In this guide, Craig Broyles has assembled nine articles pertaining to basic exegetical method, designed to offer “observations on the Bible,” to point us “to resources to enhance study,” and to raise “questions that help unlock the Bible’s richness and depth” (p. 8).
Chapter 1, written by Broyles himself, is entitled “Interpreting the Old Testament: Principles and Steps.” In it, Broyles provides a broad outline of the exegetical process, placing the various steps and procedures in a strongly conservative, yet up-to-date and sensitive, light. In Chapter 2, David W. Baker discusses the “Language and Text of the Old Testament,” and deals with text-critical and language issues. Chapter 3, entitled “Reading the Old Testament as Literature,” and written by J. Philips Long, treats the Old Testament as literature and details major issues about the topic. In Chapter 4, John Bimson discusses Old Testament history and sociology. Broyles then discusses the issues of traditions, intertextuality and the Old Testament as canon in Chapter 5. Next, Elmer Martins takes up the topic of biblical theology and history of religions in Chapter 6, while Richard Hess proffers a chapter on ancient Near Eastern studies (Chapter 7) that shows the reader the value of this field of research and provides many resources for further study. In Chapter 8, Paul Edward Hughes tackles the issues of source, form and redaction criticism. Finally, in Chapter 9, Jonathan R. Wilson discusses “Theology and the Old Testament.”
As one might guess from the publisher of this book, all of the essays are written by conservative scholars whose approach to the Old Testament is reverential. Hence, in the Preface Broyles writes, “How can a volume on exegesis present a method that unfolds the revealed love of God? Before such a question I feel intimidated and overwhelmed, and so I should” (p. 7). The focus as such, then, is not only to provide observations on how to grasp what the Old Testament meant to its original authors and readership, but what the Old Testament means to believers and readers today. To Broyles, and I imagine to the other contributors as well, the author of the Old Testament is God (p. 13), although they fully acknowledge the human mediation involved in its production and assembly (p. 14). Also, Broyles stresses the importance of reading the Bible as canonical literature rather than as a theological handbook and elucidates the differences (pp. 28–29). One can expect, then, throughout the book an approach that is conservative and resistant to trends and conclusions within biblical scholarship that would upset or contradict this perspective (see, for instance, the comments on deconstruction and historical minimalism on pp. 87 and 153–155, respectively). One also notes the decidedly Christian perspective of the book, evidenced by its very title “Interpreting the Old Testament.” There is no attempt to include readers who would find this term unsatisfactory. Also, one might note the recurring references to God as “he” that might be abrasive to those seeking gender inclusivity (p. 14, 49, 108). Therefore, this book is best fitted for use in sermon preparation and exegetical papers for evangelical and more conservative seminaries and Bible colleges. I would not recommend it for the public university or liberal arts setting.
Its conservative approach, however, by no means limits its value and readability as a useful work on exegesis. The essays are excellent and written by leading scholars in their respective fields. The contributors are well versed in the current issues affecting their fields and write in a manner that is not unduly derogatory toward those who do not share their perspective. One exception, however, mars this appraisal in this reviewer’s opinion. At the end of his essay on history and sociology John Bimson provides an appendix that is specifically presented as a reply to the so-called minimalists. In it, he attempts to defend the claim of historicity of the biblical books against the claims of certain scholars. The essay is altogether too short to adequately address the issue and really should have been omitted since it does not seem to maintain the intent of the remainder of the book.
The introductory article by Broyles on exegetical method particularly impressed me. Broyles seamlessly integrates a faith in the Bible as the Word of God with “critical” scholarship and acknowledges the value and use of all branches of biblical criticism without losing sight of the concern to explicate not only what the Bible meant but what it still means to readers today. As Broyles notes, “If we, in fact, regard the Bible as ‘God-breathed,’ we should not shrink from asking any question or applying any exegetical tool, whether ‘critical’ or not” (p. 18). This is a breath of fresh air in a field that is often quick to reject outright any exegetical tool that hints of being “critical” or “liberal.” This reviewer welcomes and encourages Broyles’ approach and perspective. I would recommend Broyles contribution without hesitation to conservative and/or evangelical students and readers who wish to practice exegesis from a believing perspective.
Overall, the book maintains its balance and will be useful for conservative students and readers. It provides many insights and perspectives that will enhance study of the Old Testament.