Now that graduate school appears to be in my rear view, I have had more time to read and beyond what was required for my dissertation. I hope to write a few reviews here and increase the volume of posting that has fallen so precipitously since this blogs beginnings. My hope is two fold–one to increase my knowledge base as a lifelong learner, but also to encourage those who read this blog to continue learning and reading themselves. My first review will a review of the book Know the New Testament: A Concise Introduction to the New Testament by S.H. Mathews.
Dr. Mathews begins his New Testament overview with the statement, “The Bible is truly the Book of books.” I can wholeheartedly affirm the opening sentence of this small book. With that said, I’d like to give you a few snaptshots of the strengths and weaknesses of the book in my estimation.
Mathews, as per the purpose of the series does a masterful job capturing with brevity the contents, themes, and distinctive features of each New Testament book. That conciseness (it is only 166 pages on my Kindle) makes this book accessible to anyone with an interest in reading a particular book of the Bible. It gives them a small amount of supplemental background material to aid in understanding that section of Scripture.
One of my favorite portions of each chapter are the paragraphs noting the distinctive features of each book.
I was somewhat disappointed with the sparseness of the outlines contained in each chapter. Admittedly, this is keeping with the philosophy behind the book, but as a preacher, I always enjoy studying how others have outlined a particular book, so that I can compare that with my own personal study and outlining of that same book.
A second area that was disappointing to me was the combined treatment of several of the New Testament books. The author treated Luke with Acts, the Corinthian letters together, Colossians and Philemon together, the Thessalonian epistles in one chapter, the Pastoral epistles together, the Petrine epistles, and the epistles of John together. I think I understand the reasoning for including them in the same chapters, but I would have enjoyed each book having its own subheading to and book specific discussion rather than cramming them all together for the reader to sort out on his own.
A third deficiency was a lack of a section that included resources for further reading. The print edition may have included a bibliography, but the e-version ended with the endnotes. Obviously one could gather the same information from that list, but it would have been nice to have a list at the end of each chapter with those resources listed together for an individual desiring to study further in a particular Bible book.
The final weaknesses worthy of mention here is admittedly a personal preference. I find the debate and discussion of the authorship of Hebrews to be fascinating. I have written a master’s level paper on it and done some outside reading on the subject as well. It might have been nice to mention the possible identities of the authors, but no possibility is mentioned outside of the similarities of some of the theology to that of Paul. Alas, the authorship is as Mathews says at the beginning of chapter 14, “a mystery.”
Concluding thoughts and recommendations
Overall, I’d give this book 3 1/2 highlighters*. I would most definitely recommend it to both laity and church staff members as a “concise” reference guide to use before they begin their personal study of any of the New Testament books.
*This is my review designation. Its a play on how much I underlined, highlighted, discovered material I could use later (illustrations, etc.), or just generally enjoyed the book.