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He Gave Us Stories: The Bible Student's Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Narratives Paperback – June 1, 1993
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"This book will revolutionize your thinking about the Old Testament. It will make your personal reading of the Old Testament a joyous experience of discovery. If you are a preacher or a teacher, it will transform a dull sermon or lesson into a message that will change lives. Here is a book you don't want to miss." --Steve Brown, President, Key Life Network
"The stories of the Old Testament . . . thrill the imagination, but what do they have to do with us? Richard Pratt's He Gave Us Stories is a readable, yet profound answer to that question." --Tremper Longman III, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia
About the Author
Richard L. Pratt Jr. (MDiv, Union Theological Seminary; ThD, Harvard University) is president of Third Millennium Ministries. He was a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary for over twenty years and is the author of Pray with Your Eyes Open, He Gave Us Stories, and Every Thought Captive.
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Books on hermeneutics tend to be rather vague and formless, offering principles that are often so vague that they are of little help in actually making decisions of interpretation. I find 'He Gave us Stories' to be much more useful than the bulk of these books, besides, as I said, focusing on the actual issue I was studying.
by Richard L. Pratt, Jr.
Reviewed By Dr. TRI LY LAM
Biblical students should read this book. Pratt, Jr. divides it into three parts. Its outline is to present the truth which is sandwiched between Preparation for and Application; to wit, the Old Testament (OT) is to be interpreted by the three-step process. Pratt, Jr. analyzes the OT in terms of its spoken and written accounts. Expressing a good point, I think that the author puzzles a way of difficulty to understand all Biblical texts with three connected parts: preparation, investigation, and application. The review consists of two sections as follows:
- First, I have discussion on the purpose of the reviewed book.
- Secondly, I analyze the three structural parts of the book each.
- Finally, I have criticism on the structure and content of the book
The purpose of this book, from preparation, through interpretation, to application, focuses on bonding the thoughts of ancient and those of modern world in hermeneutics for teaching and preaching – like Heidegger’s how meaning is assigned from tools, tasks, and final purpose (in Making Sense ò Heidegger by Thomas Sheehan, 2015). Pratt, Jr. investigates Old Testament in terms of spoken and written account of ancient related episodes with the three parts as indicated.
Part 1: Preparing OT narratives introduces the four sub-parts as follows: Orientation for Preparation, the Influence of Christian Living, the Influence of Interaction, and the Influence of Exegesis. The first one touches on the three models as the objective, the subjective and the authority-dialogue; in this sub-part, the author points out the balance of the Bible students’ views on the models of Bible study. Jumping over to the last sub-part on the influence of exegesis, I am interested in discussing the thematic, historical, and literary analysis. I would prefer to center on the historical analysis in terms of the role of critical thinking under the guide of the Holy Spirit in OT narratives. It is suggested that the critical thinking approach to analyzing the historical connected events should be of necessity. The point is that critical thinking must work on a high level and a low level. The high level activates criticism on the historical setting, and the low level narrows criticism on the historical texts. In a word, the author should broaden the critical thinking criticism in the historical analysis as he wished the Bible student had walked on the “bridge” from the ancient to modern world.
Part 2: Investigating OT narrative covers its investigation in characters in OT stories, scene depiction, structure in individual epistle, large narrative structures, writers and their audiences, describing a writer’s intention. I’m reminded of the biographical analysis when I have read the last sub-part of the second part, describing a writer’s intention. The biological analysis of a writer’s intention does not mean that the investigator to OT narratives would look at the personality traits in the narrative texts, and by biographical observation in terms of the writer’s personality in the context of a situation in which the investigator should examines how the writer behaves towards the participants, the action with verbal or non-verbal form, what influences the writer in the context, and finally what his changes in the writer.
Part 3, applying OT narratives engages application to a variety of Biblical ages, cultural changes, and personal application. Culture is what people think and do in a particular time; to be precise, culture changes over time from Old Testament to New Testament. The culture of Israelites in Canaan is different from that in Babylon when they were exiled. I would love this sub-part of culture on which the author had discussions on. Culture may problematize the Bible student’s perception that would results in misapplying to OT narratives. To be exact, the thinking of Israelites in Old Testament and that of Christians in New Testament are of difference or similarity as they live in different cultures, but theologically their faith are alike regardless of cultural variance
Per criticism, I would think that this book is all well-organized with the first part of preparation, the second part of investigation, and the last part of application to OT narratives, and offers not few valuable methods of Biblical interpretation. What Pratt, Jr. penned for this book would reveal that he must possess the originality and alertness that exposes his ideology of the books as is to be an interactive and functional instrument,for helping student readers know how to apply to the OT narratives. Secondly, the investigative part shows that he has a strong base of intellectual paradigm and synchronic linguistics, and pedagogical strategies, and foreign language connection. Finally, in particular, the readers can find different approaches to analyzing OT narratives for application.
In a word, Biblical students should read this book because of its sophistication and practicality.
Traditional evangelicals and liberals alike tend to like dissecting the Bible into little pieces (verses or even words within verses) as its primary technique of Scriptural examination and interpretation. While this is certainly not bad at all, Pratt properly believes that such an emphasis carries with it the very real danger of contextual tunnel vision, where we miss the larger picture and end up missing a lot of what the Bible intends to teach us. Pratt's hermeneutic in this book emphasizes the importance of investigating the 'original meaning' of the text - how the text was to be understood by the original historical audience it was being written to. For example, if Moses wrote Genesis during the time of the exodus as the Israelites were either at Mt. Sinai or in the plains of Moab about to enter Canaan, this historical background helps the modern reader gain added insight into not only what Moses said, but why he said it. While there are dangers with this, as I will discuss below, when handled properly, much that we either didn't understand or particularly care about in the Old Testament become extremely fascinating and meaningful. Such an approach requires us to read the Bible as a piece of literature that is telling stories - inerrant stories that are purposeful and contain timeless truths that are in part flushed out better when we understand the particular cultural and historical messages that the Bible contained for the original audience and writer of each canonical book.
For readers who want to understand the relationship between the Old Testament and the Christian today in the 21st century, Pratt's approach is most instructive. Epochal, cultural, and personal adjustments are a critical part of his hermeneutic and help explain why we don't sacrifice bulls today or worship at a temple in Jerusalem, while showing how these things are still nonetheless significant and instructive for us today. Consistent with Reformed covenant theology, Pratt also insists that the Old Testament needs to be seen in the light of redemptive history, culminating in Christ. Kingdom and covenant are major organizing principles of Pratt's hermeneutic, and while readers should understand that this is far from the only good Christian model of approaching the Bible, Pratt provides a solid presentation of it here.
As with both the systematic and 'biblical' theological approaches, the literary approach is not perfect and contains some weaknesses and dangers. The major danger is that a literary approach, if not sufficiently controlled, can easily spiral into ungrounded speculation that could prove just about any point anybody wanted to make, regardless of whether that's what the Bible actually teaches or not. Pratt's book, while quite good at laying out a literary hermeneutic sprinkled with Biblical theology, could have been better in warning its readers of the danger of this approach when applied unrestrained. Pratt affirms that Scripture is the lone final authority to which we all must submit, but the book is a bit sparse on defining what exactly this means within a literary context in terms of establishing good controls that constantly force our literary musings back to the Bible as the final arbiter of legitimacy and truth.
But overall, this is an insightful book that will greatly challenge many of its readers to read the Bible in a fundamentally different way than they have up to this point. For the most part, this is a good thing and worthy of attention.