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Reading the Synoptic Gospels

Reading the Synoptic Gospels: Basic Methods for Interpreting Matthew, Mark, and Luke

Author: O. Wesley Allen, Jr.
Paperback: 144 pages
ISBN-10: 0-8272-3219-5
ISBN-13: 978-0-8272-3219-8

Chalice Press
Barnes & Noble

My thanks goes out to Chalice Press for sending me a copy of this book to review. It is always a pleasure to be able to read and review books. I look forward to reviewing others for Chalice in the future.

Reading the Synoptic Gospels walks its reader through one text (Mt 12:46-50) in order to arrive at the full meaning it contains. It does this in a step-by-step fashion where the author, Wesley Allen, explains how to delineate the pericope, its background, the form and function, any editing that might have been done to it, it’s literary aspects, and the interpretations that can arise from readers. Basically, Allen sets out to help his reader learn how to exegete properly.

Allen writes with a teacher’s mindset. This is helpful to the reader who is used to being in class in that it allows him to listen to the lecture-like material within the chapters. Allen also is incredibly thorough. He delves into one passage and describes every particular in exegeting it over the course of 144 pages.

However, Reading the Synoptic Gospels is riddled with stylistic problems. First, there is so much excess fat in this book that should be cut. For instance, “Excursus 3: Select Literary Terms for Narrative Exegesis” looks like a cut and paste from a dictionary. A reader should be able to look up terms he does not understand on his own. Not only this, but that excursus lists some terms (ie. “Action”) then says to look elsewhere (ie. “See Plot”). If all the excess was cut from this book I would be surprised if it was half as long as it currently is.

Second, instead of footnotes Allen opts to put a “For Further Reading” section at the end of each chapter. I don’t mind this, but the titles he suggests are so incredibly outdated (even for the publication year of this book) to be comical.

Third, his suggested resources for “the beginning student of exegesis” needs some beefing up. He suggests a Bible (obviously), synopsis, concordance, one-volume commentary, and a one-volume Bible dictionary. Now, I understand that this is for a beginner, but how about some encouragement to learn Greek? How about a more specific Bible dictionary like IVP’s Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels? How about a suggested commentary on Matthew (since the passage Allen is using is in that Gospel)? I don’t understand why he wouldn’t go that extra mile, at least to say that once the beginner is done with this then there is more still that can be done.

For what it is, Reading the Synoptic Gospels is a decent primer to exegesis. It most certainly should not be anyone’s only book on exegesis, and if I had to choose only one title I’d go with something a bit more robust. That being said, I’d recommend this only to lay people who don’t have the first clue about interpreting the Bible.

Grade: C-



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