Rightly Handling the Word of God: a book review

For the Love of God’s Word is an introduction to biblical hermeneutics. Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson have teamed up again to help serious Bible students interpret scripture well (they previously authored Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, and this book is an abridgment of that text). Köstenberger and Patterson have a three part approach to interpreting scripture, what they call  ‘the Hermeneutical Triad’: History, Literature and Theology.  This is similar to the approach of my own professors of Hermeneutics and Exegesis and does real justice to the interpretive task.

Köstenberger and  Patterson are at their most brief in part I (, where they give a brief overview of Biblical history, discuss the contribution of archaeology to our understanding of Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman culture,  and they give some interpretive suggestions for distinguishing which biblical customs remain normative and those which are ‘limited in application.’ They do all this in about twenty pages.

Part II is far more substantive, occupying the largest chunk of the book .  Köstenberger and  Patterson discusses Literature, focusing on three units: canon, genre, and language. In discussing canon, they discuss the applicability of the Old Testament, the concept of covenant and the way the Old Testament testifies to Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. They go on to discuss how the various parts of the New Testament augment and supplement each other.  They then move on to discussing the distinctives of each genre in scripture: historical narrative, poetry and Wisdom, prophecy, the  narratives of the Gospel and Acts, parables, epistles and Apocalyptic. Finally they look at language (discourse structure and the meanings of words).

Part III examines theology. Köstenberger’s and  Patterson’s focus is to make sure that our theology flows from the text (rather than our theology determining our reading of the text). The resources they suggest here are from the discipline of Biblical theology, rather than the theological tradition.  Their final chapter puts together a hermenuetical approach to getting an application out of the text.

This is a text book intended for an introductory course in hermeneutics. However, its readable and understandable for the working pastor or any lay Bible teacher. For example, their section on interpreting biblical genres can be a reference point for preachers planning to launch into unfamilar biblical terrain. Or at least a refresher. My criticism of the book would be constricted to what’s not here (i.e. an in-depth examination of narrative technique and poetic structure, discussion of how the wider theological tradition informs our understanding of the text, discussion of what the reader brings to the text, the role of the Spirit in interpretation, etc). However this is an introductory text and does a great job directing people on how to interpret the Bible in culturally  and literary sensitive and canonically aware  way. As a pastor I can readily see ways their approach is helpful to me. Those that follow Köstenberger’s and  Patterson’s will read the Bible well. I give this five stars.

Note: I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my review.

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