Reviewed by Stephen J. Wellum
Any resource that enables the church to interpret and apply Scripture better is always welcome. In fact, throughout church history there has always been a need to step back and think through how to approach Scripture, read it, and rightly draw conclusions from it. Given the many exhortations of Scripture to handle it properly, the assumption is that we too often do not interpret Scripture properly, understand what it says, and apply it correctly to our lives.
What is true in the past is also true today. With the rise of historical criticism and now the rejection of this Enlightenment approach by various forms of postmodernism, important insights have been gained in our interpretation of Scripture, but there is still much confusion. Today, in the academy there is a preoccupation with returning to Patristic exegesis, a re-discovery and retrieval of allegory, and a dismissal of reading Scripture according to its “literal sense” (sensus literalis). In my view, this is not a wise path to follow or to retrieve. Instead, what is needed is a recovery of a robust theological interpretation of Scripture which interprets Scripture according to what it is, namely, God’s authoritative and inerrant Word written through the agency of human authors. And in this recovery, what is needed is theological interpretation that helps the church learn how to interpret Scripture on its own terms, in its own presentation and categories, and to move wisely from exegesis to theological formulation and application.
Thankfully, there are now two companion books which wonderfully help today’s church read and apply Scripture well. In a comprehensive, responsible yet accessible way, Jason DeRouchie and Andrew Naselli have written two complementary volumes which help the church read Scripture faithfully and accurately. There are a plethora of fine hermeneutical textbooks on the market which are useful, but nothing which covers the kind of material that these two books cover. In a relatively short amount of space, DeRouchie and Naselli offer up-to-date, sane, sensible, and helpful instruction of how to move from exegesis to theology without all of the technical jargon. Eschewing atomistic and faddish readings of Scripture, both authors approach the hermeneutical task with a firm commitment to Scripture’s self-attesting authority, and they teach us how to interpret and apply Scripture on its own terms in a discernable twelve step process. I highly recommend both volumes for the pastor, student, and in fact, any Christian who wants to learn how rightly to handle the word of truth.
In what follows I will briefly describe the content of the two volumes and then outline some of their important strengths, all the while encouraging the reader to purchase both of these books and to spend time working through them. If you do, your Christian life, the life of those God has entrusted to your care, and the life and health of the church will be greatly enriched.
Basic Description of the Books
As stated, these books are companion books intended to be purchased and read together. DeRouchie’s work thinks through the how and why of exegesis to theology from an OT perspective, while Naselli covers the same territory from a NT perspective. In addition, both authors are colleagues who teach at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the instruction and wisdom of the books is put into practice in the classroom.
From the outset, both authors place their understanding of hermeneutics within a commitment to a high view of Scripture and a robust, evangelical, historic Christian theology. Their aim is to write for the church and practically to help Christians move from the exegesis of individual texts of Scripture to how those texts are rightly understood within the entire canon of Scripture. Both authors are convinced that the OT must be read in light of the NT, and the NT must be read in light of the OT. In fact, both of these books offer excellent examples of how to do exegesis within a commitment to doing a “whole Bible theology.” Given their conviction that Scripture is God’s Word written over time, and thus a unified, progressive revelation centered in Christ, the authors nicely demonstrate how Scripture is ultimately understood and rightly applied only in light of the fulfillment accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, both authors view the exegetical task from a theological cast. They have rightly learned that exegesis cannot be done independent of historical and systematic theology. They know that exegesis without theological presuppositions is impossible, and as such, they place the exegetical task within a larger Christian worldview, which simply enhances their work.
DeRouchie’s book on the OT is broken into ten parts with the first five forming the bulk of the work. DeRouchie uses the acronym, TOCMA, to capture the steps involved in exegesis to theology: Text, Observation, Context, Meaning, and Application. Each of these first five parts is then broken into twelve chapters which form the twelve steps of exegesis to theology. Within TOCMA, DeRouchie offers a helpful discussion of the main topics central to biblical interpretation. For example, he discusses why genre is crucial in rightly grasping the author’s intent and then walks through how to interpret various OT genres by giving some helpful illustrations along the way. After his discussion of genre, he discusses the importance of discerning how authors have put together their books by establishing the literary units of various books. Exegesis is not merely interpreting words and sentences rightly, but placing those sentences within literary units, and interpreting what the author intends by his use of various literary forms. After this discussion, DeRouchie briefly describes the discipline of textual criticism and why it is important in our interpretation of Scripture, before he tackles the issue of translation, and lays out the basics of Hebrew grammar which is important in our exegesis of the OT. In addition, he shows us how to do argument tracing with various examples, word studies, how to set the biblical text within its historical, literary, and redemptive historical context. After a helpful discussion of biblical theology, DeRouchie shows why systematic and practical theology is the telos of biblical interpretation as we seek to apply all of Scripture to our lives for God’s glory and the life and health of the church.
After DeRouchie lays out his twelve steps, in the remaining five parts of the book, he offers helpful bibliographic resources for each of the twelve steps, offers various answers to questions he asked at the end of the earlier chapters, a glossary of terms used throughout the book, and a helpful appendix which describes a “Kingdom Bible Reading Plan.” When the entire book is taken in its entirety, it serves as an excellent introduction, resource, and guide to the proper interpretation and application of the OT.
Naselli’s book on NT interpretation covers the same territory. Unlike DeRouchie’s volume it is not divided into parts. Instead, Naselli lays out his twelve step approach in twelve chapters devoted to each step of biblical interpretation. Naselli covers the same topics as DeRouchie, yet he does it in his own way, which nicely complements what was done by his colleague. For example, Naselli discusses the topics of genre, textual criticism, translation, the basics of Greek grammar, and how to argument trace the NT. Similar to DeRouchie, Naselli provides helpful examples and illustrations along the way thus driving home how exegesis is done in practice. In addition, Naselli discusses the importance of setting the NT in context, such as its historical-cultural context, literary context, and ultimately its entire canonical context. Naselli also discusses how to do word studies and to avoid common word fallacies. Although Naselli’s discussion is straightforward, it is evident that he is up-to-date on the latest discussion in Greek grammar, and is cognizant of current issues in hermeneutics. Yet, Naselli’s discussion avoids much of the technical jargon which allows someone unfamiliar with the discussion to easily follow what he is saying. In addition, Naselli has a helpful discussion of biblical theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology. Naselli’s discussion of historical theology is especially helpful since DeRouchie does not discuss this point in his work.
When all is said and done, what DeRouchie covers in his first five parts and twelve chapters mirrors what Naselli covers in his twelve chapters describing his twelve step approach of moving from exegesis to theology. Similar to DeRouchie, Naselli finishes with two helpful appendices: the first in offering practical advice on how to organize a theological library, and the second in why and how to memorize an entire book of the NT.
As stated above, I highly recommend these two books as must reading for students, pastors, and people who want to learn how to interpret and apply Scripture correctly. In keeping with the twelve-step approach of the books, I offer twelve points of commendation.
First, both of these books are useful for a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds. For example, the books will provide helpful instruction for students and pastors, and even for those without any formal theological training. Throughout the books, both authors provide careful definition of terms, avoid technical jargon without diminishing the rigor of the discussion, and constantly offer excellent illustrations and examples. As a result of carefully reading these books, one’s knowledge of Scripture, and one’s ability to interpret Scripture better, is increased.
Second, in a straightforward, accurate, and perceptive way, the books cover the main areas of biblical interpretation but in a scope which is quite remarkable. Within these two volumes, there is a wealth of material necessary for OT and NT interpretation and the basics elements of the hermeneutical endeavor. Both authors exhibit a command of their field, which is evident in the discussion, footnotes, and suggested resources.
Third, the discussion in both volumes on genre, textual criticism, and the translation of Scripture was particularly helpful. Often textual criticism and translation theory is neglected in hermeneutical books, so this was a welcome treatment, and something that a lot of Christians have questions about. In a short and succinct way both authors help readers, especially those unfamiliar with textual criticism and translation theory how it is done and why it is important. In terms of the latter, examples are given throughout, and readers are introduced to the subtleties of translation work and how to pick various English translations beyond the heat and rhetoric which often accompanies this discussion.
Fourth, DeRouchie’s treatment of the importance of reading biblical literature in terms of its author-intended literary breakdown and context was extremely helpful. To discover authorial intent, it is crucial to do exegesis in light of the book’s literary form and how authors have literarily put together their books. DeRouchie provides some helpful illustrations on how OT texts are written and how the reader can discern the author’s intent by thinking through the book’s literary structure and context.
Fifth, the chapters on Hebrew and Greek grammar respectively are excellent. For those who know the biblical languages, these chapters will serve as a helpful reminder of the basics necessary for biblical interpretation. For those who do not know the languages, these chapters will not only encourage the study of the languages, but also they will offer some basic grammatical understanding which is important in the interpretation of our English Bibles. All of this will allow for a more responsible reading of biblical commentaries.
Sixth, the chapters on argument-tracing, word studies, and word fallacies are excellent. In a practical way, these chapters help people actually do exegesis and by giving many examples, the authors illustrate how exegesis is practiced. In addition, the authors accomplish the subtitle of their books by moving from exegesis to theology by discussing how the Bible must be interpreted in terms of its historical, redemptive historical, and canonical context. The discussion of the latter points is often missing from hermeneutic books, but our authors exhibit an excellent grasp of the discipline of biblical theology. They combine the best of grammatical-historical exegesis with the progressive nature of God’s unfolding word-act revelation. This allows for a canonical reading of Scripture which DeRouchie illustrates from an OT perspective and Naselli from a NT viewpoint. Recently biblical theology has received a lot of attention in the academy but unfortunately biblical theology is understood in quite diverse ways. In their discussion of biblical theology, DeRouchie and Naselli are sensitive to the larger discussion but also propose how the Bible ought to be read as a unified canon with Christ at its center.
Seventh, Naselli has a helpful chapter on historical theology and its importance for the interpretation of Scripture. Most hermeneutic books which focus narrowly on exegesis do not discuss the role of historical theology in our interpretation of Scripture, so this is a welcome addition. As Naselli notes, none of us read Scripture isolated from those before us. We stand on the shoulders of those who have read and applied Scripture and we ignore what they have said to our detriment. Naselli offers some helpful comments that evangelicals, especially those who think that Scripture can be read isolated from the church, need to heed.
Eighth, both authors include a chapter on systematic theology which is encouraging in a book devoted to biblical interpretation. In the past, this was not typically done in hermeneutical texts, but here it helps round out the discussion and to remind us that all exegesis is to lead to theological formulation for the life and health of the church.
Ninth, both authors conclude with a chapter on practical theology. Their focus is not simply to make the application of Scripture the last step in our interpretation of Scripture. Instead, they remind us that exegesis must result in obedience to what God has said. Christians especially struggle in how to rightly apply the OT, now that we live under the new covenant. In particular, DeRouchie’s chapter is very helpful in thinking through how to apply the OT law to the Christian today. By placing the OT law in its OT context and then thinking through how it applies to us in Christ and dawning of the new covenant era, DeRouchie offers some helpful instruction for the church. Once again, important discussions such as the relation of the OT law to the Christian is often missing from introductory books on biblical interpretation, and its inclusion by DeRouchie enhances the value of his book.
Tenth, both books offer helpful resources for further research. The discussion of each book is useful in itself, but the bibliography given for further study makes the books even more useful for research and further study.
Eleventh, if one buys the books together (which I strongly encourage), there will be some overlap given that both authors follow the same twelve step approach. However, I do not consider this a disadvantage. Although both books cover similar material, they do so from the vantage point of the OT and NT respectively. Reading the books together reinforces the importance of the material covered and helps make it stick for the reader.
Twelfth, as one reads both books, there is an evident sense that both authors are writing from a strong commitment to God’s Word, and the conviction that biblical interpretation must be done for God’s glory and with Christ at is center. For our authors exegesis is more than merely focusing on a twelve-step method; instead, it is a spiritual exercise done for the glory of the triune God, in dependence upon the Spirit and for the Church. Not only is the content of these two books important for our understanding and application of Scripture, but also this spirit is desperately needed in the church. I hope these books receive a wide-reading and more importantly, that these books will lead us to move from exegesis to theology in a way that is faithful to God’s most holy Word for the glory of Christ and the good of his church.
Stephen J. Wellum is Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and editor of Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
Buy the books
How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology
How to Understand and Apply the New Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology