Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, pbk, 214 pages.
This book by a recognized expert on the Prophetic literature serves as a competent introduction to the topic. It is well arranged and readable. The beginning grad student is always kept in mind. Smith includes useful information even for those familiar with the field. The first chapter covers style, genre and parallelism, etc. The author’s illustrations of parallelism in the Prophets is well done. Chapter two provides good brief notes on each book, including major the themes. Historical setting for each prophet is brought out in chapter three. Conservative dates are adhered to, which is reassuring (Joel is considered pre-exilic; Obadiah as exilic).
When we come to the fourth chapter on”Interpretive Issues…” I think Smith is well balanced. Overall I was impressed with Smith’s coverage of the crucial matter of “literal” and figurative interpretation (114-120), although I cannot agree with his appeal to limitations within an historical context (via R. Chisholm) to make Ezekiel’s Temple non-literal (123). Yet as he progresses on to treat conditionality and near or far future prophecy he again gives a balanced assessment. But the real (and nice) surprise comes on pages 131-136 in the comments about NT use of the OT, sensus plenior, pesher, and typology. Although he can only take a few pages to make his points, and can only focus mainly on one OT passage (Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1), he nonetheless makes sound common sense judgments about these disputed topics. For example, he is wary of double-fulfillment; is suspicious of fuller meanings, and rejects the use of pesher by biblical authors. In discussing typology he says a a footnote that “There is a widespread abuse of typology that suggests that the Old Testament writers were in some way predicting the future, but there is seldom anything explicitly prophetic in most typology.” (135 n. 22). Well said. Although I wish smith had included J. H. Sailhamer’s insight about the Hosea passage (i.e. that the prophet was alluding to Numbers), this chapter is very well done.
The two final chapters do a good job of capping off the survey material with practical instruction on developing and preaching messages from these books.
As with so many discussions of “apocalyptic” this work gives the impression that it is a fully agreed-upon category instead of a rather loose “genre” whose main proponents are liberal scholars with distinctly higher critical understandings of authorship and history. The distinction (if any) between apocalyptic and prophetic literature is noted though I think Smith might have said more here. Is Amos’s vision of the plumb-line (Amos 7), or his vision of the baskets of fruit (Amos 8) really that less weird than Daniel’s four beasts (Dan.7)?
The parts where Smith deals with the importance of socio-economic and political context (ch.3) were somewhat hard to swallow. It is okay to consider this information (or as much of it as we can really know) when reading these men, but to claim that one must know these extra-biblical contexts to safely interpret these books stretches the sufficiency of Scripture to breaking point. Is this why the list of commentaries and helps at the end of the chapter include no older works? But that is not a big criticism. At the end of the day I am happy to commend Interpreting the Prophetic Books to anyone interested in studying these Books of the Bible.