Book Review: The Puskas and Robbins Introduction to the NT
An Introduction to the New Testament. Second Edition, by Charles B Puskas and C. Michael Robbins (Eugene, OR: Cascade books, 2011)
My thanks to friends at Wipf&Stock for a copy of the new edition of P&R’s Introduction.
Part and parcel of life as a lecturer and biblical scholar is a regular diet of introductions to the New Testament. Generally speaking, the different offerings all have something going for them. The Moo&Carson volume does a brilliant job at summarising different scholarship and engaging with the text. There is, however, a strong and to my mind not always helpful ideological closure in sections, and so it needs to be supplemented by others that may be weaker in other areas, but theologically broader. And so on.
So how does P&R's contribution fair, and what have they added in the second edition (the first was published in 1989)?
It is easy to answer the second part of that question. Largely in response to the comments of reviewers and a general development in scholarship, more than 30% of the material of the 1989 edition has been revised. In other words, you have a book that is largely up-to-date on most areas.
The book is divided into three parts (part one: the world of the new Testament, part two: interpreting the new Testament, and part three: Jesus in early Christianity). There are then two appendices on the formation of the New Testament canon and English translations of the NT. In other words, the book introduces us to the staple fare of information that you would expect from any usual introduction.
A closer look, however, reveals a useful and concise overview of the Greco-Roman and Jewish context, and the language and text of the New Testament. This is accompanied with a number of diagrams, tables and pictures. The chapter on the language of the New Testament offers much material that you won't find so readily in other New Testament introduction, and the same could be said about the chapter on the text of the NT. The part dealing with the interpretation of the New Testament again presents the usual diet, and does so very cogently and clearly, always well structured, subtitled and signposted. It also needs to be said that everything I have read thus far is decently researched and engages with most important secondary literature (though of course one can always find omissions in such books!). In this section, however, one dealing with the interpretation of the New Testament, I would have appreciated greater breadth of presentation, including the kind of hermeneutical approaches spelt out with particular clarity in DeSilva's introduction.
Particularly helpful, I thought, with chapters dealing with the emerging Christian orthodoxy. This is the kind of material that you would tend to find elsewhere, perhaps on a different course. But it remains true that docetism, realised eschatology, Polycarp and so on are relevant to matters of new Testament interpretation. So bravo for these chapters!
I would instead point students to Schnelle’s work to introduce students to Pauline chronology, though their overview is a good primer, and I would strongly urge that further editions take Pauline theology more seriously. This was a big lacuna. Furthermore, I remain unpersuaded that their chapter “The major Phases of Early Christianity” accurately explains the development of the earliest Christology. The book is strongest on background issues, traditional historical-critical methods, the historical Jesus and the “emergence of Christian orthodoxy” themes noted above.
In sum, this was a readable, informative, concise and fairly affordable introduction to the new Testament. I would not use it as a stand-alone text for my introduction to the New Testament course, and would prefer to supplement it with perhaps DeSilva's introduction and Moo&Carson’s (I will probably urgently recommend Schnelle’s introduction, once I have had a chance to check the English translation) .
A final word: if your New Testament introduction courses work through individual texts of the NT, you may be disappointed as this introduction does not seek to give an overview of all of individual texts. Rather, it focused remains much more on questions of historical context, and historical critical issues. But it does this and reliable and readable manner.