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Starting to study the NT

01 May 2015

John Court considers a new guide to the basics


Introducing the New Testament
Henry Wansbrough
Bloomsbury £18.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.10

HENRY WANSBROUGH scarcely needs introduction for readers of the Church Times: a Benedictine monk from Ampleforth, formerly Master of St Benet's Hall, Oxford, and currently Professor of Biblical Studies at Liverpool Hope University. A work like the present introduction probably represents a distillation of years of his teaching experience.

This book is designed quite unashamedly as a textbook, modelled on his own experience of studies as a young monk. "First he read the chapter on a Book of the Bible, then the Book itself, and then finally the introductory chapter again, to see what he had missed." The present textbook is structured in five parts, each concluded by a set of questions on the content and its implications.

Within this framework, the first part lays the groundwork by discussing preliminaries: why read the Old Testament if one is supposed to be studying the New; what do we need to know, to begin with, about the New Testament's original texts and translations; and what evidence is there about the politico-religious situation of the New Testament world? After the preliminaries come two large parts, devoted respectively to the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and to Paul's life and letters. The fourth part is concerned with the Catholic or Universal Epistles. The fifth and final part is a surprisingly short section - less than 20 pages - on Revelation. The use here of the term "milleniarism" surprised me, as a much less familiar synonym to millennialism or millenarianism.

How does this work compare with the range of other introductions to the New Testament? It is to be commended as a storehouse of material, including quite recent scholarship, with a balanced presentation of Roman Catholic and Protestant contributions. While the coverage is substantial and deals with awkward questions, and the style is accessible and the author's verdicts are clearly expressed, neither content nor presentation is quite as straightforward as the textbook format might lead one to expect. The contexts of the New Testament are emphasised, with a little discussion of texts outside the canon. But I would have liked more space given to assessing such texts as the Gospel of Thomas or the Apocalypses of John. Significant modern scholarship has taken a broader view of relationships outside as well as within the New Testament.

Dr John Court is Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Biblical Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury.

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