[Review] For the Love of God’s Word (Köstenberger & Patterson)

I forget exactly how it came up, but recently I recommended the book For the Love of God’s Word by Köstenberger and Patterson (from now on, K&P) to a friend. The point was to point to a short and accessible book of hermeneutics that would help in reading and understanding the Bible. I stand by this suggestion.

K&P develop a hermeneutical triad consisting of history, literature, and theology. Chapter 2 gives some of the cultural background and comprises the history section.

The literature section is broken up into three sub-divisions of canon (chs. 3-4), genre (chs. 5-11), and language (chs. 12-13). Thus, chapter 3 discusses the Old Testament canon comprised of the law, the prophets, and the writings, while chapter 4 focuses on the New Testament canon of the gospels, acts, epistles, and the apocalypse. As to genre, the discussion is as follows: Old Testament historical narrative (ch. 5), poetry and wisdom (ch. 6), prophecy (ch. 7), New Testament historical narrative (ch. 8), parables (ch. 9), epistles (ch. 10), and apocalyptic literature focusing on Revelation (ch. 11).

The language section focuses on two main points: discourse, with a particular emphasis on discourse analysis (ch. 12) and semantics (ch. 13).

Part three then focuses on theology comprised of: getting our theology from the Bible (ch. 14) and application (ch. 15).

If some of that summary confuses you (what is discourse analysis anyway?; I’ve never heard the word “apocalyptic” before), then this book would be a good place to start. It is important for Christians to not only read their Bibles, but to also study them. And we cannot properly study the Bible unless we understand some of the background, the genre of the text, etc.

The good: if I could make every person who leads a Bible study to read the chapter on semantics and understanding word meanings, that alone makes the book worthwhile. Obviously there is a lot of good throughout the book, but that chapter and the one on discourse is particularly helpful, with the reason for the discourse chapter being important because oftentimes evangelicals have a tendency to get bogged down and think communication happens at the level of the individual word when it happens at the level of the discourse (of course, there is an interplay between the two, but recognizing this point would be a healthy corrective).

The bad: I would not say it is bad so much, but I wish there was more discussion about historical background. This is often overlooked when it can help elucidate the text in important ways. Also, there are plenty of things I disagree with/I am unsure about. For instance, should the gospels be seen as a subgenre of historical narrative instead of Greco-Roman biographies, as is commonly thought? Of course, maybe it does not matter much, but it is still something worth nothing. Another point of divergence is the chapter of application. I find their “priciplization” (they prefer the term “contextualization”) suspect at best. Of course, other evangelicals seem to think the same, as is clear in Kevin Vanhoozer’s discussion on the matter in The Drama of Doctrine (he uses the term “principlizing”).

Nonetheless, this book is a great place to start if one wants to study the Bible deeper. And if one is feeling really ambitious, they can always check out the unabridged version of this work.


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