Book Review: How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament

DeRouchie, Jason S. How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017. 583 pp.

The first time I met Jason DeRouchie, I stayed at his house for a several days. I was visiting Bethlehem College and Seminary several years ago with a friend who was applying to the school, and, through various connections, Dr. DeRouchie—a professor there—invited us to stay with him during our visit. After a few days of watching him teach the Old Testament with a passionate fire in his bones, after witnessing him lovingly and intentionally engage his family and disciple them the moment he got home from teaching, after experiencing his hospitable generosity (free lodging, meals, transportation, and a gift book!), and after dialoguing with him in a very helpful, weekend-long conversation on Christ-centered biblical theology, I became convinced that any work Dr. DeRouchie published on the Old Testament would be a helpful resource that I had to read. How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology is no exception.   


In How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament, DeRouchie aims to “help believers better study, practice, and teach the Old Testament as Christian Scripture” (xxiii). He continues, “I want Christians everywhere to interpret all of the Bible with care, celebrating the continuities between the Testaments while recognizing that Christ changes so much.” He concludes, “I want to help Christians understand and apply the Old Testament in a way that nurtures hope in the gospel and that magnifies our Messiah in faithful ways.” The task of rightly understanding the Old Testament, according to DeRouchie, is a twelve-part process consisting of exegetical tasks (identifying genre, defining literary units and text hierarchy, performing text criticism, translating the text, evaluating grammar, tracing arguments, studying words and concepts, grasping historical context, and understanding literary context) and theological tasks (understanding a passage in light of biblical theology and systematic theology to aid with practical theology).


The most helpful aspect of How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament is that DeRouchie makes it clear that the Old Testament must be understood as Christian in order to be rightly understood today. I have listened to too many moralistic sermons in Bible-believing churches and I have read too many works from Christians that treat the Old Testament as if Jesus the Christ’s declaration in Luke 24:44—“everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled”—isn’t true! To rightly understand it, we must understand the Old Testament in light of the Christ to whom it points.

DeRouchie helps here in a couple of ways. One, he demonstrates the messianic (Christ-centered) nature of the Old Testament as it fits within the broader, unified salvation story of the entire Bible, which is summed up in Christ (Ch. 10). Two, he shows how Christ fulfills the Mosaic Law and other Old Testament promises, which then gives rise to a distinct Christian understanding/interpretation of the Law and promises: appropriation of the promises and of the fulfilled Law in our stage of redemptive history is to be done (see 2 Tim. 3:16-17) but must be filtered through the person and work of Jesus in order to be faithful to the Old Testament itself, its author, and its Author, not to mention the New Testament (Ch. 12).  

“We must interpret the Old Testament in light of Christ’s coming and through the lens of the apostles’ teaching. Jesus is the Bible’s fulcrum, marking the central turning point in history and inaugurating the climactic New Covenant. The entire Old Testament points to him, and all fulfillment comes from and through him. The Old Testament is foundation; the New Testament is fulfillment. All true biblical theology will make much of Jesus” (366).

A second plus of How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament is the book’s wide-ranging helpfulness to all Christians. The book comprehensively tackles Old Testament exegesis, and Dr. DeRouchie leaves no interpretative stone unturned, including more complicated matters of text hierarchy, translation, and text criticism that require knowledge of Hebrew. However, DeRouchie helpfully classifies every interpretative path on the road to good exegesis as either easy (no Hebrew required), moderate (some Hebrew explained), or difficult (Hebrew intensive). With the bulk of the book on easy and moderate trails, the book will be valuable in the hands of every church member. With portions of the book on more difficult terrain, seminarians and pastors will benefit as they see how Hebrew grammar aids faithful interpretation. The comprehensive content, yet wide-ranging audience, of this book makes it a one-stop shop for Christian interpretation of the Old Testament. This resource, on all levels, is for the church.

Personally, I found chapters two (on literary units and text hierarchy) and five (on clause and text grammar) to be fascinating. After taking the equivalent of six semesters of Old Testament/Hebrew courses, I found myself amazed that I had spent so much time on micro-grammar (such as morphology) with almost no time spent on macro-grammar (text hierarchy, discourse markers, grammatical function of prepositions and vavs). Now possessing a rudimentary understanding of macro-grammar in light of this book, I see more clearly how Hebrew grammar shapes the meaning and emphasis of a text, even aiding in the determination of the text’s exegetical outline.

I could go on with praise for the way DeRouchie shows that the order of the books of the Hebrew Old Testament, which differs from the order in English Bibles, is significant for rightly understanding the Old Testament (23-29, with a practical example on page 76); with kudos for the way DeRouchie meticulously works through various biblical examples and then gives discussion questions with respect to each topic he covers; with adulation at his uniquely helpful blending of the disciplines of exegesis, biblical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology as necessary and complementary components related to rightly understanding the Bible; and with thankfulness for the massive list of helpful resources he provides at the end of each chapter for further study on any given subject. The book is simply helpful from so many perspectives, even if you do not agree with every exegetical conclusion at which DeRouchie arrives.  


How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament might very well be the standard resource on Old Testament interpretation for years to come in Christian circles, as underscored by a plethora of praise-filled blurbs from a who’s who list of biblical theologians at the outset of the book. The book is comprehensive. It is practical. It is distinctively and refreshingly Christian. It is for the church, and it is for the glory of God in Christ. You would be served well to have it on your shelf as a reference anytime you study the Old Testament.

Note: A review copy was provided by P&R Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

By |May 17th, 2017|Categories: Blog, Book Reviews|

About the Author:

Church Administrator at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church