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Interpreting the General Letters

Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook by Herbert Bateman IV

This new handbook, Interpreting the General Letters (Hebrews – Jude) by Herbert Bateman IV is once again a treasure trove of goodies for the student and scholar alike.  With a keen eye for grammatical detail and a sensitivity to the cultural and historical situation of each General Letter in the NT, Bateman does not disappoint.  What I found most beneficial and illuminating was the approach taken by Bateman to synthesize history, theology, grammar and application into one coherent message for each individual NT book that he covered.  A word of caution, this book is not for the beginner who just picked up the Greek Alphabet, for Bateman introduces the reader to some finer points of syntax and grammar that an intermediate student would handle well.  Yet, even though this is true, there is much to be commended here for any student.

The first chapter is replete with examples of letter writing was practiced in the Ancient World.  Bateman parallels the NT letters with types of Greco-Roman letters to see what kinds of letters we have in the NT corpus.  For the book of Hebrews, his modest proposal suggests that this sermon is more of a paraenetic or advisory letter with some consoling and encouraging elements as well.  The graph on pp.47-48 outline the type of letters that the General Letters are purported to be.  The only thing missing in this discussion is the proposal of a letter that would fit the category of commendatory or apologetic letter.  Hebrews is an advisory sermon but could also be seen as commending a theological and practical point that Jesus is greater than all that has gone before him.  Bateman does note that Hebrews works different than a letter like James because the structural elements are quite different. 

While maintaining a more modern Progressive Dispensational stance concerning the covenants, Bateman brings out some very important points concerning Jesus as royal priest.  He writes, “Jesus as royal priest expands all royal priestly functions in that as a royal priest Jesus rules over a cosmic kingdom (Heb. 1:1-14).” (111)  Contrasting Jesus’ cosmic priestly rule over against the Davidic rule which had geographical limitations is an important note to include.  Why?  Because the cosmic function of Jesus’ priestly work rightly includes all nations of the world and is not limited to ethnic Israel but validates the initial blessing to the nations found in Genesis.  The point of pushback I would provide that there is room for building a bridge between the similarity between the priesthood of the Davidic line and Jesus as our royal priest. 

Lastly, I found the homiletical outline on 3 John to be very helpful in getting at the main and plain message of the text.  Bateman is careful to pull together an outline for the preacher only after the hard work of exegesis is done.

I found this work to be illuminating, balanced, and very informative.  The student, scholar, and lay person all alike will found something worthy of their attention in this book.  I found myself going back and back to discussions that interested me in the book.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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