Book Review: Interpreting the General Epistles: An Exegetical Handbook (Kregel)

Kregel Academic is continuing their helpful Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis series with Herbert W. Bateman IV’s Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook. Bateman is also the author of Jesus the MessiahCharts on the Book of Hebrews, and A Workbook for Intermediate Greek.

The book is broken down into 8 parts:

  1. The Genre of the General Letters

  2. The Background of the General Letters

  3. The Theology of the General Letters

  4. Preparing to Interpret the General Letters

  5. Interpreting Passages in the General Letters

  6. Communicating the General Letters

  7. From Exegesis to Exposition of the General Letters

  8. Selected Sources

The book’s format lends itself well to being a helpful guide for students when they begin to exegete the general letters. It contains a number of charts that allow the student to quickly summarize the content presented in the book. Following a standard hermeneutical approach Bateman guides students in the following steps of interpretation:

First, the student must identify the genre and background of the text. Next, he provides a 9-step outline from interpretation to teaching the letters:

  1. Initiate a Translation
  2. Identify Interpretive Issues
  3. Isolate Major Textual Problems
  4. Interpret the Structure
  5. Interpret the Style, Syntax, and Semantics,
  6. Interpret the Greek Words
  7. Communicate Exegetically
  8. Communicate the Central Idea
  9. Communicate Homiletically

He concludes with helpful examples from Jude 5-7 and Hebrews 10:19-25. At the close of the book the author provides students with a guide through major commentaries by giving the name of the commentary series, the stated purpose of the series, and the titles and authors of relevant volumes along with other resources for specific books.

Overall, the book is a helfpul guide for both students and pastors. The book is easy to read without simplifying the information. Coupled with the numerous charts this book provides convenient text to both read through and refer to when encountering the general letters.

A couple concerns came to mind when examining this text. First, it would have been helpful for the author to provide a brief introduction to his exegetical method before diving into the genre of the letters. When I first started the book I was left wondering what is overall purpose and goal was for interpreting the text. Is it to get to the original thought and mind of the author? Is it to provide both an individual and canonical interpretation of the text? Is there more to teaching and preaching a text than the steps outlined in the book? My general sense after reading the book is that the author’s goal in interpreting a text is to get back to the original meaning and find a relevant application for intended audience.

Also related to the previous point, no discussion of other prominent hermeneutical approaches are mentioned. Within the last 20 years there has been a push to incorporate other approaches in the interpretation process such as a canonical reading, biblical theology, history of interpretation, and more. The book employs what Jonathan Pennington in his Reading the Gospels Wisely book calls a “behind the text” and “in the text” reading1. If the author is against or for an “in front of the text” or canonical/theological approach to interpretation this would have been helpful to know in the beginning.

These concerns aside the book is still a helpful text for students and pastors. My only advice would be to supplement this book with other hermeneutical approaches that also integrate a more holistic approach to interpretation.

Many thanks to Kregel Academic for this free review copy.

  1. Pennington argues for an approach that integrates a “behind the text”, “in the text”, and “in front of the text” reading. See chapters 6-7 in Reading the Gospels Wisely ↩