David A. Croteau and Gary E. Yates. Urban Legends of the Old Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2019. 288 pages. $14.99 (paperback). / David A. Croteau. Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015. 272 pages. $14.99 (paperback).
Was Gehenna (i.e. “Hell”) actually a garbage dump located outside first-century Jerusalem? Is “Gog of Magog” in Ezekiel 38–39 a prophecy about Russia? David Croteau (professor of New Testament and Greek at Columbia Biblical Seminary) and Gary Yates (professor of Old Testament at Liberty University School of Divinity) refer to these popular beliefs as “urban legends” – that is, stories and assertions that are treated as common knowledge in a culture but are in fact false. In Urban Legends of the New Testament (ULNT) and Urban Legends of the Old Testament (ULOT), the authors seek to correct a total of eighty of these “urban legends” that are widely held among Christians today. In doing so, they aim to help their readers apply sound hermeneutical principles to better enrich their own study of Scripture.
Throughout both volumes, the authors point out several factors that give rise to these urban legends, including a mishandling of historical background and of the original languages. However, the authors note that “for the most part, the problem is not paying attention to the context” of a passage (ULNT, 240). For example, it is commonly held that Paul’s command to “abstain from all appearance of evil” in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 means that Christians should avoid anything that someone else might think is sinful. However, a careful look at the context shows that Paul is not talking about avoiding the negative judgment of others; instead, he is instructing his readers to use discernment when evaluating prophecy, receiving what is good and rejecting what is evil (ULNT, 169–71).
To cite but one more common example, many people interpret the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to mean that if America repents of her wickedness, God will prosper her and heal her land. Again, the problem is neglect of the original context: The promise was given in response to Solomon’s prayer and a demonstration of God’s faithfulness to his unique covenantal relationship with the nation of Israel. The application of this promise to America – with whom God has not established this kind of covenant – is thus inappropriate (ULOT, 127–32).
It would be easy to write a book (or two) on misinterpretations of the Bible that leaves the reader feeling completely incompetent to interpret the Bible for themselves. Thankfully, Croteau and Yates avoid this by spending most of their time explaining what the text does mean rather than merely arguing for what it does not mean, even showing how to apply the passage to one’s life once it has been rightly understood. Both books conclude with a section that helpfully summarizes the main interpretive principles that can be drawn from their discussion for all Christians to utilize for themselves. Written at an accessible level (and thus suited to edify both laypeople and scholars), these two volumes serve as excellent resources to help prevent Christians from twisting God’s word while training them to rightly hear his voice speak to them through it.
CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Drake Isabell, an M.Div. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Content Manager for Book Notices for the Center for Biblical Studies.