New Testament History: A Narrative Account.
Ben Witherington III. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001. 430 pp.
Review by Dr Aquila Lee

The author is Ben Witherington III, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. His extensive publishing record already proves that he is a prolific writer. He has written on almost every subject in the New Testament. Now in this book the author gives his account of New Testament history. The title of the book is deliberately ambiguous. It may refer to “a history of the New Testament documents themselves,” or “a history of the times in which the New Testament books were written,” or even “an ordering and chronicling of the events mentioned in the New Testament” (p.9). Since Jesus and the movement he spawned must be seen within the proper social and religious contexts, the author does not only deals with New Testament individuals or events but also “social movements and crosscurrents that illuminate those person and events” (p.10). But as the book also provides individual introductions to most of the New Testament documents, it is perhaps more an introduction to the New Testament with emphasis on historical backgrounds than a New Testament history per se.

It provides a comprehensive chronological survey from the birth of Alexander the Great in 456 BC to the murder of Domitian in AD 96. This highly informative survey is well complemented by “A Close Look” sections with detailed treatment of background issues such as the Sanhedrin, crucifixion, the Pharisees, the Essenses, the Zealots, time and calendars in antiquity, synagogues, banquets, letters, and so on. Very helpful are also excellent maps, charts, illustrations and photographs of ancient sites and scrolls and sidebars on many related topics, especially overviews on various cities that were important in the spread the gospel, e.g., Jerusalem, Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus.

The book consists of sixteen chapters, with a prolegomenon where the author explains briefly about ancient history, historians, and biographers, and points out the differences with modern historiography. Each chapter then covers a certain period of the New Testament era, e.g., 63-4 BC, AD 30-33, AD 63-68, etc.). Unlike other books on historical background of the New Testament, the accounts about New Testament peoples and events are interwoven with the political narratives of the time.

Concerning the resurrection, Witherington thinks that the appearances of Jesus to some women is an evidence for the historicity of the event. Living in a patriarchal world, it is hardly credible that the earliest Christians would have made up a story about Jesus appearing first to women. It is also interesting to read Witherington’s proposal that the genre of Luke’s Gospel is an historical monograph, unlike the other three Gospels, which he sees as an ancient biography (pp.383-87). He also proposes that the Q material as we know it was written down sometime between when Mark’s Gospel was written in AD 68-69 and Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels were written in the 70s or the early 80s. The book is highly readable and offers many other interesting and well-researched materials that will enlighten our understanding of each book of the New Testament and its historical settings.

We are truly indebted to the author’s engaging narrative that, while an excellent scholarly work that treats its complex subject with depth and insight, is also accessible to the general readership. We need to remember that New Testament writings emerged in the first century AD and are firmly rooted in history, and without proper understanding of their historical and political backgrounds their meaning and significance cannot be grasped correctly. I highly recommend this book to the BTW readership and if you are seriously engaged in the study of the New Testament you would want to see this volume in your own bookshelves!

CHAPEL NOTES

Chapel for next week (12 January) will be taken by our Adjunct Lecturer, Dr Douglas Milne.

NEWS BITS

Earlier closure. The Library will be closed at 3pm instead of 6pm on 15 January to help in the preparations for the Convocation.

Courses Commencing ...

    ¨      Tent module: Understanding Culture (starting 4 Jan). Facilitator: Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

    ¨       BG111, 3 credits, video class. New Testament Greek I (starting 8 Jan). Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

    ¨       BG214, 1.5 credits. New Testament Greek: Basic Research Tools & Methods (starting 8 Jan).   
    Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

    ¨       BG211, 3 credits, video class. Greek Exegesis I (starting 8 Jan). Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

    ¨       BH220, 1.5 credits. Hebrew Reading (starting  17 Jan). Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

    ¨       OT102, 3 credits. Old Testament Foundations II (starting 20 Jan). Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

    ¨       NT101, 3 credits.  New Testament Foundations I (starting 24 Jan). Lecturer: Dr Aquila Lee.

    ¨       CE355, 1.5 credits. Child Development & Ministry Formation (starting 25 Jan). 
    Lecturer: Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

    ¨       CO101, 3 credits. The Counsellor as a Person: Self-Awareness & Maturity in Christ (starting 3 Feb). Lecturer: Mr Yam Keng Mun.

    ¨       CM102, 3 credits, video class. Homiletics 
    (starting 4 Feb). Lecturer: Rev Edmund Chan/
    Tutor: Mr Song Cheng Hock.

    ¨       CH101, 3 credits, video class. Introduction to Church History (dates will be announced later). 
    Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa. (This is a required course for MDiv students).

    ¨       AT228, 1.5 credits. The Christian Portrayal of Evil (dates will be announced later). 
    Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

Intensive courses by Dr Douglas Milne

    ¨       Theological Foundations I (TS211, 3 credits). Dates: 4, 6, 11, 13, 18, 20 Jan (7.30-10.30pm); 8 & 15 (2.30-5.30pm). This is a required course for MCS and MDiv students.

    ¨       New Testament Ethics (TS265, 1.5 credits). Dates: 5, 7, 10, 12 Jan (7.30-10.30pm)

    ¨       Bioethics (TS270, 1.5 credits). Dates: 14, 17, 19, 21 Jan (7.30-10.30pm)


Please submit your registration now!


You are warmly invited

to our 14th Convocation & Thanksgiving Service on 15th Jan 2005 at 7pm. There will be a dinner reception at 6pm preceding the Convocation Service.

Venue: 4 Bishan St 13, Sanctuary

(Zion Bible-Presbyterian Church)

A Blessed Birthday to…

Mr Low Keng Shin  10/1
Mr Tai Kok Wai  11/1
Mr Tong Ming Hung  11/1
Mr Kelvin Kwek  12/1
Ms Jasmine Yong  14/1
Ms Lily Chung  14/1
Ms Chow Lye Kuan  15/1

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