Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Useful & Engaging Introduction to Interpreting Old Testament Apocalyptic Literature

Too many failed theories that look to current events as fulfillment of prophecy should lead us to our obvious need for clear and informed exegesis of apocalyptic literature. I believe this book will help fill that need. Whether you desire to become more familiar with Old Testament apocalyptic literature on your own or in a classroom setting this text is a good choice and will provide you with the knowledge and skills to approach the scripture with confidence.

I would say that the target audience is upper level students of scripture that have had at least some exposure to biblical languages, but it is not required to gain a wealth of information for moving forward in interpretation. The author liberally shares helpful references for further study. It is assumed however, that the serious student will progress in biblical languages.

The structure of the book is straightforward and progresses in a logical and easily digestible manner. Don’t be unimpressed at it’s small size. In only six chapters of two hundred pages this little book packs a huge punch.

Chapter one answers the question “What is Apocalyptic Literature?” This was a challenging chapter for me because it is concerned with definitions that I thought I already understood. I had much to learn and reflect on. How can one be sure that what you are looking at should be labeled apocalyptic? “… it may be helpful to think of apocalyptic literature as a continuum, with some texts further along in their utilization of apocalyptic features than other works … Such variation contributes to the difficulty in defining what is meant by the term apocalyptic.” (p. 30)

Chapter two builds on the definitions given previously and answers the question “What are the major themes in apocalyptic literature?” This chapter introduces a wide range of apocalyptic literature from the Old Testament, intertestamental Jewish literature, and the Dead Sea scrolls. Each theme discussed offers examples from a wide range of apocalyptic literature. Chapter three “Preparing for Interpretation” is very engaging, after looking at the different types of figurative language you are given tools and introduced to approximately fourteen pages of resources that range from Textual / Grammatical resources and Bible software to pseudepigraphical literature. Although there is no bibliography in the back of the book, these pages as well as the generous footnotes throughout more than make up for that lack. This was perhaps my favorite chapter, a practical tool belt to fasten your study of the text.

Chapter four offers guidelines for interpretation as well as practical help to avoiding common pitfalls. Perhaps the two that I appreciated most are: the need for “a humility that admits the limits of our knowledge and refuses to go beyond the clear data of the text” (p.128) and the discipline to restrain oneself from making arbitrary or fanciful timetables for Christ’s return. It is right to anticipate the Lord’s return but when it shall occur is unknowable. (cf. Acts1:17)

Chapter five walks us through helpful disciplines and offering practical guidelines for preaching apocalyptic literature. Making the apocalyptic relevant to modern hearers requires the ability to between the contexts of the ancient texts and the modern hearers. The author offers his own outlines of Daniel 7 as an example and leads the reader to how to accomplish this task on ones own. With pitfalls and problems discussed he moves from his exegetical outline to his homiletical outline. Chapter six allows you to practice with two more sections of apocalyptic literature, Daniel 8 and Joel 2. The author offers his outlines for each and five pages of reference material to assist in studying these sections. Lastly there is an appendix of material that covers the development of Jewish apocalyptic literature as well as a helpful glossary of terms that are used throughout the book.

This book widened my appreciation of Old Testament apocalyptic literature and the skills to rightly interpret it. I think anyone seeking to exegete with skill and humility will benefit from this work. I would like to thank Kregel Academic for sending me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review.