An Introduction to the New Testamentby D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo
An Introduction to the New Testament focuses on "special introduction" that is historical questions dealing with authorship, date, sources, purpose, destination, and so forth. This approach stands in contrast to recent texts that concentrate more on literary form, rhetorical criticism, and historical parallels—topics the authors don’t minimize, but
An Introduction to the New Testament focuses on "special introduction" that is historical questions dealing with authorship, date, sources, purpose, destination, and so forth. This approach stands in contrast to recent texts that concentrate more on literary form, rhetorical criticism, and historical parallels—topics the authors don’t minimize, but instead think are better given extended treatment in exegesis courses. By refocusing on the essentials, An Introduction to the New Testament ensures that the New Testament books will be accurately understood within historical settings. For each New Testament document, the authors also provide a substantial summary of that book’s content, discuss the book’s theological contribution to the overall canon, and give an account of current studies on that book, including recent literary and social-science approaches to interpretation. This second edition reflects significant revision and expansion from the original, making this highly acclaimed text even more valuable. • A new chapter provides a historical survey examining Bible study method through the ages. • The chapter on Paul has been expanded to include an analysis of debates on the “new perspective.” • The discussion of New Testament epistles has been expanded to form a new chapter. This new edition will help a new generation of students better grasp the message of the New Testament.
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An Introduction to the New Testament---Second Edition
People have been reading and studying the New Testament for as long as its documents have been in existence. Even before all twenty-seven canonical New Testament books were written, some found the interpretation of the available documents more than a little challenging (see the comment of 2 Pet. 3:15--16
regarding Paul). A distance of two millennia, not to mention changes of language,
culture, and history, have not made the task any easier. The torrential outpouring of commentaries, studies, and essays across the centuries, all designed to explain---or in some cases, explain away---the New Testament documents,
makes the task both easier and harder. It is easier because there are many good and stimulating guides; it is harder because the sheer volume of the material, not to mention its thoroughly mixed nature and, frequently, its mutually contradictory content, is profoundly daunting to the student just beginning New Testament study.
This chapter 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. The student setting out to come to terms with contemporary study of the New Testament must suddenly confront a bewildering array of new disciplines (e.g., text criticism, historical criticism, hermeneutics), the terminology of new tools (e.g., form criticism, redaction criticism, discourse analysis,
postmodern readings), and key figures (e.g., F. C. Baur, J. B. Lightfoot, E. P.
Sanders). Students with imagination will instantly grasp that they do not pick up
New Testament scrolls as they were dropped from an apostolic hand; they pick up a bound sheaf of documents, printed, and probably in translation. Moreover,
the text itself is something that believers and unbelievers alike have been studying and explaining for two millennia.
The aim here, then, is to provide enough of a framework to make the rest of this textbook, and a lot of other books on the New Testament, a little easier to understand.
Thinking about the
Study of the New
PASSING ON THE TEXT
At the beginning of his gospel, Luke comments that 'many others' had already undertaken to write accounts of Jesus (Luke 1:1--4). Although some scholars have argued that there was a long period of oral tradition before anything substantial about Jesus or the early church was written down, the evidence is against such a stance: the world into which Jesus was born was highly literate.1 From such a perspective, the existence of the documents that make up the New Testament canon is scarcely surprising.
These documents were originally hand-written on separate scrolls. There is very good evidence that the writing was in capital letters, without spaces, and with very little punctuation. Printing was still almost a millennium and a half away, so additional copies were made by hand. In theory, this could be done by professional copiers: in a scriptorium, one man would read at dictation speed,
several scribes would take down his dictation, and another would check each copy against the original, often using ink of a different color to make the corrections.
This kind of professional multiplying of copies was labor-intensive and therefore expensive. Most early Christian copies of the New Testament were doubtless done by laypeople eager to obtain another letter by Paul or a written account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That brought the price down: Christians were investing their own time to make their own copies, and they were not having to pay large sums to professional scribes.
On the other hand, the private copy made by an eager and well-meaning layperson was likely to include more transcriptional errors than copies made and checked in a scriptorium.
How the New Testament canon came together is briefly discussed in the final chapter of this book. For the moment it is sufficient to observe that as the numbers of copies of New Testament documents multiplied, three formal changes were soon introduced. First, the scroll gave way to the codex, that is, to a book bound more or less like a modern book, which enabled readers to look up passages very quickly without having to roll down many feet of scroll. Second,
increasingly (though certainly not exclusively) the capital letters (scholars call them 'uncials') gave way to cursive scripts that were messier but much more quickly written. And third, because the early church, even within the Roman
Empire, was made up of highly diverse groups, it was not long before the New
Testament, and in fact the whole Bible, was translated into other languages.
These 'versions' of the Bible (as translations are called) varied widely in quality.2
There were no copyright laws and no central publishing houses, so there were soon numerous Latin versions, Syriac versions, and so forth, as individuals or local churches produced what seemed necessary for their own congregations.
Today the printing press churns out thousands of identical copies. When each copy is written by hand, however, if the work is of substantial length, each copy will be a little different than all others because the accidental mistakes introduced by successive copying will not all congregate in the same place. The challenge of producing a copy that is perfectly true to the original soon multiplies. A
slightly later Christian, making a copy of a copy, spots what he judges to be mistakes in the manuscript before him and corrects them in his fresh copy. Unfortunately,
however, it is possible that some things he thought were mistakes were actually in the original. For instance, it is well known that there are many grammatical anomalies in the book of Revelation. The reason for this is disputed; there are three major theories and several minor ones. But a later copyist might well have thought that errors had been introduced by intervening copyists and 'corrected'
them to 'proper' grammar---thereby introducing new errors.
Two further 'accidents' of history and geography have helped to determine just what material has come down to us. First, just as the Roman Empire divided between East and West (stemming from the decision of Emperor Constantine to establish an eastern capital in what came to be called Constantinople), so also did the church. In the West, because it was not only the official language of
Rome but also tended in time to squeeze out Greek as the lingua franca, Latin soon predominated in the church. Initially, there were many Latin versions, but toward the end of the fourth century, Damasus, Bishop of Rome, commissioned
Jerome to prepare an official Latin version that would be widely distributed and sometimes imposed throughout the churches of the West. This Latin version,
revised several times, became the Vulgate, which held sway in the West for a millennium. By contrast, Greek dominated in the East, in what eventually became the Byzantine Empire. Inevitably, Greek manuscripts were used and copied much more often under this linguistic heritage than in the West, until
Constantinople fell to the Muslim Turks in 1453. Many Eastern scholars then fled West, bringing their Greek manuscripts with them---a development that helped to fuel both the Reformation and the Renaissance.
Second, the material on which ancient books were written (i.e., their equivalent of paper) decomposed more readily in some climates than in others. The most expensive books were made of parchment, treated animal skin. Higher quality parchment was called vellum. More commonly, books were made of papyrus, a plant that grew plentifully in the Nile Delta. Papyrus has the constituency of celery or rhubarb. Long strips could be peeled off, pounded, and glued together to make sheets.
Meet the Author
D. A. Carson (Ph D, Cambridge University) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where he has taught since 1978. He is co-founder (with Tim Keller) of the Gospel Coalition, and has written or edited nearly 60 books. He has served as a pastor and is an active guest lecturer in church and academic settings around the world.
Douglas J. Moo (Ph D, University of St. Andrews) is the Kenneth T. Wessner Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. His work centers on understanding the text of the New Testament and its application today. He has written extensively in several commentary series, including the NIV Application Commentary, Pillar Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, and the New International Commentary on the New Testament.
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While I agree with the others that this book is great for an in-depth study of the New Testament, it was a little too much for an introductory course. I am a little confused why the title has the word "Introduction" in it because it is much more than that. I took my first Seminary Class at Liberty from January-March 2010 and this was one of the required readings. I am not going to lie though, because I did not do much reading from this book. I am a slow-reader to begin with because I feel when I read too fast that I do not absorb the information and this book was way too long for me to even begin to have enough time to read all of it. It is a really great resource for me though if I ever have questions about the New Testament in the future. I believe I will use this book as more of a reference than reading it straight through.
I'm doing research for the formation of the NT canon, and this book has been a great tool for a brief survey on the subject. It is very fair to the historical realities, and does not come across as bias or ill-reasoned.