Interpreting the Minor Prophets for Preaching -- By: E. Ray Clendenen

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 13:1 (Fall 1995)
Article: Interpreting the Minor Prophets for Preaching
Author: E. Ray Clendenen

Interpreting the Minor Prophets for Preaching

E. Ray Clendenen

General Editor, New American Commentary
Broadman and Holman Publishers
127 Ninth Avenue, North
Nashville, TN 37234


Discussions of biblical interpretation usually lump the minor and major prophets together. Why deal with the minor prophets separately here? Are we claiming that the nature of the prophetic ministry or message is different? Must we apply different principles of interpretation? No, but a separate treatment can be justified on other grounds. In the first place, what makes the minor prophets “minor” is their size, which means that perhaps they can serve as a starting point in the study of biblical prophecy. While they exhibit most of the features that characterize the larger books, they do so on a somewhat smaller scale, offering the beginning Bible student an investigative opportunity that seems less formidable than, for example, sixty-six chapters of Isaiah. We could say one might want to “try his hand in the minors before attempting the majors.”

One unique feature of the minor prophets (more appropriately named “the Twelve”) may suggest special treatment. In spite of having been written at different times as separate books, they all were bound together at some point on the same scroll (and in an order that has generally remained unchanged). Furthermore, some have argued that they exhibit an overall plot or structure. According to P. House, “The final, fixed form of the Twelve has value in and of itself.... The Twelve could be a unified, coherent whole. It is inexcusable to assume before the fact that their final form is diverse because their origins are diverse.”1 He has argued for a thematic ordering: the first six books, Hosea-Micah, emphasize sin, Nahum-Zephaniah stress punishment, and Haggai-Malachi stress restoration.2

After considering the origin and nature of the prophetic books, we will introduce an approach to their study that draws on insights from the field of textlinguistics. First will be a discussion of the basic theory, then an attempt to show how it can be applied to the study of the Twelve.

The Origin of the Prophetic Books

A perennial issue regarding the prophetic books is the extent to which they began as oral messages and the relationship between the oral and written forms. That is, by what means did the oral messages become written? How long did the process take? Who was involved? Furthermore, is the product simply a collection of messages with minimal coherence or is there an overall plan and...

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