Introducing the New Testament: A Short Guide to Its History and Message
D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, Introducing the New Testament: A Short Guide to Its History and Message, ed. Andrew D. Naselli. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. $12.99 pap. 169 pp. ISBN 978-0-310-29149-7.
Inasmuch as major recent systematic and New Testament theologies have been dramatically abridged for use at more introductory levels, one might ask why New Testament introductions, also usually large tomes, have never yet been abridged. Now one doesn’t have to ask. Andy Naselli, Don Carson’s research assistant, who recently completed his New Testament Ph.D. with Carson, has produced one. One of the most standard, up-to-date and reliable evangelical textbooks for seminarians may now be used with great profit by many laypersons, almost all college freshmen and bright high school students.
Chapters average about six or seven pages each. Introductions to the study of the New Testament, the Synoptic Gospels, New Testament letters and Paul combine with one chapter for each New Testament book (except for the two Corinthian epistles, the two Thessalonian letters, the Pastorals, and the three letters of John, each of which forms one chapter per group of letters). A typical sequence of subsections treats the contents in a prose outline form. Next come “who, where, when, to whom and why” questions of authorship, provenance, dating, audience and purpose. Last appears a brief listing of theological contributions, followed by questions for review and a very select bibliography, usually parceled out into introductory, intermediate and/or advanced categories, typically with no more than one to three items per category. The format is not followed woodenly, however. Where little is known, two or three of the introductory topics may be combined together. Where special problems like the genre or unity of the volume come under repeated scrutiny, extra relevant subsections interpose themselves.
Naselli has been remarkably judicious in what he has chosen to preserve, given how much he had to leave out. One might have hoped for a sentence about the possibility of a lost ending of Mark to go with the discussion of the longer and shorter endings. In listing the options for who Theophilus might have been, it would have been good to include the meaning of his name—”lover of God”—to explain why it could have been used as an alias. The running description of the contents of John simply omits any mention of 7:53-8:11, rather than cross-referencing the later discussion of the account of the woman caught in adultery, as Naselli does with the other big textually suspect passage—the end of Mark. In dating John’s Gospel to the 80s to allow enough time to elapse before the changed circumstances of the Johannine letters, it would be helpful to locate those circumstances as specifically occurring in the 90s. “The cross” looks odd on a list of Johannine emphases, especially without any mention of his distinctive view of “lifting up” as exaltation. Under works that some label pseudepigraphical, James and Jude need to be added. In either the discussion of pseudonymity or in the treatment of the Pastorals, the concept behind I. H. Marshall’s distinctive theory of “allonymity” would be most useful to present. One might have expected a brief reference to Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews from Rome in 49 with their return beginning in 54 as important background for Paul’s missive to the Romans. And an interpretation of Hebrews 12:4 as suggesting a pre-64 date for Hebrews is usually standard in conservative treatments.
But these are mere quibbles. Indeed, in one or two instances where developments or emphases have proved quite recent, Naselli may not have been given the freedom to add something not already in the larger “Carson and Moo.” Overall, for one still working on his doctorate, the results are extraordinary. When so many books of this length and scope are written by individuals other than New Testament scholars not fully abreast with the state-of-the-art, here is a remarkably trustworthy volume that can function in the same way—for Sunday school teachers, small group leaders and individuals engaged in their own personal Bible study. As in the parent volume, traditional ascriptions of authorship are all affirmed, standard conservative dates provided, and the main themes are identified as they actually emerge from the books themselves, not according to some prior theological system imposed on the texts. The volumes for further reference are extremely well chosen, notwithstanding a disproportionate percentage of my own books emerging, especially in light of how few are singled out for special mention at all!
I caught a very few typos. The revised entry on Mark in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary should be listed as not just by Walter Wessel but also by Mark Strauss, and the volume spans only Matthew and Mark, not also Luke. John 5:1-7:53 in the prose outline of the Fourth Gospel should read 7:52 instead. In the chart of probable dates of New Testament documents correlated with Paul’s life, Luke is curiously put just after Acts. But such errata are very few and far between.
The next time someone says they’d love to glean the gist of a major New Testament introduction without having to wade through all the many competing theories and data supporting each, here is a book to place immediately in their hands. It should receive a wide distribution and even wider usage.
Craig Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament