Book Review: Interpreting the Pauline Letters by John D. Harvey

Basic skills call for economy language and power of thought. John Harvey does both in laying out an exegetical handbook in his Interpreting the Pauline Letters. Harvey does not waste words nor one’s time. He lays out a process for engaging the letters of Paul for those who want to dig into the text and for those who proclaim God’s Word.

The book is intended as a basic primer for seminary students, but also for pastors like me who 28 years after seminary want a refresher on working through the text. Knowledge of Greek is not required to read this book, but would be helpful.

I had thought Interpreting the Pauline Letters would simply dig into the exegetical side of the text, how to pull out the meaning of what Paul writes. But John Harvey moves into the homiletic/preaching side as well. He gives not only a crash course on one key idea. He gives focus and clarity to the process as well as valuable demonstrations how his exegetical process works.

While reading I was not only reminded of solid methods of Bible engagement I learned in seminary, but picked up some new terms in these pages like “apostolic parousia” or Paul affirming his apostolic presence felt in the way he writes or the chart on page 120 that lays out the rights of Roman  citizens.

Harvey has read through extensive materials in preparing this primer, and synthesizes and highlights the best of what he is read. His penchant for brevity is appreciated as well as laying out the direction of each chapter at the beginning and summary at the end. His use of charts provides a good visual for the information he conveys.

For those who want to go deeper into Pauline studies Harvey lists numerous resources that can be consulted. Owning some of the commentaries he mentions affirmed that he summarizes their audience and intent well.

I give Interpreting the Pauline Letters 5 out of 5 stars. For its intended audience it hits a bulls eye. For those who are not pastors but want to study the Bible with greater depth, Harvey maps a path of engagement with plenty of markers to guide the way. My thanks to Kregel Publishing for a free copy to review. I wasn’t required to give a positive review, just an honest one.


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