David deSilva (who hosts a blog here) has done the church a wonderful favor in writing An Introduction to the New Testament. Many NT introductions are the same. I own a few others (Tenney, Metzger, Geisler) and they have the usual date, authorship, summary, unit-by-unit structure. The Cradle, The Cross, and the Crown by Kostenberger, Kellum, and Quarles is very good. Though it takes a similar approach to the aforementioned books, they do a very good job at providing the reader with a solid, evangelical, updated resource on the NT. On the other hand, rather than taking a unit-by-unit approach, deSilva moves through the NT letters thematically, looking at what makes these letters so special. (My summarized Logos review can be found here, pictures included)
At 930 pages of readable material, to summarize a book this large is quite difficult. To balance between a thick-swamp approach and cotton-candy is difficult.
Chapter One is The New Testament as Pastoral Response. Here DeSilva seeks to bring the academy and a devotional reading of Scripture together. One seeks to “[understand] the text in relation to its historical context” while with a devotional reading, “hearing from God is the focus” (19). One sees the distance between the modern reader and the ancient text, the other sees the “accessibility of the Word for the worshiper” (20).
In working to bring these together, deSilva employs a socio-rhetorical method which accomplishes this purpose in four ways:
- Engages the text itself in detailed analysis,
- Examines the ways the text converses with other “texts” in its environment,
- Investigates the world that produced the text,
- Analyzes how the text affects that very world (24).
Vernon K Robbins uses the imagery of “a tapestry—many threads are interwoven together in a text to produce multiple textures that together provide us with a rich, three-dimensional understanding of the meaning and impact of the text we are studying” (24, emphasis mine). DeSilva calls these these “inner texture,” the threads which are woven together to make the text meaningful.
The Method and Its Purpose
This socio-rhetorical method looks at the author’s original wording, the meaning of the words, how these words create a unified letter, how the letter structure creates meaning, how each passage in the letter adds to the meaning, and how “a text persuades its readers or hearers to accept the values, behaviors or decisions it promotes” (this is last piece is rhetorical criticism, 24).
While this might sound complicated or boring, deSilva has already done the work. This book shows us the fruits of his labor. He believes that the New Testament came about as a pastoral response to believers who were trying to reconcile the Christian worldview with that of the secular, pagan worldview. Such questions would be similar to the ones given below.
- “How do we make sense of the world’s hostility toward the work of God, the alleged good news and the people of God?
- If we are God’s children, why do we face shame and marginalization? How are we to maintain self-respect in the face of dishonor?
- How should we relate to non-Christian family members? What effect does our commitment to obey Jesus have on our roles in the household?
- How should we interpret what we see going on around us every day—our neighbors’ continued devotion to the traditional religions, Roman imperial presence and propaganda, the economics of empire and province—so we won’t be drawn back into the life we left behind?” (31).
Chapter Two is about The Environment of Early Christianity. “When the Word became flesh, it did so within a rich matrix of social, cultural, political, economic and religious realities” (37). We need to take into consideration “how the Word spoke within the setting of its incarnation” (37). DeSilva guides the reader through some important developments of Judaism and Israel in the Intertestamental period, their Roman rulers and Jewish saviors, their writings (Septuagint and OT Apocrypha), how both the Torah and the Temple were at the center of the Jewish mindset, but also how there was diversity within Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Qumran community). Along with this is the question of how the monotheistic Jews and now Christians are supposed to follow the true God in the opposite world of Greco-Rome.
Chapter Three looks at The Cultural and Social Word of the Early Church. What set of values did the Roman Christians have vs the Jewish Christians. Just as we must figure out how to live with those from other countries (and other states), how did the new Christian believers relate to one another? Which actions were honorable and which were shameful? Here the reader will learn about patron and client relationships. What was the social expectance when a gift was given or received? What was a social faux pas?
Chapter Four takes a look at the four Gospels and Jesus. The reader will see what a Gospel is, why the Gospels were written, why there are four, and how they were handed down and reproduced. The final section looks at the quests for the historical Jesus and the lessons to be learned.
Chapters Five to Twenty Four cover the 27 NT letters. Chapter 11 is a prologue to Paul’s letters, covering a look at his encounter with Christ, his ministry to the Gentiles, and the challenges of studying his life (and letters). After Chapter 17 (Philemon) there is an Excursus titled Pseudepigrapha and the NT Canon.
Besides date, authorship, and the location the letter was written, deSilva looks at the themes of the NT letters. Some themes are
- The continuity of the church and the heritage of God’s people in Matthew (245)
- Who is the legitimate bearer of divine authority in Acts (357)
- The death of Jesus as the hour of glorification in John (427)
- Who is the heir of the divine promises? in Galatians (513)
- Human prowess or God’s power: What makes an effective minister? in 2 Corinthians (586)
There are plenty of sections in each book. A few from Hebrews are
- Honoring the divine Patron (792)
- Despising Shame (795)
- Reinterpreting experiences of disgrace (797)
- Nurturing a supportive faith community (798)
Exegetical Skill section
DeSilva’s gives attention to a “wide range of interpretive strategies that represent the major trends in scholarly study” of the NT. He includes “an extensive example of the exegetical strategy at work in a particular passage and offer suggestions for further exercises and study” (20).
These sections include topics such as
- Examining the Literary Context of Mark (218)
- Examining the repetition of words throughout Revelation (908).
- Word Studies and Lexical Analysis in Colossians and Ephesians (703).
Here deSilva gives a brief look at a confusing or interesting topic within a NT letter. These glances include
- Paul’s Use of the OT in 1 Corinthians (569).
- Which Old Testament Did the Author of Hebrews Use? (807)
- Preaching to the Spirits in Prison in 1 Peter (854).
Each chapter on a NT letter ends with a discussion on Ministry Formation. DeSilva’s book, with his “discussion of the message of each text, and… on how the text contributes to ministry formation” has a “distinctive focus on the church (from the local congregation to the global family of God) and the work of ministry (from the general ministry of all Christians to a variety of professional ministries)” (20). These texts are “formative and transformative” something that should not go unnoticed.
“These sections are intended
- to keep the reader mindful of the ways that careful study can connect with careful application…
- to stimulate thought and discussion about what I take to be the primary value and purpose of these texts—shaping faithful disciples, supportive communities of faith and ministry to the world” (21, emphasis mine).
If you’ve stuck with me this far, I highly recommend deSilva’s book. While not new, it’s only 11 years old and has plenty of information, both deep and accessible for both the scholar and the reader. DeSilva isn’t satisfied with a unit-by-unit approach which summarizes the NT letter for you without telling you what it means. DeSilva wants the 21st century church to be formed by the NT letters just as the 1st century church was, and this involves a knowledge of the culture leading up to the NT era, the social structure of the people in that era, and the how that comes through our NT letters. We can’t read the Bible and assume we’ll understand everything we read. It would be like reading the letters of WWII soldiers without knowing that they were writing in the middle of a war, without knowing there was a war at all! DeSilva is certainly well studied on the concept of honor and shame in the NT world (his dissertation covered that topic in Hebrews), and is a top Introduction to the NT pick for me.
- Hardcover: 975 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (May 8, 2004)
- Enemies in Philippi
- Money in the Gospel of Luke
- Approval in Matthew
- Mary, Martha, and the Good Portion
- Romans 7, Who Am I?
Buy it on Amazon!
[Special thanks to ThinkIVP for allowing me to review this! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]