From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew by Robert B. Chisholm, Jr. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998. 304 pages.


            Most students of Biblical Hebrew end their first year’s study with a sense that there are tremendous exegetical riches in a knowledge of Hebrew, yet the amount of time and work required to mine those riches seems vastly disproportionate to the tangible results. From Exegesis to Exposition is designed to help the seminary-trained pastor to “preach accurate, informative, and even exciting sermons that are solidly rooted in the Hebrew text and do not require an inordinate amount of time to prepare” (back cover).

            Assuming a knowledge of Hebrew grammar basics, Robert Chisholm focuses each chapter on a critical element of Hebrew exegesis: language tools (ch. 2), textual criticism (ch. 3), word studies (ch. 4), syntax (ch. 5-6), and literary features of Hebrew narrative and poetry (ch. 7). Chapters eight and nine present an exegetical and homiletical method for moving from the text to the sermon. The final chapter offers exercises that, with detailed guidance, step the reader through the entire exegetical process in several narrative and poetic passages. Suggestions for further reading and reference are appended to chapters 3-7, and both general and scripture indices are included.

            After the first chapter’s challenge regarding the importance of using one’s Hebrew training in the ministry, Chisholm’s second chapter offers the reader helpful analyses of the major translation aids, lexical, grammatical, and syntactical tools, and original language computer programs. The author gives a noteworthy analysis of the limitations of BDB’s lexicon. Similar mention of the linguistic weaknesses and strongly liberal perspective in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament would have been appropriate as well. Two omissions from the standard Hebrew toolbox are a bit surprising: no mention is made of Holladay’s concise lexicon or the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament by R. L. Harris, et. al.

            In chapter three, Chisholm works through text-critical problems in eight passages, explaining the rationale behind each of his decisions. Along the way he provides the student with a helpful introduction to the cryptic notes and symbols of the BHS apparatus. Unfortunately, his presentation of text-critical principles and practice is weakened by an overemphasis on internal criteria,[1] an insufficiently nuanced use of the LXX,[2] and a feeble demonstration of the exegetical value of the variants discussed.

            With an abundance of examples, chapter four provides a concise, helpful discussion of word meaning and study. It covers usage and meaning, polysemism and multiple referents, common word study errors, semantics fields and synonyms, and other key aspects of Hebrew semantics. One problem mars this chapter’s otherwise excellent discussion of semantics. On pages 33-34, Chisholm fails to distinguish a word’s meaning from its referent(s), and appears to have confused them. He notes that Hebrew words such as ’ab, ra‘, and lachats have “multiple referents.” After giving examples that reflect not only differing referents, but also differing senses, he concludes, “As one can see from these examples, many words are polysemantic.” ’ab is indeed polysemous (“having many meanings”), but it is not polysemous because it has multiple referents. Each of its senses, in fact, has multiple referents. It is polysemous because it has multiple senses or meanings.

            Chapter five is sixty page survey of basic Hebrew syntax with each section cross-referenced to the standard works on syntax: Gesenius-Kautzsch and Waltke and O’Connor. This chapter has great potential for helping a student get into Hebrew syntax without drowning in the details of GK or W-O. Its explanations are to the point and at least one illustration is given for each element discussed.[3] Chisholm’s treatment of the verb system follows GK closely: conjugations (perfect, imperfect, etc.) do not indicate tense, but aspect. Chapter six primarily develops what Chisholm considers the main elements of Hebrew narrative structure: (1) a waw-consecutive framework, (2) “nonstandard constructions” that deviate from the normal framework, and (3) embedded quotations and dialogue. What initially sounds like an it may introduce the student to discourse analysis turns out to be primarily a presentation of the various uses of the waw-consecutive, imperfect, waw-imperfect, and waw-perfect in narrative. It is unfortunate that he fails to recognize that variations from the expected uses of the conjugations occur only in poetry or narrative direct discourse. The rare exceptions to this pattern reinforce its value as a system for understanding the Hebrew verb in narrative.

            Chapter seven gives an helpful introduction of the main elements of narrative and poetic literature. It was refreshing to read Chisholm’s accurate characterization of certain source- and form-critical tendencies as “ridiculous . . . [and] symptomatic of such critics’ lack of literary sensitivity and evidence [of] how rhetorically impoverished their methods really are” (183). His brief comments on psalm types are notable for being firmly rooted in the text rather than in form-critical categories.

            In chapter eight, Chisholm briefly reviews the exegetical steps he has developed in the previous chapters and then applies those steps to three passages: Judges 3:12-30, Isaiah 1:2-20, and Psalm 23. If it hasn’t become evident to the student before this point, it becomes quite clear at this point that, despite promises of reduced preparation time in developing sermons from the Hebrew Bible, much time and practice will be required before one attains the level of proficiency demonstrated in this book. One is tempted to think that Chisholm has forgotten how much he didn’t know when he finished his first year of Hebrew. Chapter nine provides sample expositions from four narrative passages and four poetic passages. Both the narrative and poetic examples are introduced with principles for exegesis within these different genres. Occasionally Chisholm seems to get carried away in his attempts to make his exposition contemporary,[4] but, on the whole, his expositions are well done.

            For anyone with at least one year of Hebrew and a good measure of motivation, From Exegesis to Exposition will be of significant help toward using Biblical Hebrew in the ministry. This book will be most helpful to the student with two or more years of Hebrew under his belt and to the second year Hebrew teacher who may want to consider this as a textbook. This book is not a replacement or a competitor of Kaiser’s Toward an Exegetical Theology. It complements Kaiser’s development of the theoretical aspects of exegesis with its concise statements of principle and liberal use of examples.


A. Philip Brown II

[1] This reviewer looked in vain for Chisholm to acknowledge the textual strength of the Massoretic Text. All textual players are not equal, and the MT deserves a heavier weighting than it is accorded here.

[2] For example, in his analysis of Judges 16:13-14, Chisholm ignores both the intra-LXX variants (v. 14) and the MT’s unanimous testimony, while explaining the MT’s shorter text as evidencing a homoeoteleuton with the word hammassaket (the fabric). However, such a scribal error could not have occurred in LXXA, whose text he adopts (cf. “and she made him go to sleep”), since the word diasmatos appears only once in LXXA. The convoluted nature of this problem illustrates the difficulties often associated with using the LXX for textual criticism.

[3] After working through the uses of the Hebrew themes, he works through an example using barak. He concludes that the reflexive sense of the Hithpael is the best way to understand barak in Gen. 22:18 and 26:4. Its seems odd that Chisholm relies so heavily on the LXX in textual critical issues, but fails to use it in his study of barak’s sense in the hithpael (in Gen. 22:18; 26:4; see p. 84-85). Both LXX and NT take the verb as passive.

[4] For example, he refers to Samson as “a big strong babe hound who obviously got trapped at the end of line the day the brains were handed out” (235).