Book Notice: Navigating Tough Texts

Murray J. Harris. Navigating Tough Texts: A Guide to Problem Passages in the New Testament. Bellingham: Lexham, 2020. 288 pages. $23.99 (paperback).

Murray J. Harris, who formerly served as Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge, is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Theological School in Deerfield, IL. Harris has authored numerous books and commentaries, including The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (2005) in the NIGTC series, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament (2012), and John (2015) in the EGGNT series. In Navigating Tough Texts, Harris hopes to create a deeper fondness for both the biblical text and the Lord (xiii) by bringing together helpful insights from fifty years of teaching Greek and twenty-five years of serving as a translator for the NIV (xii).

Harris selects sixty-six Bible passages spanning twenty-four New Testament books (2 Thessalonians and 2–3 John being the only omissions). Harris organizes the book into two parts: Gospels/Acts and Epistles/Revelation. Each chapter focuses on passages from one NT book, with the chapters progressing through biblical books and passages in the order they appear in modern Bibles. Harris specifically chooses passages that may be considered either a problem text or a key verse (xiii). For each text, he provides scholarly insights and a plausible interpretation. Neither the chapters nor subsections include introductions or conclusions; instead, Harris jumps straight into textual analysis. Some readers may be disappointed by Harris’s abridged presentation of research and lack of discussion of his interpretive method. However, the space constraints of the book must be taken into account. The design of the book is not primarily to teach the reader how to navigate the Bible themselves (though that may be a secondary purpose). Indeed, while readers will notice the sound hermeneutic on display, Harris does not explicitly teach how to navigate the text; instead, the reader is simply given an interpretation from an expert in NT research for each text addressed.

Navigating Tough Texts is recommended for church members, pastors, students, and teachers.  The book is best suited as a reference tool, but one may choose to read the book cover to cover to hear an expert’s opinion on difficult or key passages of the New Testament. Church members and pastors will find that Harris avoids a technical tone and explains terminology (including words from the original languages) when necessary. Rather than undermining confidence in their personal Bible study, Harris’s presentation should give lay members confidence in their Bible translations and their own ability to read Scripture. Teachers will find many examples for illustrating hermeneutical methods or in teaching Greek (e.g. his discussion of the partitive genitive in Rom 15:26–27 on p. 114). This volume would comfortably fit on the bookshelves of anyone seeking help with these difficult-to-understand passages.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. CBS book notices are not full academic book reviews. The present book notice was written by Ross Harmon, a Ph.D. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


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