the text and are defined in the appendix.

In the second chapter, the author explains the themes of each of the prophetic books.  Although the author is even-handed over-all and does not press a denomination agenda, it was disappointing to see him offering higher-critical thought as a legitimate option in interpretation (60-63).  Although I value discerning meaning through the historical, social, and literary structures of the texts, it goes beyond my conviction to support texts being written by others and at dates in contradiction to prophetic legitimacy.

In the third chapter, the author discusses textual variants and does a good job of explain how one gets to the “best version” of a text (101).  At the end of the chapter, he gives an extensive list of helpful general and book-by-book commentaries, computer resources, and software (103-112).  This is an excellent help for the student, scholar, and pastor.  My one disappointment is that all of the recommended texts were written after 1980.  This smacks of chronological snobbery; I find it very disappointing that he could not recommend a single resource from the first two thousand years of church commentary.

In considering the proclamation of the text, Smith writes, “The goal of a message is not to turn the audience into a group of systematic theologians who can explain everything about God.  The goal is to help people grow more Christ-like in the practical ways they relate to others so that they reflect God’s saving grace” (161).

As to the first point, Smith is right:  there is a difference between a lecture and a sermon and students and pastors need to learn how to do the work of exegesis and then form the doctrines found therein into the sermon.  Smith does a good job of this in the sixth chapter.

However, I disagree with him in his second point:  that the goal of the preaching is making the people more practically Christ-like.  On the road to Emmaus, Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV).  The goal of preaching is to show Jesus and His work in all of the Scriptures and glorify Him in so doing.

That being said, what this book does well – and that is a great deal – it does very well.  But I find it falls short in several important areas:  by only recommending recent commentaries, accepting higher critical thought, and not stressing the Christo-centric nature of the prophetic texts and preaching.  So, use this book, but not alone.

[I received this book free from Kregel in exchange for an honest review.  This review appears on my blog and on]  #InterpretingThePropheticBooks

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