My nomination for the best book of 1976 in New Testament studies is the first volume of The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Zondervan) edited by Colin Brown. Originally written in German, this translation is thoroughly updated, augmented, and vastly improved under Brown’s able leadership. It is comparable to Kittel’s justly famous ten-volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament but is easier for those who don’t know Greek to use. When the work is complete in three volumes, scheduled for 1978, it will contain studies of all the important words and concepts in the New Testament, and there are excellent bibliographies to guide the more advanced student into greater depths. (For a review, see the September 10, 1976, issue, page 50.)

Of great value to both the beginner and the more advanced student is A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Volume I: Matthew-Acts (Zondervan) by Fritz Rienecker. translated from German and revised by Cleon L. Rogers. It compares favorably to An Analysis of the Greek New Testament, mentioned in this survey last year, but it contains more extensive reference to the important commentaries and recent scholarly literature. This feature makes it very useful to the exegete and expositor.

The latest annotated reference edition of the New Testament is The Ryrie Study Bible (Moody) by Dallas Seminary professor Charles Caldwell Ryrie. Mildly dispensational in orientation, it is available with either the NASB or the KJV text. It is attractively laid out and easy to read; the outlines of the individual books tend to be homiletical. Of interest to scholars will be a fourth volume of J. H. Moulton’s celebrated A Grammar of New Testament Greek (T. & T. Clark): Style by Nigel Turner. Each of the New Testament authors is discussed in terms of his style of writing Greek. There is an important chapter concerning the possible use of sources in the four Gospels, in which Turner concludes that the hypotheses of Hebrew or Aramaic sources used by the evangelists fail to explain the Semitic features of their Greek.

THEOLOGY Stephen Neill, after years of ministry in India, Germany, and Kenya, is now back in England. None of the several dozen books he has written on various theological subjects could be called dull. His most recent is Jesus Through Many Eyes (Fortress), an elementary introduction to the theology of the New Testament. Every book is covered, not just the Gospels. It deserves to be widely read. The Way of the Word (Seabury) by John C. Meagher is a much more technical work by a Canadian Roman Catholic scholar. Even more specialized but with profound implications for both biblical studies and systematic theology is Westmont scholar Robert H. Gundry’s Sma in Biblical Theology With Emphasis on Pauline Anthropology (Cambridge). Gundry challenges the current view that “body” can be used in Paul (and elsewhere) for the “whole person.” Rather, it always refers to the individual physical body; and, furthermore, he finds an essential anthropological duality in the Bible in contrast to the alleged body-soul unity that has been regarded as axiomatic by many recent scholars. Now what was that about the early Fathers corrupting Christian theology by bringing in Greek categories contrary to Hebrew (i.e., biblical) thought? The Melchizedek Tradition (Cambridge) by Fred L. Horton, Jr. seeks to bring together all the material relating to the obscure Old Testament character who figures so importantly in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Conservative Baptist theologian Bruce Demarest focuses on one section of the Melchizedek theology in Hebrews in his valuable study A History of Interpretation of Hebrews 7, 1–10 from the Reformation to the Present (Tübingen, Germany; J. C. B. Mohr), which should be added to seminary and college libraries.

Article continues below

The Origins of New Testament Christology by I. Howard Marshall (InterVarsity) offers the theological student an unusually fine survey of what both the New Testament and contemporary scholars have to say concerning this most basic subject. The author is a highly esteemed biblical scholar of the younger generation who writes from an unabashedly evangelical point of view. The New Testament Student and Theology (Presbyterian and Reformed) edited by John H. Skilton is the third volume in a series that has some of the characteristics of a journal. About half of the essays this volume contains are reprinted from less accessible sources, and the majority of the fifteen authors have been or are connected with Westminster Seminary.

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Eerdmans) is now complete with the publication of an index volume, compiled with meticulous care by Ronald Pitkin, a parish minister. It certainly makes the other nine volumes more usable.

INTRODUCTION One never knows what to expect from the former bishop of Woolwich, John A. T. Robinson, author of the once controversial and now forgotten Honest to God. It has been known for some time that he holds surprisingly conservative views on a number of New Testament subjects, for example, the date of the Gospel of John. But his latest book still comes as a shock. In Redating the New Testament (Westminster) Robinson suggests not only that all the New Testament writings were written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 but also that each book was probably written by the author to which it has been traditionally ascribed! Few if any other scholars would hold to such an early date for all the books, and many prominent ones have dated few if any books before A.D. 70. Whatever the degree of acceptance or rejection achieved by the views Robinson has put forward, he has dramatically shown that the prevailing “critical” chronology of the New Testament writings is less than scientifically demonstrable. Moreover, he illustrates that answers to such questions are not necessarily correlated with a scholar’s theological convictions.

Article continues below

The well-known writer William Barclay has produced the first two volumes of a presumably longer Westminster series. Introduction to the First Three Gospels is a revised and enlarged edition of an earlier work, while Introduction to John and the Acts of the Apostles is an entirely new one. Both works are full of good sense and quotable statements from Barclay and from others. If the theological student finds the subject of New Testament introduction dull, these are the books to read. Studies in New Testament Language and Text (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill) edited by J. K. Elliott is a fat volume of mostly esoteric essays written in honor of George D. Kilpatrick of Oxford. It is encouraging to see some well-known evangelicals among the contributors.

BACKGROUND The New Testament Environment (Abingdon) by Eduard Lohse is a handbook of a different kind. Lohse deals with the history of the Jews in the intertestamental period down to the end of the New Testament era, Judaism in the time of Jesus and the early Church, Roman politics and society, Greek religion and thought, and gnosticism. The publisher is to be commended for making the work available in an inexpensive paperback for the benefit of students.

It has long been recognized that the Jewish writings called the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha throw valuable light on the New Testament as well as on the history of Judaism. Leonard Rost’s Judaism Outside the Hebrew Canon (Abingdon) gives a student’s-eye view of the literature concerned, including the Dead Sea Scrolls; in typical Germanic fashion, he packs his pages with extensive bibliographies. The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research (Scholars) by James H. Charles-worth contains a more technical account of the scholarship concerning these Jewish and early Christian writings and more extensive bibliographies than Rost.

Article continues below

Another popular work illuminates the history of Jewish life “between the testaments.” Donald E. Gowan’s Bridge Between the Testaments (Pickwick [5001 Baum Blvd., Pittsburgh, Pa. 15213]) tells the story under the categories of history, life-styles (e.g., Samaritan, Sadducean), institutions, literature, and theological movements (wisdom, torah, apocalyptic). Gowan’s thesis is that the Christian can affirm both his own validity and that of Judaism. Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity (Notre Dame) edited by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza focuses on the place of miracles and types of apologetic approaches among assorted Jews and Christians in the New Testament period; in view of the technical form, these papers will be of primary interest to scholars. E. Mary Smallwood’s The Jews Under Roman Rule (E. J. Brill) is a work of impeccable scholarship that will be of immense value to all students of early Christian history, as well as of Judaism. Although it is as technical as the work edited by Fiorenza, its breadth and sheer readability will give it a wider audience. Along the way Ms. Smallwood comments on many New Testament texts.

JESUS A varied harvest of books focusing on the central figure of the New Testament appeared during the past year. I Came to Set the Earth on Fire (InterVarsity) is a fascinating portrait of our Lord by missionary-scholar R. T. France and is intended for the person who is considering the claims of Christ for the first time. Son of God to Super Star (Abingdon) is a catalogue of twentieth-century interpretations of Jesus by John H. Hayes. Jesus the Christ (London, England: Mowbrays) by H. E. W. Turner is a rather more substantial contribution to the study of New Testament and early Christian Christology; it would make an ideal introduction for the college or seminary student. Jesus in Contemporary Historical Research (Fortress) by Swedish theologian Gustaf Aúlen offers a remarkably lucid exposition of more recent scholarly research concerned with the historical foundations of the good news. Did Jesus Exist? (Prometheus) by G. A. Wells is a reminder that one can find “scholars” who affirm that Jesus no more existed than did Paul Bunyan. Light on the Gospels (Thomas More) by John L. McKenzie presents a general reader’s introduction to the fourfold gospel with special emphasis upon the theology of each author.

Article continues below

Three popular-level surveys of the life of Christ by conservative writers are What Jesus Began: The Life and Ministry of Christ (Broadman) by George A. E. Salstrand, The Life of Christ (Baker) by R. D. Culver, and The Great Expectation by Ivan A. Beals (Beacon Hill). Salstrand’s work provides outlines and interconnections useful for the preacher; Culver’s would be appropriate as a Bible-college or adult church-school text; Beals’s is a devotional-theological exposition of the coming of Jesus in the context of the fulfillment of Old Testament promises and hopes. In a class by themselves are three works that seek to combine the insights of contemporary literary criticism and gospel study. The Sword of His Mouth (Fortress or Scholars) by Robert C. Tannehill examines the significance of forceful and imaginative language in the teaching of Jesus; it seems the most promising of the three. Jesus as Precursor (Fortress or Scholars) by Robert W. Funk interprets the figure of Jesus as the forerunner of a variety of modern writers from Franz Kafka to Samuel Beckett. Raid on the Articulate (Harper & Row) by John Dominic Crossan compares the sayings of Jesus with the writings of modern Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. All three will be of interest to students of the Bible as literature. Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom by Norman Perrin (Fortress) is another stimulating book by a recently deceased Chicago professor who has been a dominant figure in the study of the teaching of Jesus in America for the past two decades; here he takes another look at the interpretation of parables, the kingdom of God, symbol and metaphor in the teaching of Jesus, and the way some recent scholars have understood these elements. Jesus According to a Woman (Paulist) by Rachel Conrad Wahlberg is a refreshing study of the manner in which our Lord, in contrast to his contemporaries and many of his later followers, affirmed women. The Jesus Hope (InterVarsity) is a thoroughly readable and balanced treatment by Stephen Travis of Jesus’ teaching concerning the future and the New Testament hope of the Second Advent. Interpreting Prophecy (Eerdmans) by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes is an equally sensible treatment of a slightly broader topic. Both Travis and Hughes are published in inexpensive paperbacks, and both can be warmly recommended as basic introductions to this important but too often sensationalized area of interpretation. For the curious and collectors of exotica, The Forbidden Gospel (Harper & Row) by J. Edgar Bruns and The Laughing Savior (Harper & Row) by John Dart portray Jesus as he was interpreted by the Gnostics, who were among the earliest of Christian heretics. A Theology of Q by Richard A. Edwards (Fortress) seeks to present a unified interpretation of the theological motifs of the hypothetical source (along with Mark’s gospel) that the majority of modern scholars believe was used by Matthew and Luke to compile their gospels. Since there are still a vocal minority of scholars who do not believe in the existence of the “Q” (from German Quelle, source) document, Edwards’s conclusions must be taken with a grain of salt. However, when one bears in mind their tentative nature, the points he makes are most interesting.

Article continues below

MATTHEW AND MARK Nineteen seventy-six was a year of very fine commentaries. Among the best of the crop is The Good News According to Matthew (John Knox) by Swiss theologian Eduard Schweizer. This new work meets a real need since there have been few really adequate commentaries on the first Gospel for a long time. Schweizer has high standards of scholarship, but he also is able to write in non-technical terms that the non-scholar can understand. Of course, the user certainly should not accept all the commentator’s critical theories. The Gospel According to Matthew (Oxford) in the New Clarendon Bible is another excellent commentary written with an eye toward the general reader. Interestingly, the author, H. Benedict Green, is the son of the commentator on Matthew in the original Clarendon series. Two recent monographs take a look at the message and method of the First Evangelist. Matthew: A Scribe Trained For the Kingdom of Heaven (Catholic Biblical Association) by O. Lamar Cope breaks new and promising ground in his study of Matthew’s use of the Old Testament by using the method known as “redaction criticism,” that is, the study of the way a biblical author used inherited traditions for his own theological purposes. The Origin and Destiny of Humanness (Omega Books [428 Tamal Plaza, Corte Madera, Calif. 94925]) by Herman C. Waetjen is, despite its enigmatic title, a scholarly interpretation of the same Gospel that, without being comprehensive, offers some original insights. The subtitle of The Sermon on the Mount (Scarecrow) by Warren S. Kissinger is “A History of Interpretation and Bibliography”; despite its nearly three hundred pages it leaves certain gaps, but it will without question be a great boon to students.

Article continues below

Hugh Anderson, professor of New Testament at Edinburgh, completes the Gospels for the New Century Bible with The Gospel of Mark (Attic). Representing a radical biblical criticism that is uncommon in Britain, Anderson takes a very skeptical position in regard to the historicity of the Gospel regarded by most to be the first of the four. Used judiciously, the work can still be of much value. The Passion in Mark (Fortress) edited by Werner H. Kelber is a collection of essays by seven American scholars who argue that the author of Mark 14–16 himself gave the essential structure to the passion narrative of the Gospels rather than, as the majority of scholars hold, making use of an earlier tradition. The work raises as many questions as it attempts to answer and seems likely to be a center of controversy for some time to come.

LUKE-ACTS So far as I know, no major commentaries on the Lucan writings appeared last year, but several important studies did. In Christ the Lord (Westminster) Eric Franklin seeks to delineate the purpose and theology of Luke-Acts; he succeeds in raising question marks over the “assured results” of a great deal of recent scholarly writing. Franklin rightly argues that much of the recent discussion of Luke-Acts has assumed a false dichotomy between eschatology and history that has often led to faulty conclusions. Striking a more popular but nonetheless perceptive note is Paul S. Minear’s To Heal and to Reveal (Seabury), a study of the concept of prohetic vocation in Luke’s two-volume work. Kenneth E. Bailey throws fresh light on the parables in Poet and Peasant (Eerdmans); he uses his knowledge of peasant culture in the contemporary Middle East as well as the ancient Near East. The best value for the non-specialist is the commentary by the emeritus professor of New Testament at Fuller, Everett F. Harrison: Acts: The Expanding Church (Moody). It is lucid in language, balanced in criticism, incisive in exegesis—what more could one hope for in a commentary? It compares favorably with F. F. Bruce’s older New International commentary.

Article continues below

JOHN The Fourth Evangelist and His Gospel (Augsburg) by Robert Kysar presents the serious theological student with a valuable survey of modern scholarly opinions concerning John’s gospel. The same author has written a more popular book, John: The Maverick Gospel (John Knox), which gives an exposition of his own understanding of the book. Although all will benefit from the stimulating questions posed by Kysar, few orthodox readers will be prepared to follow his suggestion that it is the Fourth Evangelist’s method rather than the content of his book that is ultimately important. The Johannine Circle (Westminster) by Oscar Cullmann is the English translation of an important German work mentioned in last year’s survey. James Montgomery Boice has published a second volume (covering chapters five through eight) in his multi-volume expositional commentary on The Gospel of John (Zondervan); this commentary contains a rare combination of homiletics and scholarship. R. Alan Culpepper surveys both historical materials and modern research trends in The Johannine School (Scholars), a work that will be of great value to advanced students.

PAUL The past year saw a large number of worthwhile books on the life, and especially the theology, of the Apostle. Certain to receive the widest reading is Saint Paul (Scribners) by the prolific Roman historian Michael Grant. Whatever the book lacks in theological sensitivity for the thought of Paul, it makes up for in knowledge of the world in which Paul moved and proclaimed his message. The resulting portrait is a Paul who is man among men rather than one who walked on air. The Heart of Paul (Word) is “A Relational Paraphrase of the New Testament, Volume 1” by Ben Campbell Johnson; Paul’s letters, except the pastorals, are, in effect, commented upon in paraphrase format.

The dean of Harvard Divinity School, Krister Stendahl, gathers together a number of stimulating essays under the title Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (Fortress). All who have not yet read his celebrated “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” should take advantage of the accessibility and low cost of this paperback to do so; those who have will be interested in his response to his critics, included in this volume.

Building Christ’s Body (Franciscan Herald) is a simple but thoughtful treatment of Pauline themes that is representative of the contemporary Roman Catholic biblical renewal; the author is George T. Montague. The Conversion of St. Paul (Franciscan Herald) by Gerhard Lohfink is the English translation of an important German study of the three accounts in Acts and is as much about Luke’s historical and literary technique as about Paul. A Companion to Paul (Alba) edited by Michael J. Taylor is a collection of readings in Pauline theology; nineteen essays from a variety of sources are here available in an inexpensive volume. Jesus and Paul by J. W. Fraser (Marcham Manor Press [Appleford, Abingdon, Berks., England]) is a publishing “sleeper” that bears a 1972 date in the preface and a 1974 copyright but came on the market this past year. After surveying the manner in which modern scholars have viewed Paul as an interpreter of Jesus, Fraser then turns to an evaluation of the data for himself. He finds a greater continuity between the teaching of Paul and his Lord than is often recognized.

Article continues below

An unusual number of exceptional commentaries on the Pauline letters were published last year. Pride of place belongs to I Corinthians (Doubleday) by William F. Orr and James Arthur Walther, a volume in the Anchor Bible. In general, it fulfills the aim of providing the best of biblical scholarship for “the general reader with no special formal training in biblical studies” better than any other volume in the series. The comments and notes are models of careful statement and common sense, and they offer the student a reliable guided tour through the maze of critical and exegetical issues. An added bonus is a study of the life of Paul as background to the epistle, which in effect adds the equivalent of an extra volume to the series. Equally fine is a second commentary (the earlier one was in the Tyndale series) on Philippians (Attic) by Fuller professor Ralph P. Martin. From the point of view of scholarship and careful exegesis, this is probably the best commentary on Philippians currently available; too bad the price (6.6 a page) is so high. Ephesians (Attic) by C. Leslie Mitton, in the same New Century Bible series as Martin, is also a splendid work, as one would expect from an author who formerly edited the Expository Times and has written several important New Testament studies. One does not have to follow the author in his conclusions concerning the authorship and historical setting of the book to esteem his work as the best commentary of moderate size on Ephesians. The first volume to be published in the new Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan) edited by Frank E. Gaebelein et al. contains commentaries on Romans by Everett F. Harrison, First Corinthians by W. Harold Mare, Second Corinthians by Murray J. Harris, and Galatians by James Boice. The English translation used is the NIV, and the standard set by these first commentaries is very high (see my review of this volume on pages 41–43 of this issue). More modest in scope but also excellent is the commentary on Paul’s Letters From Prison (Oxford) by G. B. Caird in the New Clarendon Bible.

Article continues below

Other commentaries on the letters of Paul worth mentioning are Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians (Word) by Fred Fisher, a very full commentary by a Southern Baptist professor with his eye upon the pastor and serious lay Bible student; First Corinthians: A Contemporary Commentary (Presbyterian and Reformed) by Gordon H. Clark, a fascinating volume that tells almost as much about the author as it does about Paul’s letter; Romans: A Study Guide Commentary (Zondervan) by Bruce Corley and Curtis Vaughan, an excellent handbook for college students and adult study groups; The Freedom of God’s Son (Baker) by Homer A. Kent, Jr., a commentary on Galatians, Romans: The Final Perseverance of the Saints (Zondervan) by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the sixth volume (covering chapter 8, verses 17–39) in a lengthy exposition of Paul’s key epistle; and The Pastoral Epistles (Penguin) by J. L. Houlden, the latest addition to the Pelican New Testament Commentaries.

HEBREWS An Unshakeable Kingdom (Everyday Publications [230 Glebemount Ave., Toronto, Canada M4C 3T4]) is the title of a group of popular expositions on Hebrews by an Irish scholar, David Gooding, who offers an excellent model for profitable biblical preaching.

JAMES Two major commentaries were published. The Hermeneia series has added an English translation of James (Fortress) by Martin Dibelius, first issued in 1920 but revised most recently in 1964 by Heinrich Greeven. James Adamson’s The Epistle of James (Eerdmans) replaces an earlier commentary on James in the New International Commentary. Both are major commentaries and will take their places as standard but not definitive works on this short and powerful book.

REVELATION Amid the wasteland of sensationalism and absurdities concerning the last book of the Bible, two recent studies stand out to offer the average reader reasonable guides toward a proper understanding of this most difficult of New Testament documents: The Revelation to John (Concordia), a commentary by Lutheran author Martin H. Franzmann, and The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Broadman) by Ray Frank Robbins, a Southern Baptist. Either may be warmly recommended to the novice.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.