Most Important Background Features to Study the NT

I am in the throes of lecture prep for the fall term. I am currently working on my lecture on the Jewish and Greco-Roman background and context of the New Testament.

There is obviously a lot that could be said, and textbooks often cover quite a lot of ground. However, if you have only one hour to introduce uninitiated students to the salient events, ideas, and issues that “set” the New Testament period, what would they be?

If you had to choose five issues or subjects to talk about in one hour (regarding the background of the NT), what would they be?

(Full disclosure: I have in mind a few things, I have done lectures like these before, and I taught a course on Early Judaism last year, but I am trying to start fresh and make sure I separate the wheat from the chaff in this lecture)

BTW – I am currently reading (and enjoying) Warren Carter’s Seven Events That Shaped the NT World (Baker, 2013). I am enjoying it, but it has not been as satisfying as I had hoped. I will have a proper review of it coming soon!

JSNT September 2013 now online

What looks to be another enticing set of article in JSNT.

John Anthony Dunne “Suffering in Vain: A Study of the Interpretation of ΠΑΣΧΩ in Galatians 3.4”

Allan T. Georgia “Translating the Triumph: Reading Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative against a Roman Ritual of Power”

Wendy E.S. North “‘Lord, if you had been here …’ (John 11.21): The Absence of Jesus and Strategies of Consolation in the Fourth Gospel”

Walter T. Wilson “The Uninvited Healer: Houses, Healing and Prophets in Matthew 8.1-22”

Thomas Schmeller “No Bridge over Troubled Water? The Gap between 2 Corinthians 1–9 and 10–13 Revisited”

Craig R. Koester “Rethinking the Ethics of John: A Review Article”

Janet Soskice video lecture on Augustine

Can’t wait to listen to Janet Soskice teach on Augustine in this sample video. The two parts  combined amount to nearly an hour of instruction. There are several other wonderful videos (samples) from St. Johns Nottingham’s timeline project. I recommend, especially, the ones on Luther, Bonhoeffer, and the OT/NT.

I tend to listen to them while I cook. I would consider buying the whole set of lectures (by various scholars in church history, theology, and Biblical studies), but apparently the project has not been completed. I do appreciate these bits of lectures, several of which I assign students to watch.Enjoy!

Scottish Journal of Theology 66.3 (Aug 2013)

The latest issue of the Scottish Journal of Theology has been published online. The ToC is listed below. For this issue, I wrote a review on the lecture collection by E. Kaesemann called On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene. It is an inspiration read (the book, not my review!), if you are interested.


“Ezekiel’s Awkward God: Atheism, Idolatry and the Via Negativa” (Andrew Mein)

“The ‘Sophiological’ Origins of Vladimir Lossky’s Apophaticism” (Brandon Gallaher)

“Actualism and Beauty: Karl Barth’s Insistence on the Auch in his Account of Divine Beauty” (William T. Barnett”

“‘An Extraordinarily Acute Embarrassment’: The Doctrine of Angels in Barth’s Göttingen Dogmatics” (Donald Wood)

“Christological Foundations for an Ecological Ethic: Learning from Bonhoeffer” (Benjamin J. Burkholder)

Witherington’s Invitation to the New Testament (Review)

Recent months and years have seen the production of some fine introductions to the New Testament (Powell, Boring, Hagner). Perhaps one that did not make it on the radar of many folks is Ben Witherington’s Oxford University Press textbook entitled Invitation to the New Testament: First Things (2013).

I think this text is aptly titled, because it is not so much a survey of the New Testament, but more of an orientation to the New Testament. In over 400pp, Witherington does get through every book (though some get very brief treatment), but his overall goal is giving folks a good sense of what’s going in the New Testament and how to read and understand its composition, background history, and theological content responsibly.

The first thing any reader will notice is the visuals in this book – in full color, it is stuffed with gorgeous photographs, sketches, and artistic flourishes. It is organized historically, beginning with background information, then the historical Jesus, then the Gospels (beginning with Mark), then Paul, then the later NT texts, and the final chapter considers the canon itself. The appendix includes a discussion of the Synoptic problem and “Q.” Each chapter ends with a few items for “Further Reading” as well as a series of “Study Questions.” In the bibliographies, you will see names like Gorman, Bruce Longenecker, Keener, Bock, Luke Timothy Johnson, deSilva, Bauckham, and, of course, Witherington. These short reading lists are a goldmine for busy students who need a quick suggestion for further reference.

The acknowledgement reveals that the textbook was “field-tested” by several teachers, including David deSilva, Craig Blomberg, Craig Evans, Todd Still, and Darrell Bock.

I will be perfectly honest with you: I am always impressed with how lucid and cogent are Witherington’s explanations and arguments. He has a way with words and his knowledge of the New Testament is hard to match. One might find his emphasis on wisdom in the Gospels overdrawn, or his estimation of a “rhetorical” approach to Paul’s letters excessively high, but otherwise I was humbled by this textbook – he is a gifted teacher and highly capable scholar.

One sticky area for any author of such a textbook is handling of the authorship of the Pastorals and the General Epistles. You might know that Witherington leans on the conservative end (as I do), but he doesn’t argue that Paul wrote all 13 letters himself. For the Pastorals, he entertains the possibility (in his opinion, likelihood) that they were “penned” by Luke, with Paul’s permission. He does an admirable job, in such a short space, making his case.

Who would use this book? I think undergrad theology/religion/Bible majors appear to be the primary target. Also, this would  work well in an advanced church group. I really appreciate that Witherington knows what questions are on the minds of modern readers of the NT (particularly evangelicals). If you are looking for a reliable guide to “First Things” in the New Testament, look no further!

The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy (Review)

Greetings from Rochester, NY! I am blogging for the first time from my office desk at Northeastern Seminary (of Roberts Wesleyan College). So, now that I am getting more settled in, I hope to post regularly.

Part of my summer reading has been Mary Healy’s commentary on Mark in the new series “Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture.” While one might have a hard time justifying “yet another” commentary series, this one fits an important niche and the editors (as well as Baker) are to be commended for an attractive and user-friendly design to the volumes.

What makes this commentary series unique? The editors and authors are all dedicated Catholics. As the editorial preface notes, “Since Vatican Council II, there has been an increasing hunger among Catholics to study Scripture in depth and in a way that reveals its relationship to liturgy, evangelization, catechesis, theology, and personal and communal life” (11). The preferred translation is the NAB.

In the commentary itself, after the translation is given, below is listed relevant OT and NT passages to the text, as well as references to the Catholic Catechism and the Lectionary. The latter material, in particular, is quite handy for Catholics, I would imagine. Photographs relevant to the text are scattered throughout the book. There are two kinds of sidebars: historical explanations (“Biblical Background”) and information related to Catholic theology (“Living Tradition”).

One might think these commentaries are written exclusively for Catholics. That is not the case. I found the “Living Tradition” sidebars very insightful for those who are not well acquainted with Catholic tradition.

It should be noted that this series appears to be more “devotional” than “academic.” Certainly a lot of academic work has been put into the commentary, but the comments and discussions in the commentary seem to be pitched towards priests and laypeople. I think this is wonderful – I can imagine study groups of Catholics with their Bibles and commentaries. Very inspiring.

Now, what about Healy’s work on Mark? Her approach is essentially a literary-theological one. She rarely comments on “Synoptic” issues and historical matters (aside from the sidebars). She knows the text of Mark very well, and explains what needs to be explained. Here are some of my highlights:

On the Kingdom of God: “Jesus’ announcement that the kingdom is at hand suggests both a present and a future quality, like a sunrise below the horizon. The kingdom is already present, embodied in Jesus’ own person. Indeed, throughout his ministry it will become evident that the ‘foreign occupation’ of sin, Satan, disease, and death is being overthrown. Yet the kingdom is incipient and partly veiled; like seeds sown in the ground, it will keep growing until it reaches its consummation (4:26-29)” (p. 41)

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit: “In the context of this passage [3:28-29] it is to harden one’s heart so completely that one defiantly refuses to recognize the action of God and even attributes to evil the good works done by Jesus in the power of the Spirit” (78)

Feeding of the Five Thousand: “In contrast to the opulent Herodian banquet just recounted (6:14-30), which ended in a death, here Jesus feeds ordinary people with very simple fare, leading to life” (126)

Jesus’ Criticism of Human Tradition: “it is crucial to note that Jesus is not rejecting tradition per se, which becomes an important term in the early Church for the handing on of authoritative apostolic teaching (1 Cor 11:2, 23; 2 Thess 3:6). Rather, he is rejecting merely human traditions that are not based on God’s word, that in fact negate the intent of God’s word” (137); “Indeed, the formation of the canon of Scripture was itself an exercise of apostolic tradition” (138)

Lord” “She [the Syrophoenician woman] is the only person in Mark who addresses Jesus as Lord” (144)

Confession of Peter: “Peter’s confession of faith is the turning point in the Gospel. It is a breakthrough, a burst of light, symbolized by the healing of the blind man just recounted” (159).

Lines from Holy Cross Sunday Antiphon: “Today the ranks of angels dance with gladness at the veneration of Thy Cross, Christ, Thou hast shattered the hosts of devils and saved mankind. The Church has been revealed as a second Paradise, having within it, like the first Paradise of old, a tree of life, Thy Cross, O Lord. By touching it we share in immortality”

Sky turning dark at crucifixion: “Ultimately the imagery of heavenly chaos-a kind of undoing of God’s work of creation (see Gen 1:14-18)- points to the end of the world.” (268)

While I did not find every little interpretive move or argument convincing, overall the commentary is elegantly lucid and edifying. Should lovers of Mark buy this? Personally, it was nice to have a devotional commentary for my own growth. There are some nice quotable bits (like ones I mentioned above). For academic commentaries, get ahold of France and Marcus. But, certainly libraries should subscribe to this series.