How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament

How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament May 7, 2020

Jason S. DeRouchie.
How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology.
Phillipsburg: P&R, 2017.
Available from Amazon.com

Review by Dr. Jill Firth

This acclaimed guide goes beyond exegesis to theology. Its twelve steps move from text to context to biblical and systematic theology to application. The book targets a broad audience, including those who don’t know Hebrew, and students studying the Old Testament in the original languages. Each section is marked at one of three levels: Level 1 (‘easy’) for beginning interpreters who have no Hebrew; Level 2 (‘moderate’) which does not require Hebrew, but interacts with Hebrew which is translated; Level 3 (‘challenging’) which is for more ‘advanced’ interpreters who know or are studying Hebrew. Each chapter includes a summary of key words and concepts, questions for reflection, and resources for further study. The end of the book also has a full glossary of the key terms.

‘Part 1: Text’ introduces genre, literary units, text hierarchy, text criticism, and translation. DeRouchie introduces his method of diagramming the thought flow of a text through indenting clauses which support a ‘higher level’ clause. Text hierarchy in Hebrew is determined by the presence of וְ which may signal coordination, result, purpose, ‘or some other semantic value.’ Disjunction is signalled by asyndeton, the lack of וְ, and may utilise a subordinate conjunction such as כִּי. A text block is a chain of clauses that should be read together. A block may extend to a paragraph or even a chapter of a text. The three most common text types are ‘historical’, ‘anticipatory’, and ‘directive’, each with its own characteristic verb patterns.

‘Part 2: Observation’ builds on Part 1, and introduces The Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible developed by Steven E. Runge and Joshua R. Westbury. DeRouchie recommends this resource as a good though not infallible aid to reading the Old Testament for depth. Argument Tracing is introduced in Chapter 6. Arcing and bracketing are tools used to capture ‘the relationships of the various propositions’ in a passage. Categories such as coordinate relationships, subordinate relationships, restatement, and contrary statement are proposed by DeRouchie to assess the argument of a text. DeRouchie proposes the use of Biblearc.com where a student can create a text hierarchy and then develop arcing or bracketing. Chapter 7 gives an introduction to word and concept studies.

‘Part 3: Context’ invites consideration of historical and literary context. DeRouchie offers a summary of each Old Testament book and how it contributes to the message of the whole Old Testament. ‘Part 4: Meaning’ introduces biblical and systematic theology, and ‘Part 5: Application’ considers practical theology, including attention to specific issues as examples.

DeRouchie’s exegetical and theological method were impacted by his studies at Gordon-Conwell, and his interest in discourse analysis developed during doctoral studies at SBTS. Currently on faculty at Bethlehem College and Seminary, DeRouchie has been inspired ‘to make much of Christ and the gospel from the Old Testament.’ The volume was road tested in an intermediate course at Bethlehem Seminary.

The volume could be used in a classroom or at home by students at an intermediate level. Preachers looking to build on their seminary training may value the book’s clear step by step approach. A teacher or reader’s interpretive decisions will sometimes vary from conclusions by DeRouchie, but anyone who values a highly structured approach to the text can benefit from this guide.

Jill Firth is a Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne. Her current research is in Psalms and Jeremiah.


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