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A review of Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology. Paul Achtemeier, Joel Green And Marianne Meye Thompson.

Feb 5, 2003

Eerdmans, 2001.

There have been a number of helpful New Testament introductions written for the Evangelical community, including the older volume by Guthrie and the newer work by Carson, Moo and Morris. And there have been many fine NT theologies as well. Volumes by Ladd, Caird and Guthrie, among others, have served the Evangelical community well.

This new volume offers a bit of both worlds: introductory matters, as well as theological concerns. Written for students and lay people, it will serve as a good intermediary text. Advanced students may find it wanting in areas, but it does offer, if in brief form, some of the latest scholarship on the NT.

The three authors all teach interpretation at American seminaries. They have all produced a number of outstanding works on aspects of the NT. Green for example has authored the well received New International Commentary on Luke; Meye Thompson wrote on 1-3 John for the IVP New Testament Commentary Series, and Achtemeier did the Hermeneia commentary on 1 Peter.

This volume is especially good on Jesus and the Gospels. Indeed, along with sections on introductory matters and Acts, it takes up the first half of the book. The remainder of the book offers brief chapters on the other 22 books of the New testament. Each chapter concludes with a short bibliography of recent works, usually half of which are commentaries.

The chapters highlight the usual concerns: matters of authorship and historical setting, theological themes and literary issues. Photos, maps and supplementary text blocks all contribute to a highly usable and informative volume.

The study is neither too technical nor too detailed to be lost on a lay person or beginning student. Yet it is scholarly and up-to-date enough to be of use to more advanced students as well. As with all theological works, there will be some areas of disagreement.

For example, since none of the three authors comes from a Reformed perspective (not that they need to), there are areas in which one might beg to differ. Perhaps the most obvious example of this arises in the chapter on Romans. One passage in which quite a lot of ink has been spilled is Romans 7 and the identity of the “I” who struggles with sin.

While a number of options present themselves, many argue that Paul is describing his own experience as a  believer (and by implication that of all other believers). Pick up any ten good commentaries on Romans, and perhaps as many as half will argue this position. Yet in this volume the authors simply dismiss such an interpretation as “impossible”.

One would have thought that careful scholars such as Cranfield, Murray, and Dunn, for example, would not embark upon such impossible hermeneutical assignments!

But leaving aside the occasional theological quibble, this volume well serves its purpose as an introductory text on basic NT matters. Others may go into more background detail (such as the volume by Carson, Moo and Morris, or more fully examine the theological or literary aspects (Ladd, or Caird – in addition to his NT Theology, see his invaluable Language and Imagery of the Bible), but this volume will fill a niche and should enjoy a long run with students of the NT.

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