Book Review: Old Testament Exegesis, 4th Edition

Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, 4th Edition

Published by Westminster John Knox

ISBN: 0664233449
ISBN-13: 9780664233440

Amazon ǀ CBD ǀ Westminster Bookstore

Thanks to the folks at Westminster John Knox Press for this review copy!

Douglas Stuart has certainly carved out a niche for himself in Old Testament scholarship. Though known for many works, one of his more popular contributions has been his Old Testament Exegesis, which is now in its fourth edition. The popularity of this work is certainly an indication of its usefulness, as there is no shortage of exegetical guides and handbooks available. Even though I have not read the previous editions, I do not think that you would have to do so in order to appreciate Stuart’s contribution. This volume, as indicated by the subtitle, is geared for the student and/or pastor who seeks to accurately exegete texts from the Old Testament. The author divides the work into five sections:

  • Chapter 1 – Guide for Full Exegesis
  • Chapter 2 – Exegesis and the Original Text
  • Chapter 3 – Short Guide for Sermon Exegesis
  • Chapter 4 – Exegesis Aids and Resources
  • Additional material – Lists of Old Testament Exegesis Terms and Common Hermeneutical Errors

Chapter one, as indicated by its title, provides for the hopeful exegete a roadmap of sorts through the long journey that is exegesis. Stuart accomplishes this by posing under numerous exegetical sub-categories a plethora of questions that one must ask as he/she investigates any given text. Novice exegetes will likely wince at the sheer number of questions Stuart says they must ask in seeking to ascertain the meaning of a given text, and rightfully so. Stuart’s assumption seems to be that exegeting texts of a culture so far removed from one’s own requires intense investigation, with which I would strongly agree.

If chapter one is the roadmap, then chapter two is the vehicle. Here Stuart provides a sampling of examples based on the questions from chapter one. Due to the limitations of space (and certainly time), there are not examples from every heading in chapter one. Nevertheless, Stuart’s discussion in this section are worthy of more than a cursory reading. Each discussion, though brief, discusses important aspects of various kinds of texts and how these aspects can significantly alter one’s interpretation (my personal favorite was the discussion of translation and Proverbs 22:6 found on pgs. 41-42).

Chapter three moves from exegesis to homiletics by essentially condensing chapters one and two into a sort-of “how-to” guide for pastors.

Chapter four is much like an annotated bibliography, only with more space to describe the works listed. Here Stuart lists numerous resources that are essential to the proper exegesis of Hebrew scripture and provides all the entries for all of the works suggested in the first three chapters of the book.

Stuart provides two sections of additional information at the end of the book. The first is a list of terms common to OT exegesis. Working in any discipline requires a knowledge of its unique vocabulary, so this is a handy gem, especially for those new to the exegetical process. The second section is a list of frequent hermeneutical errors, which will also be of great use to the beginning student and/or pastor.

One Minor Criticism

I only wish to briefly comment on one negative aspect of the book. Stuart states in the preface that this book “is written for those who cannot read a Hebrew psalm at sight…” (p. xi). Yet, there is some assumption of the reader’s ability to read Hebrew, particularly throughout chapter two (Exegesis and the Original Text). Stuart’s examples leave much of the sample text untranslated. Granted, this is decidedly minor because Stuart translates only what I suppose is necessary for the general point to be made and indeed communicates clearly the intent of the example.

Conclusion:

All who employ such books as tools or guides in their exegetical prep should certainly remember that it is only that: a guide. Certainly the author does not and would not intend for one to follow this book legalistically, as if every pertinent question has been asked. However, Stuart’s skill and knowledge of the Hebrew Bible are evident here as are his abilities to guide even the most timid interpreter through the difficult, but rewarding, task of Old Testament exegesis. This work will certainly achieve pride of place amongst its users of previous editions.

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

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