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A Beginner’s Guide to NT Exegesis

[update 6/26/06: I doubt I will ever finish this review.  Now I don’t need to.  See nice review by Peter Judge on the RBL website.  Thanks for the link, Rich.]

[I started this review a couple of weeks ago. I am not sure when I will finish it. I am finding life busier post-dissertation than I had expected. Maybe my drive has lessened. Nonetheless, I got tired of seeing this in my drafts file, so I present it here, knowing that I will get back to it to finish at a later date. Your comments are appreciated even now before it is completed.]

Since the Extended Course Description for my course was due several weeks ago, I had to choose my required reading list earlier than I would have wanted. My good friend and colleague, Rich Erickson, recently published the newest and most helpful introduction to NT exegesis I have yet seen, so I chose it as my primary textbook, having looked at it only briefly. I am certain I will not be disappointed. I am also quite confident the students will enjoy Erickson’s style. Still, I want to review it here. The results of this exercise might benefit the few interested readers who take the time to read the review, but the exercise itself is mostly for me.

Erickson, Richard J. A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Exegesis: Taking the Fear Out of Critical Method. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Richard J. Erickson is associate professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary at Fuller Seminary Northwest in Seattle (for those of you who do not read the back cover of the book). After twenty years of teaching exegesis and several years of using and adapting Gordon Fee’s Handbook, Erickson decided to write a guide to NT exegesis that would not be so overwhelming for the beginning student. Still, his goal is much the same as Fee’s – “to lay a groundwork for the exegesis of the Greek New Testament.” (15) Rather than overwhlem, Erickson hopes to encourage and enthuse his student readers.

The book is divided into ten chapters (Fuller is on the quarter system, and so each chapter represents a week in the quarter), with the first five chapters covering introductory matter and general exegetical methods, and the last five chapters covering the specific issues of the three broad literary genres of the NT (narratives, epistles, and apocalyptic literature) and the place of exegesis in theology, ministry and life.

Chapter One spells out Erickson’s assumptions and the exegetical frame of mind, both following a fairly traditionally moderate evangelical stance. For instance, the New Testament is understood as inspired and life-providing. It requires people dedicated to interpreting it for the church and for whom the Holy Spirit is guide. The task of exegesis, Erickson claims, is “to project us back into that ancient world.” (21) This task requires skills in the orginal languages and a certain distance between ourselves and the text. But, and most importantly, the task requires us to see ourselves as part of a larger grand theological conversation. Ultimately then, for Erickson, exegesis is a listening tool.

The next four chapters proceed in a logical manner, introducing the reader to the issues of textual criticism (ch. 2), linguistic, semantic and literary structure (ch. 3), syntactical and discourse analysis (ch. 4), and historical-cultural criticism (ch. 5). It may jolt students a bit to begin with textual criticism, but the establishment of the text with which they will be working seems a good place to start. The order of chapters 3-5 rightly puts historical-cultural criticism in its place following a thorough analysis of the text itself.

After an introduction to many of the most important exegetical methods, Erickson turns to the three broad genres of the NT. In chapter 6, Erickson considers the questions surrounding the interpretation of NT epistles. This leads him to consider the setting of a letter’s writing, but more importantly revisits discourse and syntactical analysis as well as introduces rhetorical criticism to the readers. The chapter helpfully ends with a brief step-by-step approach to a simplified exegesis of an epistle (something this reader wishes he had done for the other two NT genres). Chapters 7 & 8 cover the NT narratives, complex, yet central, bodies of writing. Erickson first discusses the broad approaches to gospel exegesis (ch. 7), namely narrative, historical, form and source criticisms. He spends a good bit of space expanding on the source critical approach through his explanation and discussion of redaction criticism and helpful instruction for using a synopsis. With chapter 8, Erickson moves to more detailed reading of NT narratives. In this chapter, he essentially expands on narrative/literary criticism by considering things like plot, character, setting, parables, allegory, type-scenes, allusions, parallel accounts, speeches, logia and summary passages. Erickson’s consideration of the apocalyptic genre in ch. 9 is both careful and helpful for the beginning exegete. In covering aspects of apocalyptic literature such as generic characteristics, function and method, Erickson concludes that apocalyptic literature of the NT is “an alternate style of biblical communication” which employs “alternative forms and methods to convey the same message conveyed by all of Scripture.” (203) Erickson’s last chapter…

The goal to encourage and enthuse beginning exegetes is a lofty one. Erickson does his best to meet it. I think he does about as good as anyone can hope to, better than most in fact. I myself felt encouraged and enthusiastic about the task of exegesis.
Fourth section – mechanics of layout; helps, etc.

Fifth section – relevance and personal recommendation for use

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3 Comments»

  Bill Uhrich wrote @

I’m really interested in reading your blog, but my tired old eyes can’t read the gray-on-black type.

  Chris wrote @

Bill, stick with me. I have only just recently moved my content to this new weblog. I am dealing with a learning curve when it comes to modifying the aesthetics. Up to about a week ago I was blogging with a free all-in-one service. You can see the posts found here at the old blog (dcspinks.edublogs.org). One day (soon I hope!) I will work out all the kinks here at dcspinks.com.

  DailyHebrew.com » Biblical Studies Carnival VII wrote @

[…] Gregory Mobley’s The Empty Men does not include Charles Halton, Kevin Wilson debates Hurvitz concerning the ABCs of P and H, and Chris Spinks endorses A Beginner’s Guide to NT Exegesis by Richard Erickson. […]


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