NERD BOOK! Interpreting the General Letters

Interpreting the General Letters by Herbert W. Bateman IV is a specialist sort of book. Not that anyone could not benefit here, but overall the target audience is the rising Biblical scholar, be it a pastor or a student.

(click the picture for Kregel’s webstore for Interpreting the General Letters. There’s an excerpt available there. It’s a lengthy excerpt.)

First, let’s establish the General Letters. These are the New Testament books of Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude. These have differing authors (James, Peter, John, Jude, and ???? for Hebrews), and differing target audiences. There are special conceptual issues for these books compared with Pauline Epistles.

Now, let’s look at Bateman’s work. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Ph.D., by the way) has taught Greek and is a professor of New Testament. One should assume that he knows the material, and has dealt with deep issues. This book reads as a textbook for an exegesis class on the General Epistles of the New Testament.

It is not without value for the pastoral scholar as well, though, so all of this applies to both the academic student and pastoral scholar.

You will need a working skillset with Koine Greek to get the most out of this work. If you have let your Greek rust, then scrape the rust and reseason the pan, because you need it anyway. If you are using this in class, then just buckle up and do it. You need that language.

Bateman’s overall view of the General Letters is what we would call conservative in Biblical studies. He’s not promoting any obscure theories or deconstructionist views of the text. This book takes the text at face value, and provides interpretative tools for how to grapple with the text as-is, rather than take it apart and discard any of it.

For that, I highly commend this book. When you add the appendix providing a list of recommended commentaries, the value increases. These recommendations include commentaries that are more critical of the text than Bateman is, but provide good additional viewpoints.

The scheme of this book is not to treat with the individual letters too much, but to provide a framework for exegesis illustrated by passages from the General Epistles. This includes background on letter writing in the times as well as historical information.

Bateman also includes helpful information on textual criticism and reconstruction, with a view toward helping understand variants. The concluding chapters of Interpreting the General Letters deal with communicating what you have interpreted. This is valuable, because Biblical exegesis is not only about what we learn, but how we learn and grow in community.

Bateman and Kregel Academic are to be commended for their use of FOOTNOTES!!! throughout the book.

This book was provided by Kregel Academic in exchange for the review, and first appeared at my personal blog, Learning, Teaching, and Laughing. Kregel Academic also publishes the Philips Commentary Series. See here for more info:


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