Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament: A Book-by-Book Survey

By Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed.
Grand Rapids : Baker (2008). 336 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
21.2 (Fall 2010) : 258-259

Vanhoozer is research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. His published books (sixteen he has either authored or edited) include Is There a Meaning in This Text? (Zondervan, 1998), Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine; Cambridge, 2010), and Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends (Baker, 2007) for which he, Charles A. Anderson, and Michael J. Sleasman are editors. The chapters in this volume originally appeared in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, which Vanhoozer et al. edited (Baker, 2005). As such, this volume merely reorganizes the essays from the alphabetical arrangement in the Dictionary to the canonical order. Twenty-nine different authors contributed these essays. Among them are Craig G. Bartholomew (“Ecclesiastes,” 179-85), Daniel I. Block (“Deuteronomy,” 67-82), Richard S. Hess (“Kings,” 119-23), Paul R. House (“Obadiah,” 263-67; “Haggai,” 295-99), Tremper Longman III (“Song of Songs,” 186-93), J. G. McConville (“Joshua,” 83-91; “Jeremiah,” 211-20), Willem VanGemeren (“Joel,” 251-56), John H. Walton (“Jonah,” 268-75), Gordon J. Wenham (“Genesis,” 29-41), and Albert Wolters (“Zechariah,” 300-304). For a review of the Dictionary, see MSJ 19/1 (Spring 2008):139-41.

An introductory essay (“What Is Theological Interpretation of the Bible?,” 15-28) by Vanhoozer opens the volume. He begins by observing that theological interpretation does not impose “a theological system or confessional grid” (16) or “a general hermeneutic or theory of interpretation” (17) or “a form of merely historical, literary, or sociological criticism” (17) on the biblical text. Vanhoozer explains that the current volume provides examples of interpreters who bridge the gap between exegesis and theology (17-19).

Each chapter focuses on the message of each canonical book rather than on its historical background or the process of its composition (25). Each author discusses some of the history of the book’s interpretation, the book’s theological message, its relation to the canon as a whole, and the unique contribution it makes to God’s people (25). Every chapter concludes with a brief bibliography for further reading. A few of the authors failed to provide readers with good evangelical sources (e.g., Brian E. Kelly, “Samuel,” 118; Paul L. Redditt, “Esther,” 147; McConville, “Jeremiah,” 219-20) and a couple were overly skimpy (e.g., House, “Kings,” 123—omitting his own volume in NAC; Christian M. M. Brady, “Lamentations,” 225; and Thomas Renz for “Nahum,” 285, “Habakkuk,” 290, and “Zephaniah,” 294).

This handy compendium might provide a good textbook for a survey of the OT in an adult Bible fellowship or a church’s Bible institute program. Its essays are well written and informative. Block’s essay on Deuteronomy presents an excellent survey of the biblical book and its interpretive history (67-82). Murray D. Gow’s essay on Ruth (102-10) points readers to a superb study of prayer and blessing in the book (106). Richard L. Schultz contributes an excellent study of Isaiah (194-210) that includes a great focus on the messianic prophecies. Interestingly, Walton takes a skeptical approach to the book of Jonah. He concludes that the repentance of the Ninevites was inadequate, shallow, and uninformed (272). However, the nomination for the most disappointing chapter goes to Wolters’ on Zechariah (300-304), because he expends way too little on the message and theological significance of this book that makes such a magnificent contribution in these two areas for both the OT and NT. A Scripture index (313-26) and subject index (327-36) conclude the volume.