How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology

Written by Jason S. DeRouchie Reviewed By Steven W. Guest

This book is more than a practical guide on hermeneutical method as it relates to the Old Testament. Rather, this tome is a testimonial to the fact that the OT is Christian Scripture, not simply because it is the precursor of the New Testament, but because it points to Christ. This book is rooted in the evangelical tenet that the Holy Spirit is the Ultimate Author of Scripture who engaged holy men of old (2 Pet 1:21) in an effort to clearly communicate the message of hope and redemption as it points to Christ in the OT to the glory of God the Father.

DeRouchie begins by offering his overview (pp. 1–18) of the content and purpose of the book by using the analogy of “a journey of discovery and divine encounter” (p. 1). He explicitly states, “This book is designed to guide Christians in interpreting the Old Testament” (p. 2). Lest there be any doubt, DeRouchie establishes his presuppositions and convictions as they relate to the task of biblical exegesis that leads to theological reflection and application (pp. 3–11).

Parts 1 and 2 (pp. 21–298), covering the first seven chapters, offer instruction on basic hermeneutical tools required for a faithful interpretation of the biblical text. Starting from matters relating to the literary nature of the text, DeRouchie then acknowledges the need for various translations and touches on interpretive issues related to translation technique and problems. This leads him to provide guidance to readers on crafting their own translations for their exegetical investigations.

Chapters 5 and 6 require a basic working knowledge of Hebrew, as DeRouchie demonstrates how clause and text grammar facilitate exegetical observations and reveal the literary structure of a given passage. Finally, he turns his attention to guidelines for word and concept studies.

In Part 3 (pp. 299–346) the reader is reminded of the basic hermeneutical rules for valid interpretation: “context, context, context.” Here DeRouchie first illuminates the benefits of understanding the historical context of the OT, but then cautions against the pitfalls of overemphasis on the material witness from Israel’s ancient Near Eastern milieu.

This trajectory leads seamlessly into DeRouchie’s ultimate concern as anticipated by the subtitle to the book, Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology, namely, theology. For his purposes, theology is closely related to the greater meaning of a passage, how this contributes to the overall message of the Bible and how that message is expressed in life and ministry. In Parts 4 and 5 (pp. 347–495), DeRouchie demonstrates how all aspects of the exegesis (as explained in Parts 1–3) can and should inform the spectrum of the disciplines of Christian Theology: biblical, systematic and practical theology. This, in turn, betrays DeRouchie’s foundational conviction that study of and reflection on the Word is essentially incomplete unless it results in living a God-honoring life and offering God-focused worship (p. 3).

This book was obviously birthed in the seminary classroom, but it is informed by exhaustive research done by a careful scholar. However, this is not to say that this volume will be of use only to a seminary student. On the contrary, any pastor who desires to “rightly handle the word of truth” should secure a copy of this book and carefully study its very clearly articulated principles. The utility of this resource is supported by its pedagogical design. Throughout the book, each of the twelve chapters begins with a “Trail Guide” that consists of (a) an unambiguously stated goal, (b) a section entitled “Steps in the Journey” that provides the context of the individual chapter within the overall framework of the book, and (c) a basic overview of the chapter constituents. This last feature includes one of three icons of a hiker depicting the relative difficulty level: easy, moderate or challenging. These are explained in the Preface (pp. xviii–xix). DeRouchie assures the reader that the bulk of the book is written for the beginning interpreter (with no exposure to Hebrew). The moderate level is also for all readers, but this content interfaces with Hebrew “where beneficial.” The challenging level is for advanced interpreters and requires familiarity with the original language.

Another extremely helpful feature is the strategic placement of numerous examples that illustrate how the instruction just elaborated should be put into practice. If there is any doubt in the mind of the reader or any ambiguity regarding the implementation of specific exegetical or hermeneutical skills, these are cleared in the examples. This attribute commends the book not only as an instructional textbook but also as a reference for the pastor’s study.

DeRouchie’s book shares many of the characteristics of Douglas Stuart’s extensively used Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, 4th edition (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Stuart covers all aspects for “full exegesis” in the first chapter (pp. 5–30). In the second (pp. 33–62) and third (pp. 63–82) chapters he illustrates how these tools are employed in “academic” and “sermonic” exegesis. In contrast to Stuart, rather than introduce exegetical tools in one chapter and then illustrate them in succeeding chapters, DeRouchie forces the reader to become familiar with the tool in the context of a carefully selected text. In further contrast to Stuart, DeRouchie’s methodology fundamentally employs discourse analysis with a Christo-centric biblical-theological focus. A final, significant contrast between the two approaches is that Stuart asks exegetes to employ their theological understanding to interpret a text, whereas DeRouchie’s book insists that theology is derived from the biblical text.

As for a weakness of the book, the sheer number of pages may make it a “hard sell” to professors in Bible colleges and seminaries to add to their required textbook list. A serious pastor-exegete will, however, recognize the value of this book as a reference text.

In short, do not simply look at the total number of pages in this book to determine whether or not to add this to your library or to recommend it to your faculty. The layout of the book is “comfortable,” and as just mentioned, many of these pages are filled with helpful examples that may be consulted. The “Trail Guides” point you to the essentials of the book which make the book even more accessible to the exegete.

Steven W. Guest

Steven W. Guest
Baptist Theological College Cebu Graduate School of Theology
Cebu, Philippines

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