Students and pastors should have a few really good introductions to the New Testament in their personal library. The good news is that there are lots to choose from. But with such a wide selection comes questions about preferred academic level, theological distinctives, methodological preferences, and “best bang for your buck.”
Basic Level Introductions (best for undergraduate)
Mark Allan Powell, Introducing the New Testament (Baker; 2nd ed). Powell has produced what many consider the best concise introduction to the New Testament. Powell is an excellent scholar and a masterful writer. He finely balances historical, literary, and theological material with a dash of reception studies thrown in for good measure. Powell is ecumenical, but his introduction is “evangelical-friendly.” The icing on the cake—it is a beautifully designed book with lots of full-color images.
Gary Burge and Gene Green, The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within Its Cultural Contexts (Zondervan; 2nd ed). As the title suggests, this introduction focuses on background and context while not neglecting the major elements of content and meaning in the New Testament. When I teach NT, I like to have an introduction that is more theological than this one, but it makes for a handy reference resource with gorgeous color images to illustrate the ancient world.
David Wenham, Steve Walton, I. Howard Marshall, Stephen Travis, and Ian Paul, Exploring the New Testament (2 vols; SPCK/IVP, 2016). This two-volume set (~700 pages total) from UK scholars offers an excellent introduction from notable experts in their respective fields. This set is especially helpful for courses where Gospels/Acts is one course and Paul and other NT texts are another.
Own it: Powell
Detailed Introductions (best for seminary/grad level)
I regularly turn to my more in-depth introductions for refreshers and guidance on a variety of issues related to book outlines, key critical issues, and theological themes.
David deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (IVP, 2nd ed). I recently taught NT Introduction and gladly used deSilva’s excellent textbook. It is up to date, well-written, comprehensive, and leans into spiritual formation and ministry questions. It is massive (~900 pp.) but well worth the investment for a reference tool. I would assign it again without hesitation.
Luke Timothy Johnson, Writings of the New Testament (Fortress Press, 2010). Johnson, a Catholic biblical scholar, has written commentaries across the whole New Testament. It is rare to find a scholar so proficient in Jesus studies, Acts, Paul, and the Catholic Epistles. He is also a fresh thinker, willing to challenge the status quo of biblical scholarship. This deserves to be called a “modern classic.”
Paul Achtemeier, Joel B. Green, and Marianne Meye Thompson, Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology (Eerdmans, 2001). This is one of the more academically-rigorous textbooks on this list. The authors are major contributors to New Testament studies in their respective fields. The one downside of this book is that it is almost two decades old now.
I wanted to make sure to mention the new textbook from N. T. Wright and Michael F. Bird called The New Testament in Its World (Zondervan, 2019). I have not read this book cover to cover, but I did consult on a couple of chapters in production, and I found it very helpful. Even if you already have a NT introduction, there is no reason not to pick this one up as well, as you have the wise teachings and perspectives of two excellent scholars. And Zondervan has made this giant book affordable.
For you die-hard armchair scholars, I thought I would throw in a couple of classics.
Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (Anchor Yale). At times, the twenty-first-century reader can sense that Brown’s introduction comes from a previous era of scholarship. And yet, much of his work—especially his questions about the New Testament and its meaning—stands up over time. This is a keeper.
Ralph Martin and Carl N. Toney, New Testament Foundations (Cascade). Martin’s original New Testament Foundations dates back to the 1970s (if you have the old hardcover, the cover design is a dead giveaway of its era!). Toney has updated this classic to be readable and available to a new generation today.
Nijay Gupta (PhD, University of Durham) is associate professor of New Testament at Portland Seminary. He is a prolific author and a regular contributor to theLAB.