Interview with Jason S. DeRouchie, author of HOW TO UNDERSTAND AND APPLY THE OLD TESTAMENT and Andrew David Naselli, author of HOW TO UNDERSTAND AND APPLY THE NEW TESTAMENT

Published on March 27, 2017 by Joshua R Monroe

P&R, 2017 | 632 pages

Have you ever considered how we can responsibly interpret and apply the Bible?

Hi, I’m Fred Zaspel, executive editor here at Books At a Glance, and that’s the question we’re taking up today. We’re talking with Drs. Jason DeRouchie and Andy Naselli, authors of the new companion books, How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament and How to Understand and Apply the New Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology. These men are both professors at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, they’re good friends of ours here at Books At a Glance, and they are here to talk to us about their new books.

Welcome, Andy and Jason – great to have you with us!

Naselli & DeRouchie:
Delighted to be here.

 

Zaspel:
First, let’s clear up some big words for any who may not be familiar with them. What is “hermeneutics”? And what is “exegesis”? And Andy, for the sake of perhaps encouraging the fainthearted (not to mention its entertainment value!) maybe you could confess publicly what you thought you were hearing when you first heard this word—“exegesis”!

Naselli:
When I was in high school, I went to a Bible conference with my youth pastor and I was in this breakout session and a professor used the word exegesis. And I remember that was the first time I ever heard that word used and I thought he took Jesus’s name in vain. I thought he said “exe – Jesus” — like what in the world was that? I’ve come a little way since then.

Basically, hermeneutics is principles of interpretation. So it’s, How does the interpretive process work? And then exegesis applies those principles. So hermeneutics supplies the tools we use to discover text meaning, and then exegesis uses those tools. Do you want to add anything, Jason?

DeRouchie:
I would just add that hermeneutics is often approached from one of two ways. It can be highly theoretical and targeted toward the scholar, or it can be highly practical and focused on how to do the actual interpretation. Our books definitely focus on the latter side, addressing how to interpret and apply the Old and New Testaments.

Naselli:
I could add this, really quickly—a good analogy here is:  you could study how to make popcorn, but that’s different from actually making the popcorn, from applying that knowledge while you make popcorn. Or you can study the rules for playing American football, but that’s different from actually applying that knowledge while you play football. So hermeneutics is the theoretical realm of, “How does this work?” Exegesis is actually doing it.

 

Zaspel:
Okay, there have been many books written on how to understand the Bible. Tell us what distinguishes your books. What is the contribution you hope to make?

DeRouchie:
I think that our books are distinct in at least two different ways. First, like few other resources, these are expanded guidebooks that lead people, step-by-step, through a process of biblical interpretation, and we include a vast number of theologically rich, savior-savoring examples. And our second distinctive would be our deep commitment to whole Bible theology—identifying how the whole Bible fits together and exalts the person of Jesus. Andy?

Naselli:
I agree. I’ve looked at every hermeneutics textbook I could find, for evangelicals and nonevangelicals, and I haven’t found one that goes from beginning to end like ours do. Our books start with the basic components of exegesis, and then they go beyond that to include biblical theology and historical theology and systematic theology and practical theology. It’s the whole package from beginning to end. It’s not just one part of it. So I think that’s another aspect that’s unique about these resources.

DeRouchie:
I would just add to that, that both Andy and I are truly approaching our task with the ultimate end being the glory of God. And so it’s our hope that, as people read our books, that they are moved through exegesis to theology to worship—that doxology is not just a passing glance, but the ultimate goal of every word we are putting on the page.

 

Zaspel:
For my own part I really loved the fact that you have this close eye to Biblical Theology and the interpretive process. It’s overlooked very often and it’s an important and very helpful distinctive of the books.

Give us a bird’s eye view of your books and the kinds of topics you cover. And what are the “Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology”?

DeRouchie:
Each of us has twelve steps. They are not identical, but they are very similar in structure. I’ve taken even a more macro, structural approach where my twelve steps are boiled down to five big units, which I abbreviate as TOCMA. Text, observation, context, meaning, application. The twelve steps themselves – under text, (which is, what is the makeup of the passage?) I have genre, literary units and text hierarchy, text criticism and translation. Under observation (how is the passage communicated?), we focus on clause and text grammar, argument tracing, and word and concept studies. Part three is context (where does the passage fit?), and here I address historical and literary context. At this point I transition from exegesis to theology. Part four is meaning (what does this passage mean?), and I focus on biblical theology and systematic theology there. And then part five is application (why does the passage matter?), and I address practical theology. In my book, that means addressing in very detailed way, the Christian Old Testament law, the Christian Old Testament promises and how to meet Jesus and magnify the gospel in the Old Testament and do so in a faithful way.

Naselli:
Jason and I are professors in the same school, we carpool together, we co-teach a biblical theology course together, our families are close friends, we’re part of the same church, etc. So we’re thinking on the same wavelength. He’s got the Old Testament book and I have the New Testament book, and they are companion volumes. They are fraternal twins. So mine is very similar to his, but it’s focusing on the New Testament. If I were to just summarize the basic structure of the twelve steps, I’d say the first eight steps are exegesis, and then the next four steps are theology. The eight steps of exegesis are: genre, textual criticism, translation, Greek grammar, argument diagram, historical cultural context, literary context and word studies. You don’t have to do them in that order, but those are components of exegesis. And then the four theology steps are: biblical theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology. So that’s a basic overview.

 

Zaspel:
How is biblical interpretation a theological task?

Naselli:
The gist is that you can’t do exegesis without doing theology, and you can’t do theology without doing exegesis. They are interconnected—interrelated. So we’re just trying to make the readers aware that when you study one aspect of exegesis or theology, it’s impossible to do just that, apart from the other aspects; they are so interconnected. So if you sit down and look at a text, all of your understanding of how the whole Bible fits together is influencing how you read that text. And if you’re trying to put the whole Bible together, the ways you understand individual texts are influencing how you do that broader, macro-reading.

DeRouchie:
Doctrine and whole Bible theology are to grow out of our exegesis. But they also inform our exegesis. And we want to be helping others approach the biblical text in the way that the biblical text itself calls us to approach it. And that requires a personal relationship with God, a genuine submission to the text as our authority. And that makes biblical interpretation a theological task. It is something we approach with God’s help and for God’s glory.

 

Zaspel:
One question I’m sure many will have is how all this detailed instruction works out in real-life sermon preparation. Maybe you could address as well as the larger question of hermeneutical method.

Naselli:
I use this textbook in the course I teach so I’m regularly trying to explain this to students. When you first read the title, which is Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology, people think, “Steps—so you go from the first step to the second and then to the third and you have to do it in exactly that order.” And that’s not what I mean by steps.

The analogy I like to use is this: Think of someone who is really gifted at an incredibly difficult task, whether it’s playing soccer at the highest level, or basketball at the highest level, or a musician who plays at the highest level. Just think of someone like that. When they are in the midst of doing what they do so well, whether it’s singing or playing that instrument or playing the sport, they are not thinking: “Step one—pick up my violin bow; step two—play on the string….” They are in the moment; they are fluid; they are rolling with it.

Or think of a really good sports player. He’s not thinking: “Okay, now I’m going to dribble the ball with my hand, and now I’m going to try to look up to see who I can pass it to, and now I’m going to see if I can shoot it. They are in the moment. All of that training that built up to that point is coming into play, right there.

And when you’re training someone to interpret the Bible, you can say, just like a basketball coach would, okay, we’re going to focus on dribbling drills. We’re going to focus on sprinting drills. We’re going to focus on shooting drills. This is the way of saying that here are aspects of exegesis. We’re going to try to study how grammar works; we’re going to study how word studies work, etc. so that when you actually sit down to study the Bible to teach it or preach it, you don’t have to think, “Okay, step one…step two…step three…step four.” No one does that, but it gives you the tools so that you can look at the text and know—“Oh, I need to do a word study here,” or “There’s a textual issue here, what’s going on?” Or, “I don’t quite follow the grammar, I need to trace the argument here.” Our books give you tools so that you can use what you need in the moment, so that you can better serve people as you teach and preach.

DeRouchie:
One of the elements that I try to help students craft, is an exegetical outline that is message driven rather than content driven. This means moving interpreters through the exegetical process all the way to the point where they can capture the passage’s main idea, establish how all the parts relate one to another and to that big idea, and then communicate effectively to listeners how every part of the passage holds together and contributes to the main point that God was making. Both Andy and I are approaching our task, as authors of these books, that others might be able to encounter the message of the Lord effectively and then be able to communicate it effectively. Real-life sermon preparation is, I truly believe, going to be aided in significant ways as we guide people in how to dig deep into the book and then build the necessary bridges to relate the ancient word into the modern world.

 

Zaspel:
Talk to us about the goal of all this – what is the end game, and what makes it so important?

DeRouchie:
We are dealing with the very word of God, which he gave that we might know him and make him known. That the Lord chose to communicate himself to us in a book requires rigorous study to be able to understand the details of this text. God’s Word is our very life. We need special revelation to clarify saving grace. And both Andy and I hold high this Word of God, viewing it as both inerrant and authoritative—every bit of it, every jot, every tittle, given to us with purpose. And so it’s our goal that people would be able to read this Word, in order that they might encounter the Word, namely, the incarnate Christ, now exalted over all, in order that others might encounter this Word through the expression that faithful studiers, men and women of God’s book, might make.

Naselli:
Fred, you asked about the overall goal of the books. Our chancellor is John Piper and he wrote a book called Let the Nations Be Glad. There’s one sentence from that book that most people know, and it goes like this: “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” And I would argue that that is true for exegesis. Exegesis exists because worship doesn’t. New Testament, Old Testament exegesis exists because worship doesn’t. That’s the whole point of it. We do all of this—we go to so much trouble, so much work, sweat—because we want to know and worship God.

So, Jason and I hope that our books will help readers exegete the text in a way that spreads a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. It’s thrilling to do exegesis and theology because when you do it well, you know and worship God. And God is the only person—the only thing—that will satisfy us. And we most glorify God when he most satisfies us. And that’s our prayer—that we will help people look at the Book, the Bible, and thus understand exegesis and theology better. And the result is that the praise will get richer. Why wouldn’t you want to work hard to look at the Book, if that’s what happens when you do it?

 

Zaspel:
Jason, apart from the early chapters of Genesis and the Psalms and a few selected stories and passages, perhaps, the Old Testament is often a rather foreign book to many Christians. Help us remedy that – What should we understand going in, that can make our Old Testament reading more productive?

DeRouchie:
Well, that is a big question. What do we need to understand going in? There are so many factors. First, because God gave us his Word in a book and because that book comes to us from a different time and place, we need to recognize up front that it will take a lot of bridge building to observe accurately, understand rightly, and evaluate fairly what is in the ancient text. Reading the Old Testament Christianly takes a lot of work, but I am convinced that climbing the mountain leads to amazing views of God’s glory! I would also say that a faithful approach to the Old Testament requires that we expect to meet Jesus there. Once Jesus rose from the dead, the apostles never read their Bibles the same way. The mystery in God’s story of salvation was revealed, which meant that they now had eyes to see what the Old Testament was actually about in a way that none before them could. We should seek to read our Old Testament’s like Jesus and the apostles read their Old Testaments. This was their only Scripture. Jesus’s Bible was only the thirty-six books we find from Genesis through Malachi, and Jesus said that they pointed to him––that Moses and the prophets wrote about him. Everything in the New Testament is informed substantially by what the Old Testament teaches from the beginning. It’s the same God in the Old Testament as in the New Testament. We are told in places like Galatians 3:8 and Hebrews 4:2 that the same gospel we are hearing was anticipated by these prophets in the Old Testament. And I want to know this gospel. I want to be able to celebrate it and to have eyes to see it as we enter in to the Old Testament. First Peter 1:10 says the prophets searched and inquired carefully in order to know what person and time the spirit of Christ in them was foretelling the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. When we approach this massive part of our Bible called the Old Testament, we must enter in wanting to meet this Messiah. The New Testament authors said the Old Testament was written for our instruction; they said that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. The Old Testament is filled with pointers to Christ and we want to see him; we want to savor him rightly. I truly approach the Old Testament as Christian Scripture. It’s foundation for the fulfillment that we find in the New Testament. In my book, I’m trying to lay out that foundation––to give clarity, not simply to its message, but how to engage it Christianly for the glory of Christ and, I truly believe, for the good of his church.

 

Zaspel:
Andy, in an Appendix to the book you offer some unusual counsel – you actually encourage people (not least, preachers!) to memorize entire books of the Bible! You have some experience with that – tell us about it and how you’ve found it to be valuable.

Naselli:
I started memorizing books of the Bible in high school for something called Bible quizzing. Have you heard of that? It’s like an actual sport, practically, where you sit on these electronic pads and people ask questions, and the first one up gets to guess the question based off the first few words someone said, etc. That’s where it started, but I picked it back up a couple of years ago. I was working on a commentary on 1 Corinthians, and I wanted to have the whole argument of 1 Corinthians—the literary context—in my head at every point. So I thought, “Let’s see if I can memorize this thing.” And God helped me do that. I worked on it daily for a while and was able to recite that as a sermon to several churches. It’s about an hour long. It’s really, really powerful to look people in the eye and just quote Scripture. I found it so fruitful that I’m working on Romans now, and if God gives me the ability to keep going, I’d like to do all of Paul’s letters. Beyond that, we will see.

You asked how I found it valuable, and in the appendix I give fourteen reasons. I won’t go through all of those here, but basically, it renews your mind with God’s viewpoint. It encourages you to meditate on the text phrase by phrase. It’s a recipe for illumining your mind with what the text means as you think carefully about its tone, the argument, connections within it, connections with other books of the Bible. It practically helps you kill sin and counsel and preach and teach more accurately and more powerfully. I could go on and on here, but I can’t say enough good about it. I love it. It’s made God’s Word more precious to me. There’s no magic bullet for doing it, it’s just a daily discipline that I’ve found to be extremely fruitful. So I warmly commend it; I don’t want to be legalistic about it; it’s not an “if you’re not doing this you’re not a good Christian” type thing, but just saying, “Hey, I’ve tasted the sweetness of the Word, here. Try it out. I think you’ll agree.”

 

Zaspel:
I read just recently that Joseph Addison Alexander at Old Princeton had memorized the book of Psalms in Hebrew as well as English, and he had memorized Romans and Hebrews in English and Greek. So you are in good company!

Do these books represent a course you guys teach at the seminary there?

Naselli:
I use it for a course for first-year seminary guys called “Principles of Biblical Interpretation.” Jason uses his throughout several courses, I think. Right, Jay?

DeRouchie:
Yes, I use mine, the first half in “Intermediate Hebrew,” the second half in “Introduction to Hebrew Exegesis,” where we focus on the book of Deuteronomy.

 

Zaspel:
We’re talking to Drs. Jason DeRouchie and Andy Naselli about their new books, How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament and How to Understand and Apply the New Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology. It’s an excellent pair of books, and we recommend them highly. Pick up a copy for yourself and another for your pastor!  

Jason, Andy – congratulations on your new books, and thanks for talking with us today.

Naselli:
Thanks, Fred.

DeRouchie:
Thank you very much.

Buy the books

How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology

P&R, 2017 | 632 pages

How to Understand and Apply the New Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology

P&R, 2017 | 432 pages