Interpreting the Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook

Harvey, John D. Interpreting the Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2013. 211 pp. $22.99

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John D. Harvey’s Interpreting the Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook is the first in a series of books slated to be published for the specific purpose of assisting students of the New Testament in their ability to understand and communicate the text of Scripture. In this volume, Harvey (Professor of New Testament and Dean of the Seminary and School of Ministry at Columbia International University) sets the pace for series by focusing on the Pauline letters: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.

The book is written in such a manner as to provide quick helps and summaries of major points of emphasis in the interpretation process. Harvey relates Paul’s letters to the various genre of Scripture, as well as other letters written during the first-century. While Paul’s letters find some similarity at points with familial letters, his is a distinct structure. Harvey then discusses the historical background of Paul’s letters by attempting to reconstruct a timeline of the events of Paul’s life based primarily upon his letters and only then using the book of Acts to clarify and fill in gaps in what can be discerned. Harvey discusses the overarching theology of Paul’s letters by looking at Paul’s use of two spheres: “in Adam” and “in Christ.” He provides a brief primer on textual criticism and translation, an introductory hermeneutic method, ideas on preaching methods, and two examples of the entire process from text to sermon.

Critique

The strength of this handbook lies in its ability to simplify concepts that often require extensive study and research. His chapter on genre, while its impact upon final interpretation may be debated, synthesizes the research well and provides the reader with a quick understanding of the nature of Paul’s genre. Likewise, the historical background work helps the reader gain a better understanding of the discussions surrounding the timeline of Paul’s life, missionary travels, and imprisonment – including the impact of such events upon his writing.

Harvey’s chapter on sermon preparation and delivery relies on texts that most will not find surprising – Robinson’s Biblical Preaching, Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching, and Hamilton’s Homiletical Handbook. One might also note Harvey’s repeated use of Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change. While Stanley is a popular speaker and author, his books are not universally considered of the same substance and weight as those previously mentioned, and differs significantly in terms of sermon shape. Stanley’s inclusion into this list of expositors simply appears out-of-place.

Harvey’s book will serve those in search of an accessible tool to assist them in the task of sermon preparation. His summaries provide a cursory understanding of the material needed for such a task, but also provide recommended (conservative, evangelical) texts for further study as one sees fit. Anyone striving to faithfully communicate God’s Word as penned by Paul the Apostle will find assistance in this little volume.

John D. Harvey, Interpreting the Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook


I received this book free from the publisher through the Kregel Academic book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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