Review of C. Blomberg’s Handbook of NT Exegesis

When I was in seminary (as if it was all that looooong ago…) we used Gordon Fee’s (now classic?) New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors (now in its 3rd edition; WJK). After seminary, I became acquainted with Michael Gorman’s truly excellent Elements of Biblical Exegesis – it covers both OT and NT, has more detailed discussions, contains sample exegesis papers, and an outstanding chapter on theological interpretation of Scripture (worth the price of the book itself!).

So, why did Craig Blomberg decide to pen yet another “handbook” (along with the help of J.F. Markley) called A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis (Baker, 2010)? First, I respect Craig highly as a critical, but well-respected and judicious evangelical scholar. That is reason enough to pick this book up. Second, while there is nothing new per se in the book, the “selling point” is that it is filled with examples of what exegesis looks like- often from the Synoptic Gospels and the book of James – two texts near and dear to Craig I presume.

The ten chapters of the book follow an expected course of exegesis: (1) Textual Criticism, (2) Translation and Translations, (3) Historical-Cultural Context, (4) Literary Context, (5)) Word Studies, (6) Grammar, (7) Interpretive Problems, (8) Outlining, (9) Theology, and (10) Application.

All of these chapters offer fair, basically comprehensive, and well-illustrated (but no pictures!) guides to the various traditional elements of exegesis. All in all, I found it helpful to the uninitiated student, chocked with useful charts and summaries of main points, and a helpful “checklist” for doing exegesis in the appendix. Below I will offer more specific chapter-by-chapter thoughts.

(1) Textual Criticism – not too much to say here, but that Craig offers the kind of basic introduction to the very technical practice of TC in such a way that it is not overwhelming. I appreciate that. Particularly nice is a chart on p. 10 laying out the differences in the text-types (e.g. Alexandrian) and examples.

(2) Translation and Translations – this chapter was quite useful, moving away from discussions of “literal” vs. “non-literal” towards a more helpful taxonomy that looks at “formal” vs. “functional equivalence.” I am not sure I learned much about this in seminary, though I studied it later. It is nice to see it introduced here in a useful way. Again, a nice chart on p. 46. At the end of the chapter he gave an ad hoc paragraph endorsing the 2011 NIV.

(3) Historical-Cultural Context – again, this is straightforward. I did appreciate the inclusion of a section on “Social-Scientific Criticism” as it has been so beneficial to my own interpretation of the NT (and likewise for folks like Stephen Barton, BW3, David deSilva, and Jerome Neyrey). I was a bit disappointed with his treatment of the study of the Greco-Roman world. While there is a dearth of good secondary resources, I would have expected some reference to Aufstieg und Niedergang der roemischen Welt – while a specialized kind of resource, it is comprehensive and written by the best of the best scholars.

(4) Literary Context – I very much appreciated Craig’s thoughts here. Often this is the focus for me as I teach NT exegesis courses because students can find so much without outside resources. In Craig’s own words: “one of the most rewarding parts of personal Bible study can be our own inductive work with the text, even before we consult reference tools or see how scholars have outlined books…” (p. 97). Here also I appreciate his drawing attention to the gains of narrative and rhetorical criticism (alongside more classic areas such as genre analysis and wordplay).

(5) Word Study – handled well, no comment.

(6) Grammar – these kinds of chapters are always difficult to judge because so much could be said and the author is really limited. It was serviceable, but scholars disagree so much on verbal aspect, I don’t know how useful this will be.

(7) Interpretive Problems – this chapter offers Craig the opportunity to say that sometimes you run into big exegetical problems that can’t be “fixed” by appeal to one method. It takes a nuanced and sophisticated approach where the exegetical technician (my term) has to carefully select a variety of relevant tools.

(8) Outlining – I shudder sometimes when I get to these kinds of chapters – so boring and complicated. Craig handled it surprising well. For the life of me, I could not figure out “Discourse Analysis” (or Semantic Structure Analysis) in seminary. I teach my students a very basic form of outlining called “Broad Structure Analysis” that I learned from John Byron. I think it is immensely useful and very organic – not a whole lot of rules. Craig offers various kinds of outlining, more complex than I would have suggested, but not nearly as oppressive as others I have seen.

(9) Theology – again, a good and useful basic overview. He briefly touches on the current interest in “Theological Interpretation of Scripture,” but I felt he was too critical and dismissive of it. This startled me a bit, because Gorman’s treatment is so vivacious, rich, and inspiring. This chapter may be a deal-breaker for me in terms of ever using it as a textbook.

(1) Application – takes a modified approach to a standard “principlizing” technique while cautiously showing appreciation for Webb’s “redemptive” model.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Craig is a good guy to write a handbook because he always demonstrates good exegetical technique in his books, he has earned a reputation as a master interpreter, and he does give some good examples of exegesis. However, there are inevitable weaknesses. First, the case studies are often treated so briefly the discussion can come across as simplistic (not because Craig thinks that way, but simply in the brevity of it). I would rather have technique discussed in the heart of the book, and have the appendix contain extended commentary-like treatments of texts with a more overt pointing out of techniques. Also, Craig is a very conservative interpreter which comes out in the case studies, and there is the potential for alienating a segment of his potential audience by coming down on one side (like on the women-in-ministry issue). That may be a stand he is wanting to stick with (fair enough), but not necessary in this context in my opinion.

Please do take a look at this book in your library if you teach NT exegesis as you may find some things here that are useful for instruction.