Fishing for thoughts. Any bites?
New Testament Survey by Merrill C. Tenney & Walter M. Dunnett, ISBN: 0-8028-3611-9
This turned out to be much better than I expected it to be. As I opened it up for the first time and read in the preface that the author had written it to educate “evangelical believers” on the New Testament writings’ context, I nearly closed it permanently right then and there; it was very close to be returned immediately to the library shelf. I’m glad that I didn’t make that decision.
In spite of its evangelical Protestant bias, this book is actually a very good introduction to the writings of the New Testament, the events that inspired them, and the world around them. The authors did a very good job of abbreviating some very complicated information and presenting the reader with the necessary historical facts. They also did a great job, with a few exceptions, of correcting the liberal tendencies of some scholars as to the authorship of some of the New Testament writings, generally fairly presenting the arguments on both sides of the debate and examining their merits. Their case for Apostolic authorship of 2 Peter is the only instance of this that I take disagreement with.
Because of that same evangelical Protestant bias which I’ve already mentioned, there are also some rather strange statements in various parts of the book which must be ignored if the Orthodox reader is going to get a good experience from it. For instance, when addressing the Epistle of James, there is of course the mandatory (for Protestants) desperate defense that James doesn’t really mean what he says in James 2:24 (namely, that we are not saved by “faith alone”). There is also the nearly hilarious statement that 1 Peter 3:18-22, a very clear reference to the Harrowing of Hell and an affirmation of Baptismal Regeneration, “has always been a difficult passage to interpret” (pg. 353). To translate that from evangelical-protestant-speak to plain-speak, what the authors really mean is: “1 Peter 3:18-22 has always been one of the most difficult passages for us to interpret away!”
So, if you can get past the absurdities and ignore the evangelical Protestantisms, I do recommend this book as a good basic introduction to the New Testament writings and the history surrounding them.
… from the eighteenth century onwards, there have been attempts to insist that Jesus did not even ‘seem’ to exist, and that all tales of his appearance upon the earth were pure fiction. In particular, his history was compared to the pagan mythologies inventing fictitious dying and rising gods.…
In the first place, Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of the deaths and rebirths of gods seem so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit. But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly, there are all those discrepancies from one Gospel to another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms. That there was a growth of legend round Jesus cannot be denied, and it arose very quickly. But there had also been a rapid growth of legend round pagan figures like Alexander the Great; and yet nobody regards him as wholly mythical and fictitious. To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihiliated by first-rank scholars’. In recent years ‘no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus’ – or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary. (Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, pp. 199-200)
This book was published in 1977. Zeitgeist: The Movie — dead before it was even born.