The World of the New Testament


There’s a new book coming out by Baker Academic called the World of the New Testament: The Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts. It’s written to introduce the Jewish + Hellenistic + Roman backgrounds necessary for understanding the New Testament + the early church. Contributors include scholars such as Lynn H. Cohick, David A. deSilva*, James D. G. Dunn, and Ben Witherington III*.


  • Historically accurate photographs and maps
  • Tables and charts
  • Introduction to Jewish, Hellenistic, and Roman history
  • A ton of pages, chapters, and loads of information to help make the text clearer. 


An excerpt I found from Baker Book House Church Connection’s blog on an essay by Lynn Cohick called “Women, Children, and Families in the Greco-Roman World”:
Paragraph 1: Details about the ease of illness in families, mothers, and especially children
Paragraph 2: Why it’s important to us

  • “Parents in the ancient world eagerly anticipated and were greatly anxious about the birth of their child. . . . The birth itself was fraught with danger for the mother and infant. . . . About 30-35 percent of all newborns did not survive their first month, and 50 percent of children died by the age of ten. . . . Young children’s diets were often lacking in nutrition, especially protein and vitamins A and D, contributing to the high death rate among children less than five years of age. (184-85)

    Why is this important to know? Here’s part of her conclusion:

    “Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother) and Mary the mother of Jesus likely faced their pregnancy and labor with some trepidation, knowing the dangers involved. . . . Statistics show that life was precarious, and Jesus’ healing of Jairus’s son (Luke 7:11-17) links his story to that fact. Notice that the parents welcome with great joy their restored children.” (186)

So the point of this book is for us to see why studying the context of the NT culture is be important. Just in the example of families and children, when Jesus taught outside and in homes, children would be present. Why was Jesus always healing children? Because children were always sick, and, if nothing else, the family found great joy in their children.

Context shows us what various practices meant back then (ex: baptism). 
Context shows us why letters were written (ex: to whom and why was the Gospel of John written?).
Context shows us how a topic  fits into the letter (ex: How does Romans 9-11 fit with the rest of the book?). 

I very much look forward to reading this book (if I ever get the chance). It like it will be a very good read.


  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (August 15, 2013)
  • Authors: Joel B. Green and Lee Marin McDonald
  • Amazon: The World of the New Testament

*DeSilva has also written an excellent books on the NT called Honor, Patronage, Kinship, & Purity and An Introduction to the New Testament (which I have read a good portion of at CCBCY). He’s very good at knowing and successfully explaining the historical context of the NT and it’s letters.

*Ben Witherington III has quite a few Socio-Rhetorical Commentaries of the NT letters. It’s roughly the same idea as DeSilva, just in his own unique way. Why does the letter say what it says? What is the current situation? Does the dating of a letter really matter to us today?

I’ve added the Table of Contents if you’re curious to know what’s in this book.

Table of Contents

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. New Testament Chronology

Part 1: Setting the Context: Exile and the Jewish Heritage

  • 3. Exile
  • 4. The Hasmoneans and the Hasmonean Era
  • 5. The Herodian Dynasty
  • 6. Monotheism
  • 7. The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation

Part 2: Setting the Context: Roman Hellenism

  • 8. Greek Religion
  • 9. The Imperial Cult
  • 10. Greco-Roman Philosophical Schools
  • 11. Civic and Voluntary Associations in the Greco-Roman World
  • 12. Economics, Taxes, and Tithes
  • 13. Slaves and Slavery in the Roman World
  • 14. Women, Children, and Families in the Roman World
  • 15. Education in the Greco-Roman World

Part 3: The Jewish People in the Context of Roman Hellenism

  • 16. Temple and Priesthood
  • 17. Jews and Samaritans
  • 18. Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes
  • 19. The Dead Sea Scrolls
  • 20. Prophetic Movements and Zealots
  • 21. Apocalypticism
  • 22. Synagogue and Sanhedrin
  • 23. Jews in the Diaspora
  • 24. Noncanonical Jewish Writings
  • 25. Jewish Identity, Beliefs, and Practices
  • 26. Jewish Education
  • 27. Healing and Health Care

Part 4: The Literary Context of Early Christianity

  • 28. Reading, Writing, and Manuscripts
  • 29. Pseudonymous Writings and the New Testament
  • 30. Literary Forms in the New Testament
  • 31. Homer and the New Testament
  • 32. Josephus and the New Testament
  • 33. Philo and the New Testament
  • 34. Rabbinic Literature and the New Testament
  • 35. Other Early Christian Writings

Part 5: The Geographical Context of the New Testament

  • 36. Jesus Research and Archeology
  • 37. Egypt
  • 38. Palestine
  • 39. Syria, Cilicia, and Cyprus
  • 40. The Province and Cities of Asia
  • 41. Galatia
  • 42. Macedonia
  • 43. Achaia
  • 44. Rome and Its Provinces

Additional Resources

  • Money in the New Testament Era
  • Measurements in the New Testament Era
  • Indexes

If you’ve read this far. Bless your heart. This book is big.

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