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Embedded Genres in the New Testament

Understanding Their Impact for Interpretation

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Recognizing what we are reading--the genre--is crucial for understanding any written work, including the books of the New Testament. However, we may not always realize we use genre categories as we interpret, whether explicitly or implicitly. Embedded genres, or genres within genres, can substantively impact the interpretation of an entire New Testament book.

This short, accessible book by a widely respected scholar and seasoned teacher introduces embedded genres, their impact on New Testament interpretation, and how they contribute to the message of the New Testament authors. Jeannine Brown offers hermeneutical guidance for interpreting embedded genres and explores the hermeneutical questions they raise. She focuses on three case studies of embedded genres that have been contested, underidentified, or underappreciated across the New Testament corpus: the Christ poem in Philippians 2, riddles in Matthew, and the household code in 1 Peter.

Students of the New Testament, pastors, and ministry leaders will value this work.

1. How Do Embedded Genres Matter?
2. Does Paul Break into Song in Philippians 2?
The Christ Poem in the Letter to the Philippians
3. Is Jesus a Riddler in Matthew?
The Role of Riddles in the Gospel of Matthew
4. Why Put a Household Code in the Middle of a Letter?
The Haustafel in 1 Peter
5. Conclusion: What Do Matryoshka Dolls and the New Testament Have in Common?


"Brown's book, although learned, is accessible and engaging. It is an invitation to the art of noticing, a call to sit and ruminate that will move readers of the New Testament to realize that, all too often, they have been seeing without seeing."

Dale C. Allison Jr., Princeton Theological Seminary

"New Testament scholar Jeannine Brown draws from a deep well of experience and expertise in biblical interpretation. In Embedded Genres in the New Testament she offers a fresh look at how the microgenres within biblical books relate to their macrogenre and why that matters for more-faithful interpretation. Every interpreter of the Bible, whether a professional or a serious student, will benefit from Brown's latest work."

Karen H. Jobes, Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor Emerita of New Testament Greek and Exegesis, Wheaton College

"At its best, biblical exegesis is a journey of discovery, in which the attentive reader sees and hears the text afresh. Brown's nuanced study takes her readers on just such a journey, both modeling fine-grained historical and literary attention to the dynamics of embedded genres and giving her readers the tools to do the same. This book is a boon to all serious teachers and students of the New Testament."

Susan Eastman, associate research professor emerita, Duke Divinity School

"Brown has distinguished herself as an expert on biblical hermeneutics and exegesis, and here she illuminates 'embedded genres,' micro-literary pieces within a larger text. Brown offers a convincing case that readers benefit greatly from keen awareness of where these embedded units occur, how they deserve special attention, and how they affect the whole. She fills a gap left by textbooks that often miss this important topic."

Nijay K. Gupta, professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary

"Sometimes I think good interpretation of the Bible is about slowing down--taking notice of, puzzling over, sitting with scriptural texts. Sometimes I think it's about better readerly habits--listening (really listening!), asking good questions, exploring. Centering our attention on embedded literary forms in the Bible, on how they shape and are shaped by the books in which they appear, Jeannine Brown cultivates good habits by urging us to slow down and listen up. Her work with texts from Philippians, Matthew, and 1 Peter is stimulating on its own terms, and even more so as she addresses larger interpretive possibilities and invites us to do the same."

Joel B. Green, senior professor of New Testament interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary

"With her typical care and clarity, Jeannine Brown has given us an accessible exploration not only of the important idea of genres but also of how they can be nested inside one another. The introduction and case studies model for us a thoughtful and fruitful reading of Scripture."

Jonathan T. Pennington, professor of New Testament, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

"The best approach to the interpretation of any biblical text begins with genre identification. In this book, Jeannine Brown polishes our 'genre-sensitive' lens to help us detect changes that reveal genres embedded within other forms. This hermeneutical practice sheds light on layers of meaning within the world of the text that have thus far gone unnoticed. Brown is both clear and convincing."

David B. Capes, director, Lanier Theological Library

"A proper understanding of ancient genres is fundamental to biblical interpretation. But since each scriptural text consists of a variety of literary forms, the task of interpreters extends beyond merely identifying the characteristics of a single type of literature; readers must also account for the use of one genre in another. It is surprising, therefore, that this topic has received so little attention within modern scholarship. This book fills the lacuna perfectly, however. By carefully delineating the function and significance of embedded genres, Jeannine K. Brown has supplied readers of the New Testament with a valuable resource, one that brings fresh interpretive perspective to familiar texts."

Travis B. Williams, Tusculum University

The Author

  1. Jeannine K. Brown

    Jeannine K. Brown

    Jeannine K. Brown (PhD, Luther Seminary) is the David Price Professor of Biblical and Theological Foundations at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is the author of Scripture as Communication, The Gospels as Stories, two...

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