Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis

By Craig C. Broyles, ed.
Grand Rapids : Baker (2001). 272 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
13.2 (Fall 2002) : 269-270

 Interpreting the Old Testamentis a collection of essays on the topic of OT interpretation edited by Craig C. Broyles (associate professor, Trinity Western University), who also contributed two of the essays: “Interpreting the Old Testament” (13-62) and “Traditions, Intertextuality, and Canon” (157-75). The first of the two establishes the tone for the volume. Broyles claims that all the essays “focus on ‘how to’” (20). Throughout the essay he illustrates each step of exegesis by an application to Isaiah 41:21-29. Broyles emphasizes that the issue in exegesis is the divine intent of the text (25). In view of the divine author of Scripture, meditation must “inform each step of exegesis, whereby we prayerfully and respectfully consult the author for each question we pose” (27). Overall, this reviewer found Broyles’ approach sensitive to the inspired nature of the biblical text and to the delicate task of the exegete. In response to an increasing application of literary analysis in exegesis, he warns that “we must be extremely cautious that we not apply modern expectations about literary conventions to ancient texts” (56). Unfortunately, his view of the canonization and editing of the OT text lacks clarity (46). As a result, his essay appears to contain contradictions (51, 55 n. 36).

In “Language and Text of the Old Testament” (63-83), David W. Baker (professor of OT and Semitic languages, Ashland Theological Seminary) fails to include the Samaritan Pentateuch in his list of relevant sources to the OT text (69). In addition, he seems to place more confidence in the textual decisions of the editors of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia than they deserve (70). In his treatments of Gen 4:8 and 7:6 he could have shown a greater sensitivity to the translation philosophy of the LXX in the former (72) and to Hebrew idiom in the case of the latter (73). Absent from his discussion of Amos 9:12 is the possibility that the theological views of the LXX translators may have affected their treatment of “Edom” in that passage (79). Baker’s unsupported opinion concerning the old crux in Isa 7:14 (82) ignores the significant linguistic and contextual evidence marshalled by such Isaianic scholars as Edward J. Young, Charles Lee Feinberg, and Alec Motyer, as well as the insightful studies published by Walter Kaiser, J. Barton Payne, and Hobart Freeman. In spite of these disappointments, the essay has much to commend it as an introduction to the subject of OT textual criticism.

Paul Edward Hughes (assistant professor, Trinity Western University) provides an excellent historical description of the development of the various methods for the critical study of the Scriptures (“Compositional History: Source, Form, and Redaction Criticism,” 221-44). He correctly identifies the conservative concept that “the biblical interpreter is a neutral observer whose aim is to cull objective data through use of the historical-grammatical method” (222). However, he promptly distances himself from that perspective by first stating that such an approach works better for NT studies. Then he declares that “although meaning can be derived from the historical-grammatical recovery of an author’s intention, if and where possible, to say that this hermeneutical approach is the sole means of obtaining interpretive results remains too narrow” (223). Indeed, Hughes adheres to the questionable opinion that the text of Scripture itself indicates that there is “a broader set of meanings that function beyond the intention of the author” (223). Interestingly, he describes postmodern critics as “more humble in relation to knowledge, suspicious of power structures that they see behind texts and their consented readings, and realistic about the subjective role of the reader in the interpretive act” (225). He certainly does not have the same evaluation of postmodernism as William Dever (see the review of Dever’s book, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? in this issue).

One of the most valuable essays in this collection is that contributed by Richard S. Hess (reader in OT, Roehampton Institute, London, England; “Ancient Near Eastern Studies,” 201-20). Not only does he deal with the important matter of interpreting the historical materials (202-8), he provides an invaluable annotated listing of both general and specialized sources for research (208-20). Librarians will find the latter a helpful acquisitions guide.

Authors from a variety of academic and church backgrounds wrote the volume’s essays. The remainder of the essays include “Reading the Old Testament as Literature” (85-123) by V. Philips Long (professor of OT, Covenant Theological Seminary), “Old Testament History and Sociology”(125-55) by John Bimson (director of studies, OT Faculty, Trinity College, Bristol, England), “The History of Religion, Biblical Theology, and Exegesis” (177-99) by Elmer A. Martens (professor emeritus of OT, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary), and “Theology and the Old Testament” (245-64) by Jonathan R. Wilson (associate professor of Religious Studies, Westmont College).