An Introduction to the New Testament, by D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, & Leon Morris; Zondervan Publishing House, 1992; 537 pp., $24.95 (hard cover). [Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.]
Books on “Introduction” deal with background material on Scripture. Usually they deal with the individual books of the Bible. A good book on “Introduction” will examine the question of the authorship of an individual Bible book; it will try to discover when the book was written; it will examine the question of the addressee of a book, i.e., to whom a book was addressed; it will attempt to learn the purpose for the writing of a book; and it will discuss in a brief way the contents of a book.
This investigation is done because of the character of the Bible. The books of the Bible were written at different times in the history of the nation of Israel. They were written under different circumstances. They were written for different historical purposes (Galatians was written to combat the heresy of the Judaizers in the churches of Eastern Asia Minor). The reason why these questions are important is that the meaning which the book had at the time of its writing is still the meaning today; we believe that the Bible speaks to the church of all ages.
God’s Word is a marvelous book, inspired by Him and given to the church. But that Bible was written in such a way that God inspired certain men to write certain parts, for specific purposes, and as addresses to specific churches or people. The Bible has a historical aspect to it, which historical aspect is important to know to gain understanding of it. Books on “Introduction” attempt to serve this historical purpose.
This book is in the tradition of many books on “Introduction” and takes a new and fresh look at the, questions which books on “Introduction” ask. It does, however, add some new questions which are not usually found in books on “Introduction.” With each book it has a section on “Text,” in which section the authors discuss the various readings of the Greek manuscripts of the book; and a section on “The Book in Recent Studies,” in which section inquiry is made into mostly critical studies of the book by contemporary scholars.
The authors who collaborated on writing the book belong to the evangelical world of scholarship, and have written extensively on many different aspects of New Testament studies. The troublesome aspect of the book (and of nearly all contemporary evangelical scholarship) is a sellout to modern higher critical methods. These authors, too, adopt without apology modern literary and historical criticism, including source criticism, redaction criticism, etc. This becomes especially clear in their treatment of the so-called synoptic problem; that is, the problem of the similarities and dissimilarities in the first three gospel narratives. One marvels at the fact that nearly all evangelical scholarship and nearly all evangelical scholars rush madly after the gods of higher critical studies.
The result of their commitment to such higher critical studies is a nearly exclusive emphasis on Scripture as a human book. One looks in vain for references to the inspiration of Scripture, the divine authorship of the Bible, and the purpose of the Holy Spirit in giving the Bible to the church. These questions are simply not answered, and the whole Bible is dealt with as one would deal with most other human writing from ancient times.
This all makes a difference. I am not saying that the historical background of the various books of the Bible is not important. Indeed it is. It is difficult to imagine how anyone can read and study II Timothy without being concerned about the questions of who wrote the book, why was it written, to whom was it written, etc. But when books never get beyond these questions, the whole point of Scripture is overlooked or dismissed. God wrote II Timothy, something which II Timothy itself claims for itself and for the whole Bible (3:16). And the important questions ought to revolve around this divine authorship. It is legitimate to ask: Why did Paul write Ephesians? But this ought never to be allowed to push aside the question: Why did God use Paul to write this letter to the church at Ephesus? And what is God’s purpose in having the book written to be a part of Scripture?
The point is important, for, as far as I am concerned (and this is my whole purpose in teaching a course on “Introduction” in the Seminary), the crucial question in Introduction is the question concerning the canonical significance of a book. What is its canonical significance? Well, that question presupposes the fact that the Scriptures, taken in their entirety, are an organic whole, given by God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the church of all ages, as the revelation of Jehovah God in Jesus Christ as the God who saves His people.
To ask, then, concerning the canonical- significance of a book is to ask what place an individual book occupies in the canon according to the purpose of God. To answer this question, it may be necessary to ask other questions concerning date, authorship, addressee, etc., but the answers are not absolutely crucial, for in many instances the answers cannot be discovered. What is God’s purpose in the book? That is the crucial question.
Then, the question becomes: How does this individual book stand related to the other books in Scripture as a part of the whole organism of Scripture? What unique place does this particular book occupy in the canon? How does this book, in its own unique way, serve to complete the perfect portrait of Christ, the Son of God, our Savior? What purpose in the unity of the whole does Philemon serve as in God’s mind this book too reveals God in Christ as the God who saves His church?
These are the questions which are so seldom treated in “Introduction,” or, as in the case with the present book, are only occasionally hinted at, and then from the viewpoint of the human authorship of various books of the New Testament.
Yet I strongly recommend the book to all who are interested in questions of “Introduction.” There is a wealth of material in the book. It gives much information on the current state of Bible studies. It is of immense help in understanding the background of the New Testament books. It will be of great value to anyone who makes a particular New Testament book the object of his study. Especially ministers ought to have the book if they are preparing a series of sermons on some New Testament Scripture.