Biblical Studies

Book Review: An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (David deSilva)

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book review David desilva an introduction to the new testament second (2nd) edition

David deSilva has revised my favorite New Testament Introduction, and I wanted to review it again and give it a bit more promotion. As he says in his preface, deSilva has updated some paragraphs, rewritten others, taken some things out, expanded some sections or chapters (“Four Gospels One Jesus”), taken a lot more pictures, and left some sections (John’s Gospel) alone (mostly). It has been almost 15 years since his first edition came out, and deSilva’s knowledge and theology has been tweaked in different places and it is reflected throughout his book.

The biggest change you will find is i the book’s new color scheme and in all of the photos is now has. The original cover was quite bland (see below), there were few pictures, and the whole book was in black-and-white. Now the book cover has been changed, every photos is now in color, and the Ministry Formation, Exegetical Skill, and other sections and Excursuses are in a pink, orange, or purple box (that is, not gray). The font has been changed so that it is easier to read. It’s also been tightened up so that, somehow, the book is 100 pages shorter than before. The book is also a lot thinner than before (and not just because there are 100 fewer pages). Overall, it’s much more pleasing to look at than before, and it looks less daunting to dig into.

I reviewed the first edition in great detail than I will here. If you want to know about the book contents, you can read about that here. I will try to summarize the book in this review.

Rather than going through each NT book section-by-section, deSilva moves through them thematically, looking at what makes these letters so special. DeSilva seeks to bring together scholarship and devotional readings of Scripture. One seeks to “[understand] the text in relation to its historical context” while with a devotional reading, “hearing from God is the focus” (xix). One sees the distance between the modern reader and the ancient text, the other sees the “accessibility of the Word for the worshiper” (xix).

Social Rhetoric

In working to bring these together, deSilva employs a socio-rhetorical method which accomplishes this purpose in four ways:

  1. He engages the text itself in detailed analysis,
  2. He examines the ways the text converses with other “texts” in its environment,
  3. He investigates the world that produced the text,
  4. He analyzes how the text affects that very world.

While this sounds very scholarly, think about it like this: I’m from South Louisiana. People think about certain subjects in certain ways. We think about fishing and seafood differently than someone from Kansas would. We think about schooling and religion different than people from Seattle or New York City. To understand how someone from Boston thinks, I need to go to Boston and meet those people. I need to talk with them, read what they read, and get to know them. That’s at least easy enough to do because they are alive. More difficult would be if I moved to china or India. Both countries are so culturally and socially different that I would be foolish to think that I would just fit in without experiencing and culture shock or misunderstandings. One must be culturally aware so as not to offend people.

Or imagine reading the letters of WWII soldiers without knowing that they were writing in the middle of a war, or without knowing there was a war at all! What they say would make no sense unless we understand that there was a war between many other countries. The more we understand about the history and timing of WWII, the more we can understand the depth of the words in those letters.

In order to understand how the NT authors thought about life in Christ, DeSilva goes to the Bible first, and then he enters their world through the writings of that period. For example, how should a twenty-first century reader understand Paul’s lists of putting of the old man and putting on the new man—a list of vices and virtues? DeSilva reads what other Greco-Roman authors say about vices and virtues. Paul would be thinking about vices and virtues in a similar way, only Paul says that we are to pursue godly virtues because we are in Christ, the Son of God. We don’t pursue virtues to be “good” people, but because, as sons of God, we image God to the world around us, and we do it through right actions.

While this might sound complicated, deSilva has already done much of the work for us, and this book shows us the fruits of his labor. He believes: 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?” (3).

Quick Summary

Chapter two and three look at the history leading up to the NT, the cultural and social life of those in the NT times (honor-shame, patron-client relationships), how both the Torah and the Temple were at the center of the Jewish mindset, and how there was diversity within Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Qumran community).

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. 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 (219)
  • Who is the legitimate bearer of divine authority in Acts (313)
  • The death of Jesus as the hour of glorification in John (370)
  • Who is the heir of the divine promises? in Galatians (447, cf. 451)
  • The Law: Catalyst For Sin or Divine Remedy? in Romans (552)

Ministry Formation

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)” (xx). These texts are “formative and transformative”—something that should not go unnoticed.

“These sections are intended

  1. to keep the reader mindful of the ways that careful study can connect with careful application
  2. 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” (xx, emphasis mine).

Recommended?

DeSilva’s Introduction is deep and accessible for both the scholar and the reader. He 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 automatically understand everything we read. This is not basic, but it is beneficial. It is deep and very well worth your time.

If you have the first edition, there is not much that is so different and rewritten that you need to go out and buy this one (except that this volume looks so much better). Sell the first edition and buy this one. If you don’t have either edition, skip Starbucks this month and buy this.

Lagniappe

  • Author: David A. deSilva
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (2018)
  • Read the Press Kit
  • Read a 108-page Sample (preface, introduction, chapters one and two, and an excursus on pseudepigraphy)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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