New Testament Scholarship: 50 Books Everyone Should Read (Part 3: New Testament Background)

Today’s guest post is from Dr. Nijay K. Gupta, assistant professor of biblical theology and exegesis at Northeastern Seminary and author of several books, including Worship That Makes Sense to Paul, Prepare, Succeed, Advance, and Colossians for the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series. He blogs at www.cruxsolablog.com, and is joining us for a five-part series. See Part 1 (Gospels) and Part 2 (Paul).

When I was in seminary, I had a voracious appetite to better understand the world of Jesus and early Christianity. One of the first books that underscored for me the “Jewishness” of the New Testament is an edited volume (eds. John M. G. Barclay and J. P. Sweet) called Early Christian Thought in Its Jewish Context, which boasted such contributors as Andrew Chester, John Barclay, N. T. Wright, David Catchpole, C. K. Barrett, D. Moody Smith, E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, Graham Stanton, Peder Borgen, William Horbury, Christopher Roland, and Markus Bockmuehl. Few things are more enriching for your study of the New Testament than discovering how Christianity develops within and from reflection on the Old Testament and the Jewish world of the second temple period.

But that was not my first taste of early Christian history and context. I have to give that credit to F. F. Bruce’s New Testament Historya classic, though now I might recommend a more accessible text like Ben Witherington’s New Testament History: A Narrative Account.

One interest that has stuck with me over the last decade or so is that of the social value system of the Greco-Roman world and how it helps us makes sense of early Christian experiences, challenges, and communal life. In this area, you would do well to read David deSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture. Let me also mention his recent, outstanding book, The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James and Jude: What Early Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Before reading this book it never occurred to me that Jesus’ teachings may have been influenced by what he learned from his own teachers!

Next we have the eminent work of the great historian Martin HengelCrucifixion. This kind of detailed, historical study opens the eyes to the shame associated with Jesus’ particular death, and the scandal of the Christian allegiance to a crucified Lord.

Another “nonnegotiable” area of study for New Testament context is acquaintance with the Septuagint. And there is no better way to do so, in my experience, than Karen Jobes’ and Moises Silva’s Invitation to the Septuagint. I read it in seminary for a course on Jewish context and background of the New Testament, and it was required again in a postgraduate course at Durham on the Septuagint with Dr. Stuart Weeks and Prof. Loren Stuckenbruck. Prof. Hitzig famously said, “Do you have a Septuagint? If not, sell all you have, and go and buy yourself a Septuagint!” Well, I would add, pick up Jobes and Silva while you’re at it!

The work of Bruce Longenecker should be noted here as well. He has several books that successfully open up the world of the early Christians, but I would put at the top of the list his Lost Letters of Pergamum, a fictional story that puts St. Luke into conversation with a pagan who takes an interest in Christianity. It is the most fun you will ever have learning about New Testament history! If you want more Longenecker, check out his Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World.

Lastly, the apple must not have fallen far from the tree, because we end with the work of Bruce’s father, Richard Longenecker’s Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period. This was the book that opened my eyes to the cottage industry of biblical interpretation that was happening in the second temple Jewish period. I still regularly turn to this book for wisdom.

Next we’ll take a look at New Testament theology, ministry, and discipleship!

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Jonathan Watson
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Written by Jonathan Watson
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