Monday, July 08, 2013

Book Review: A Quick Introduction To the New Testament

Another little Kindle freebie from a while ago, I picked up this Quick Introduction to the New Testament because it was by Don Carson and Douglas Moo. The title page tells me that it's an excerpt from An Introduction to the New Testament, just a little section of a much bigger book (which may well also be on my bookshelf, but hasn't been read yet).

To be honest, I was slightly disappointed with this book. I had imagined and expected that it would be an introduction to each of the books of the New Testament, a little sampler to whet the appetite and help the reader to learn more about the books that make it up. That's not what the book is, though. Rather, it's more an introduction to the academic study of the New Testament:

'This introduction provides little more than a surface history of a selection of the people, movements, issues, and approaches that have shaped the study of the New Testament.'

Along the way, there is a brief discussion on how we got the New Testament written down and passed along, including the textual evidence for the authenticity of what we hold in our hands today:

'There are about five thousand manuscripts or parts of manuscripts (some of them mere fragments) of all or part of the Greek New Testament, and about eight thousand manuscripts or parts of manuscripts of versions.' This, the authors note, means that 'of all the works that have come down to us from the ancient world, the New Testament is the most amply attested in textual evidence' - compared to the Annals by Tacitus or the works of Euripides.

From there, the authors move on to textual criticism, as scholars seek to discern and decide between the variants that have inevitably arisen through hand written copies of the text. Yet we should not be worried: 'The overwhelming majority of the text of the Greek New Testament is firmly established. Where uncertainties remain, it is important to recognize that in no case is any doctrinal matter at issue.'

Another major section focuses on longstanding interpretive traditions. This presents 'a highly selective summary of a handful of important people and movements that proved influential in the interpretation of the New Testament and some small indication of the impact of the New Testament documents in history.' These people include Ireneaus, Walter Bauer, the Jesus Seminar, the schools of Alexandria and Antioch, Athanasius and Chrysostom, Augustine, Anslem, Abelard, and many others. This then leads to the rise of biblical theology, with lots of interesting details and discussions. From there, the focus shifts to historical criticism, literary tools and the impact of postmodernism.

AS I've said, it wasn't the book I thought I was getting to read, but I'm glad I did read it. This is a good summary of the flow of thought about the New Testament over the past two millenia and as such will help theological students to put the pieces and names together to get the full picture. It's primary audience is the student, but many other interested readers may also benefit from the work of Carson and Moo.

I'm terribly sorry if you're interested in reading this - it's now no longer available on the Amazon Kindle store. The fuller work it's taken from, though, is still available from Amazon.

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