Jul 8, 2013

Review of Interpreting the Pauline Letters

Harvey, John D. Interpreting the Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook. Handbook for New Testament Exegesis, ed. John D. Harvey. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2012.

The Pauline Epistles continue to be some of the most popular sections of Scripture to preach and teach and yet can also be some of the most daunting as well. John Harvey has provided a helpful entrée into the field.

The breadth and depth of John Harvey’s introduction to Pauline Letters is impressive given its relative brevity (224 pp.). In the first three chapters, Harvey discusses the genre, background, and theology of the Pauline epistles. Chapters four and five focus on issues related to interpretation (i.e. textual criticism and translation) and the interpretive process itself. This is followed by two chapters that explain and illustrate how one can move from text to sermon. Harvey rounds out the book with ten pages of suggested resources and a three-page glossary.

I like Interpreting the Pauline Letters for at least three reasons. First, as already noted, it is fairly comprehensive and yet succinct. But even with the brevity, the author is often able to address different options and views. Second, at a list price of $22.99 you get a fair amount of bang for the buck. It is a budget-friendly resource for financially challenged students, pastors, and others involved in ministry. Third, chapters six and seven emphasize the importance of preaching the text and preaching it well. The study of Paul’s letters is not an end, it is a means.

This volume could be made more helpful with a Scripture index. It would probably add only a few more pages but make this volume more user-friendly. A second point is not necessarily a criticism, but it is a concern. The emphasis on textual criticism and translation as preparatory to interpretation is ideal (this is what I was taught in seminary), but I wonder whether it is a realistic expectation for most pastors. I think a word from the author addressing this issue would have been valuable. As it stands, a reader of this work might conclude that he could not even begin interpreting without wrestling at depth with text-critical issues and creating a fresh translation. That being said, I would still recommend this volume for the reasons noted above.

Thanks to Kregel for the review copy used in this unbiased review.


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