Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Urban Legends of the New Testament

The church in America faces two primary problems when it comes to the bible. First, some believers simply do not care much about what scripture has to say. Second, other believers care what the bible says, but do not know how to interpret it correctly. Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions deals with the second problem.

In this book, author David Croteau tackles numerous different poor interpretations of well-known biblical texts. Croteau's major emphasis throughout is something that is sorely lacking in much of the church today: the utmost importance of context. The author stresses again and again that each verse must be understood in light of the verses and chapters surrounding it. Significant damage is done, and this happens a lot, when verses are yanked out of context and applied willy-nilly to situations that have nothing to do with the biblical writer's original meaning.

This book could be summed up in one word: context.

I like Urban Legends of the N.T. for more than just the important topic. Croteau has a clear, understandable writing style. He also has thought clearly through these issues. His arguments do not degenerate into the use of logical fallacies. Rather, he simply points out the context of the original verse or passage and applies it within that context. An additional bonus is that Croteau begins each chapter by providing the teaching that corresponds to the urban legend; he then goes on to debunk it.

The money quote from the entire book, in my opinion, comes from page 202. The author says that in practicing sound biblical interpretation the reader must remember:

First, seeking the author's intent must always precede attempting to apply a passage. Second, the primary meaning of a passage needs to be the focus of interpretation. While secondary or tertiary meanings can be identified and interesting, they should not be the focus of interpretation. Third, the interpreter must remember that only primary meanings build doctrine. If a text has an implication (a secondary meaning) that appears to support a certain doctrine, a separate text should be located that has that doctrine as its primary meaning.

As for negatives, this book has few. In fact, only one comes quickly to mind: Dr. Croteau embraces the church institution. This does not mean that he agrees with every aspect of it (he couldn't and write a book like this at the same time); however, he still is firmly entrenched. Frankly, as a seminary professor he has little choice.

Despite this issue, Urban Legends of the N.T. is worth the read. It's a solid reminder of just how important context is in accurately understanding the bible.

This book reminds me somewhat of another good one: The Most Misused Verses in the Bible.


Kevin said...

David Black's "Seven Marks of a New Testament Church" is written by a seminary professor, and while he's not directly critical of institutions, his points undermine a lot of it and he offers no support. Black is at Croteau's alma mater, Southeastern Baptist. So I think Croteau does have a choice, and could stand up. He stands up against the idea of tithing and has been published on that topic several times.

Tim A said...

Thank you for the quote. I will make use of it.
When I clicked on the link I read some Amazon reviews. One referral mentioned what he says something about Acts 18:3 – Is Paul’s example of supporting himself by making tents an example pastors have to follow or just an example of how to apply other principles?

I am curious what the author says about this. Do I have to buy the book or can you quote him for me?