Recommended NT Resources part 2: General and Reference (updated)

george-cattermole-the-scribeMany of these can be purchased in paper, kindle, or from Logos or Accordance. (I’m a big Logos user.) As with all my recommendations, take them with a grain of salt. I neither fully endorse nor vouch for everything said in these, but you will certainly learn and grow by reading them.

Samples are often available from Amazon or Google books, and in some cases I’ve linked to others here or in the past.

If you missed it, part 1 is here.


Cultural Context

The world of the NT is extremely different from our own. It’s not just the words that we need translated, because we will inevitably weigh and understand them from within our own experiences and cultural perspective.


The Bible of the NT?

For many of the first Christians, “the Bible” meant not the Hebrew texts, but the Greek translation(s) of it, called the Septuagint or LXX. Indeed, many of the NT citations of the OT (heavily obscured in our LDS KJV, another reason to pick up a second translation) match the Greek LXX, not the Hebrew. Sometimes the changes are significant.


Texts and Contexts 

If you want to be a NT scholar, there is a crap ton of background literature you must become familiar with, both Jewish and Greco-Roman. Sometimes scholars become expert in just one area of this background, spending their entire lives studying it. An overview of all of these can be found in Craig Evans’ Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature. One book includes relevant selections from all of these in a verse-by-verse quasi-commentary, called Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study

Below is a selection of three major sources, skip if not interested.

  • Josephus was a Jewish general and historian contemporary with the latter half of the NT. He is also a major contemporary source, writing in Greek about Judaism, history, and the OT. Josephus has long been known and translated into English. We all know that Joseph Smith and companions sang A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief while in Carthage jail, but did you know they also read aloud from Josephus?  (Watch Lincoln Blumell’s presentation on Joseph and Josephus here.)
    • Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament
      • Mason is a Josephus scholar, and this is meant for laypeople with an interest, and includes maps.
    • If you’d like to read Josephus, the older archaic translation by William Whiston (1667 – 1752) is in public domain for easy googling. Otherwise, Josephus: The Essential Works is probably your best option.


These work best in electronic form (Logos or Accordance), because you can do a search on a verse reference and find everything that cites it. Or click on a word and have it open up in the dictionaries that have a reference on it.

Part 3 is coming, and there will likely be a short part 4 as well.

22 comments for “Recommended NT Resources part 2: General and Reference (updated)

  1. David DeSilva’s ‘Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture’ is great, especially his discussion of grace and faith in the client-patron context. He has a newer book titled ‘The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude’, which looks at pseudepigraphic texts to help flesh out the Second Temple Judaism of the NT.

  2. I think it was a review of DeSilva that convinced me to buy it, pointing out that the best modern parallel of the cultural background of grace is The Godfather.

    Paul did not invent grace terminology or concepts in a vacuum. Grace was the term for the actions that patrons took on behalf of their clients.You have a problem, so you enter into a mutually beneficial relationship in which you owe loyalty and obedience to a powerful patron (i.e. “faithfulness”) who takes care of the problem you can’t (i.e. “grace.”)
    Waiting to hear that analogy in General Conference…

  3. Nope, wasn’t a review, but the Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes I cited above. They say,

    In the New Testament, for example, the word charis means “grace.” Pistis means “faith.” What we didn’t know until recently—what went without being said in Paul’s day—was that those two words together described the relationship between a patron and his or her client.
    In the Roman world of the New Testament, business was conducted through an elaborate system of patrons and clients. When we watch the movie The Godfather, we are seeing the modern remains of the ancient Roman patronage system. Like Marlon Brando who played the godfather in the movie, the ancient patron was a wealthy and powerful individual (male or female) who looked after his or her “friends” (clients). The complex world of Roman governmental bureaucracy, the far-reaching tentacles of the banking system (usually temples) and the pervasive and powerful grasp of the trade guilds made it impossible for ordinary craftspeople or farmers to conduct business on their own. They were entirely dependent upon their patrons. Like most unwritten cultural rules, everyone knew what was expected of a patron and a client, even though expectations weren’t engraved on a wall. Everyone knew a patron’s role was to solve problems for his or her clients, whether it was trouble with the local trade guilds, refinancing a loan or smoothing over tensions with city leaders. When Paul was staying in Thessalonica, it was reasonable to expect Jason to handle the “Paul problem,” which he did by asking Paul to leave town (Acts 17).
    In that world, an ordinary craftsman or farmer didn’t have the social skills or connections or wealth to negotiate with the various powerbrokers of a city. He would seek out an individual, a patron, to help. Marlon Brando captures the sentiment well. The local merchant wants help. The godfather says, “So you want me to do you this favor?” Both sides understand the agreement: the godfather solves the problem, and the merchant now must be loyal to the godfather and be ready to help if he is ever summoned. In the Roman system, likewise, the client couldn’t earn the “favor”; the patron showed “kindness” to help. Seneca, a philosopher from Paul’s time, said the patron and the client had a relationship, a form of friendship. The client was now a “friend” of the patron, but not a peer. The client was expected to reciprocate with loyalty, public praise, readiness to help the patron (as much as he could) and, most importantly, gratitude.7 This kind gift had strings attached. (All gifts in antiquity had strings attached.) Seneca called it “a sacred bond.”9 The recipient of the gift was obligated to reciprocate. Paul introduced Lydia to Christianity (Acts 16). She reciprocated by hosting Paul and his team at her estate.
    The language of patronage permeated everyday life. We know well the Christian terms grace and faith, but these were common before Paul used them. They were part of the language of patronage. When the patron gave unmerited gifts of assistance, these were commonly called charis, meaning “grace/gift.” The client responded with faithfulness to the patron, called pistis, or “faith.” We see that when Paul explained our new relationship with God, he used something everyone understood: the ancient system of patronage.Taken together, this vocabulary—so central to the Christian faith—means something different than the sum of its parts.

  4. I recently read Gerhard Lohfink’s “Jesus of Nazareth,” and I thought it was outstanding. Far superior, in my opinion, to Talmage’s work. His scriptural insights and portrayal of the political and cultural world of the New Testament are exceptional. It’s only flaw is that there is no index at the end of the book, though there is a list of biblical citations.

  5. Fulton Sheen’s “Life of Christ” is also an amazing book that, in my view, compares favorably with Talmage. It lacks footnotes and therefore might be considered less “academic,” but his insights into the Gospels are amazing.

  6. Thanks for the recommendations Ben! Your resources were invaluable as I navigated the OT for the first time this year (nearly finished with the Jewish Study Bible; also read “Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes,” “How to Read the Jewish Bible,” and “Inspiration and Incarnation”). As a gospel doctrine teacher in my ward, it was been very helpful in preparing lessons, too.

    Do you have any opinion on Oxford’s “Very Short Introduction” series? I really liked Givens’ VSI to the Book of Mormon, and have considered reading some other volumes that may help with the NT next year (e.g., Jesus, Paul, The New Testament, etc.). Given that each work is written by a different author, though, I’m not sure how the quality fluctuates from book to book.

  7. I’ve read very few of the VSIs, but any series with different authors for different volumes is going to be uneven. I’ll take a look at who’s authoring what for round 3. And thanks for the appreciation!

  8. The comparison between the patron-client relationship and the mafia is hilarious, and IMHO, accurate.

  9. Thanks for the clarification about the VSI’s, Ben and Dave. I will definitely check out the one on Paul, at least.

    Ben, may I request that you consider, if you aren’t planning to already in part three or four, to include a shortlist like you did with the OT resources last year? The idealist within me would love to check out all of these books but, given the constraints of time, money, and other resources, it is likely that I will only be able to read a handful of these books (at least next year). Obviously a study bible will make the list, but I’m particularly interested in what “background books” you would recommend if you could only choose a handful. Looking through your current list, these look like the most likely candidates for a shortlist, but I could be mistaken:

    – Brown, “An Introduction to the New Testament”
    – deSilva, “Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture”
    – Law, “When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible”
    – Evans, “Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature”
    – Holzapfel, Wayment, Huntsman, “Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament”

  10. I’ll need to think a little about a short list, Thabermeyer. I’ll save it for the last post, which may be #3.

  11. Ben,

    It seems that there has been more emphasis on the Second Temple setting for many ideas from early Christianity (your suggestion for the Eerdman’s Dictionary of Early Christianity). Will one of your future lists contain some books by Pitre (Jesus, The Tribulation and the End of the Exile, Jesus the Bridegroom, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist) or Bauckham (Jesus and the God of Israel or the Jewish World Around the New Testament) or Hahn (Kinship by Covenant)?

  12. Ben. I’m a late-comer to your post on Benjamin the Scribe about your forthcoming book. I’m excited to see it. A very recent item you might want to include would be in John Day’s recent From Creation to Babel: Studies in Genesis 1-11 from T & T Clark. The first chapter is unpublished and is called “The Meaning and Background of the Priestly Creation Story (Genesis 1.1-2.4A). Apparently, Day is working on the new ICC volume on Genesis (who knows when publication is.

  13. Terry- I’m not familiar with Pitre. I’ve read a little Bauckham, but years ago. Hahn’s Kinship and Covenant was very useful as a supplement to Frank Moore Cross’s writing, which I used for my SMPT presentation last year (which will be printed at some point.)

    I hadn’t intended on including any of them. As long as these lists are, I just haven’t read as widely in NT as I have in OT.

    I’ve read Day’s study on God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea (talked about it in my Isaiah lesson this week), but not this new one. I do have a minor academic inferiority complex, which leads me to always want to put off writing to do more research… which is just another kind of procrastination. One could read for 20 years, and not have covered everything on Genesis 1. But I’ll check out the first chapter. Thanks!

  14. Ben. My reading on a lot of subject is promiscuously wide, but not as deep as I’d like. PItre’s work is scholarly, but is more mainstream from a Catholic perspective. The Tribulation and End of the Exile book is a revamp of his dissertation and its a fascinating tie-in of Second Temple (Old Testament) beliefs to New Testament soteriology. I, too, am much more widely read in the OT than in the NT, but this area, which ties in the OT and the NT is an area of express interest. Margaret Barker got me started on it and that branched out into those other areas. It is fascinating to see how Protestant and Evangelical scholars are beginning to assimilate this area (which has been traditionally treated as separate). Daniel Gurtner (The Torn Veil), Michael Morales (The Tabernacle Pre-Figured, Cult and Cosmos) and others are finding themselves drawn more to the Temple in dealing with the NT–thus the connection. The reason I mentioned Hahn, is that Kinship and Covenant takes the OT covenants into the NT. I’m still working on N.T. Wright, particularly The Climax of Covenant so see how effectively he does this. Naturally, your lists are mere beginning points for all of us and I certainly appreciate and applaud your efforts.

  15. @thabermayer. I concur in the previous posts on VSI, but the Jesus one by Richard Bauckham is also worth your time. Bauckham has an emphasis on the transition between 2d Temple beliefs and Jesus. His Jesus and the God of Israel is full of this. An early book in his career was The Fate of the Dead: Studies on the Jewish and Christian Apocalypses. I also am intrigued by his Cloud of Witnesses: The Theology of Hebrews in its Ancient Contexts. He’s prolific and ranges between lay readers and scholars.

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