Interpreting The Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook

June 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

51wT49D8sIL._SY300_John D. Harvey is Professor of New Testament and Dean of the Seminary & School of Ministry at Columbia International University. He has written several books and is not only the author of the book at hand, Interpreting the Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook, but serves as the NT series editor. Future titles will include Interpreting the Gospels and Acts, Interpreting the General Letters, and Interpreting the Apocalypse (15). Each volume will include the following elements (16):

  • The nature of the literary genre
  • The background of the books
  • The major themes of the books
  • Preparing to interpret the books (textual criticism, translation)
  • Interpreting passages in the context of their genre
  • Communicating passages in the context of their genre
  • From exegesis to exposition
  • A list of selected resources and a glossary of technical terms

This is more or less a table of contents for Harvey’s book since a chapter is devoted to each topic in this list. If his work is any indication of the others in this series, then Kregel’s Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis is one to keep an eye on. Each chapter contains a wealth of information, some of which is in handy charts, and is bracketed by a bullet point “chapter at a glance” and a closing “chapter in review” section. Rather than themes of the books, Harvey devotes his chapter to offering a summary of the theology of Paul’s letters (which is different than a theology of Paul). After briefly surveying the four models for Pauline theology suggested by James Dunn, Harvey settles on a fifth model that he sees as being more inductive. This model begins with Paul’s antithetic language of flesh vs. Spirit, law vs. grace, Adam vs. Christ, and old man vs. new man. Though these pairs do not exhaust the theology of Paul’s letters, they “provide a starting point for understanding the major contours of his theology” (80).

I found the chapter on communicating Paul’s letters to be particularly helpful. Harvey suggests that in order to appropriate the message of a passage, we need to connect, correct, and commend as part of our homiletical packaging (149-151). By connecting, we are looking for ideas, words, or images that people today can easily relate to. By correcting, we are pointing out what ideas, beliefs, values, or behaviors that the passage passes judgment on. By commending, we are pointing out the thought forms and behavior patterns that promote God’s glory and humankind’s good. Using this rubric will help preachers as they develop their sermon objective and central point. Harvey then demonstrates what he has in mind in the following chapter by offering two examples of moving from the text to a sermon, one on Colossians 3:1-4 and the other on Philippians 3:12-16.

For pastors and teachers who are seminary trained, this handbook on Paul’s letters is a handy volume to utilize. For those who are not, it is a great resource to fill in the gaps in your training. Harvey guides readers through all the relevant background details of Paul’s letters and provides step by step guidance for how to move seamlessly from the text to a sermon or lesson. His resource section at the end of the book even has great tips on where to start in building a NT library, as well as resources specifically aimed high level exegetical work. All in all, a great start to the NT series and a promise of more great volumes to come!

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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