Saturday, January 12, 2008

Book Review of From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew

Chisholm, Robert, M. Jr. From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. 278 pp.

Robert Chisholm, professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, set out to write a guidebook for sermon preparation from the OT that begins with the Hebrew text and ends with a timely, culturally relevant exposition of the Bible of ancient Israel. In this task, he has certainly succeeded. This work takes the reader through virtually the entire process of sermon preparation, starting with the bare Hebrew text and ending with a message ready to be preached. Along the way, he includes copious example from a wide variety of OT genres to illustrate virtually every point he tries to make. His list of suggested further reading at the end of each chapter will prove valuable to the student who desires to increase his knowledge in the areas covered by this book.

Chisholm begins with an excellent apologetic for the use of the Hebrew text by the pastor (chapter 1), and then he devotes a short section (chapter 2) to an analysis of various tools available to the exegete-pastor. Since the publication of this book in 1998, the availability of resources has drastically changed, rendering this section somewhat outdated. Nevertheless, his analysis of the various strengths and weaknesses of the lexical aids is valuable, since the aids he does list are still available, some in electronic format.

Chapters 3-5 cover some of the foundational matters of textual criticism, semantics and linguistics, and basic Hebrew grammar. While each of these topics can (and has) filled books all by themselves, Chisholm does an admirable job of boiling down some key points of each topic to provide a basic foundation. His chapter on Hebrew syntax (chapter 5) would be much improved, in this author’s opinion, by the relatively simple task of adding vowel points.

Chapters 6-7 cover the two basic genres of OT literature—historical narrative and poetry. His demonstration of how to analyze a narrative passage is helpful in seeing how to organize the passage around the relationships between the various clauses. It would be helpful to develop some sort of graphical scheme to supplement the labels (e.g. sequential, temporal, circumstantial) and emphasize the key parts of the narrative while subordinating the supporting parts. His discussion of the basic ingredients of a story and the types of characters (pp. 151-53) is helpful in analyzing the key parts of a narrative in order to isolate the significant from the insignificant, or at least less significant.

Chapters 8-9 flesh out the process by first advocating a seven-step process to determine the meaning of the text itself (chapter 8) and then “mak[ing] the ancient text come alive, so that it can impact the thinking and behavior of people living, struggling, suffering, and dying in the here and now” (p. 221; chapter 9). This chapter, as do the others, include a number of examples of Chisholm’s own work. Chapter 10 closes with some exercises that the reader can try his own hand at.

Overall, this is a valuable introduction for preaching Old Testament texts.


Brian Jones said...

Larry, how does this book by Chisholm compare to the gold standard: Stuart's Old Testament Exegesis, which to me is the best book on exegesis (OT or NT) I've ever read?

Larry said...

Interestingly enough Brian, I read Stuart last week as well, as supplemental reading. (I am doing this work for a PhD class I am currently taking ... Bring a gun and shoot me next time you see me).

I think they are both excellent, and were I teaching a class on the subject, I think I would strongly recommend (perhaps requires) both. And perhaps make an assignment of writing a comparative paper on the two. I think a seminary class in Introduction to Old Testament Preaching would make a great class, where the things in these books could be examined and applied. It would be a revision of or a addition to the fourth semester Hebrew at our alma mater.

I think Chisholm's is slightly better in that he gives loads of examples (something that Stuart has less of). In fact, I can't remember very many things he talked about without giving some Hebrew text example (unfortunately unpointed) about it. His section on text criticism is much better, IMO, since he gives examples and actually works through the process. And Chisholm's review of Hebrew grammar is much better though a bit cumbersome. I think there are better ways a short summary could be done.

Chisholm includes a number of examples of sermons that I did not think were overall helpful to the book since it didn't include the exegetical or homiletical outline (think Ross's commentaries). However, Stuart has no examples of any substance. With Chisholm, you at least end up with an idea of what Chisholm thinks you should be aiming at. With Stuart, you do not, IMO.

What I think would have been better in Chisholm is take two or three or four passages and do the process completely throughout the book detailing each step rather than a bunch of seemingly random examples. The sample expositions are not (as I recall) the passages he used to illustrate the exegetical process.

Stuart's book is much more concise, and takes more of an outline form, which is helpful in that regard.

So I think they both have strengths and weaknesses. They are different kinds of works, both with value.

Brian Jones said...

Great! Thanks Larry. Examples are important, so I think that is a very good basis for giving Chisholm the edge. Given that, I'll take a look at his book, next time I get back to OT preaching.

Unfortunately, that could be a while. I'm finishing John 16 this Sunday, so it will be several more months before we finish John. Then we will begin what I expect will be a very long series on Hebrews.

But, I digress: I think one of the strengths of Stuart (vis-a-vis his counterpart Fee's NT Exegesis) is his clarity. He does not seem to suffer from the authorial constipation that so many scholarly writers seem to have. From your answer, it sounds like Chisholm may not measure up to Stuart in the clarity/readability category, but the examples probably more than make up for it.

As for seeing you, it has been too long. We should get together soon, if you can fit me in among your studies and ministry duties. I'll have to borrow a gun, however; I don't own one.