The Old Testament volume here was highly recommended by a very good friend who knows his Bible, and I then discovered that there was a New Testament volume following the same approach, so I checked them both out on interlibrary loan. Good move on my part! I think these would be excellent reference books for anyone’s Bible library.
The basic idea behind these references is to write a “special introduction” to each book of the Bible, meaning one that focuses not so much on exegesis as on contextual background, like authorship, audience, and how the book fits into the canon.
The two volumes are lengthy (OT is 528 pages, and the NT is 781), but I have to note that I was pleasantly surprised that they are not unwieldy: The paper is lightweight without being flimsy or thin.
The OT volume’s table of contents is about as straightforward as you can imagine: an introduction followed by one chapter for each OT book (I and II Samuel get one chapter, as do I and II Kings and Chronicles, and Ezra and Nehemiah are also consolidated). The NT volume is only a little more complicated; in addition to a chapter on each book (except that again a few chapters treat more than one book: I and II Corinthians are consolidated, as are I and II Thessalonians, the three Pastoral epistles, and the three John epistles), there is an introductory chapter titled, “Thinking about the Study of the New Testament,” and chapters on the synoptic gospels, the NT epistles, St. Paul, and the NT canon.
The tone is careful and measured — reminding me a lot of N.T. Wright’s (and Michael F. Bird’s) book here — but it is definitely Protestant/evangelical and conservative (e.g., most if not all of the New Testament books are concluded to have been authored as traditionally thought). It is also scrupulously documented and footnoted, encompassing a wealth of scholarship.
The NT authors say they “have tried to write with the first- and second-year student of seminaries in mind” (9), and presumably the same is true of the OT volume.
I’m just going to add a couple of notes here on the actual text.
- The margins’ pull-quotes appear to have been carefully chosen for their substantive content.
- I flagged this passage because of my interest in fitting the OT’s do’s and don’ts in with the NT’s (43-44, emphasis added; see also the reference on page 33 to Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho):
Second, and still more important for our purposes, was the stream of theologians, including Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Abelard, William of Ockham, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. The most influential of these by far was Thomas Aquinas (1224–74), and the best known of his works is his Summa Theologiae, which is simultaneously a systematic compendium of the data of Christian revelation as he understood them, a revision of Augustinian epistemology along Aristotelian lines, and an evangelistic work aimed at Muslims. Despite the enormous influence his work has wielded, especially but by no means exclusively within Catholicism, his categories belong rather more to the domains of philosophy and systematics than to rigorous exegesis. To take one small example: Although earlier Christian theologians, stretching back to the patristic period, had sometimes distinguished moral, civil, and ceremonial law, it was Aquinas who developed this tripartite division of Old Testament law to establish the patterns of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. This tripartite division, which was subsequently picked up and developed by John Calvin and others, offers many helpful insights, but it is not demonstrably the set of categories with which the New Testament writers themselves are operating when they work out the patterns of continuity and discontinuity between the old covenant and the new. Questions about how to conceive the relationships between the two Testaments are of course perennial, and the influence of Aquinas in this area as in numerous others is with us still as we read our New Testaments.