Recommended NT Resources, part 3: History and Commentary

(Cross-posted at Benjamin the Scribe.) First, Amazon is offering 30% off any physical book you buy for the next two days, by entering HOLIDAY30 at the checkout. Great time to pick up that hardcover Jewish Study Bible,  Jewish Annotated New TestamentNRSV, or similar “expensive” hardcover you can’t get otherwise. Amazon link to the details.

Short list.

This was really hard to put together, much more than my OT list. 

  1. New Bible translation. (See part 1). This is an absolute must. If you do nothing else, do this.
  2. Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible
    • I’ve mentioned this one multiples times. It’s on my shortlist for the OT as well.
  3. Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament (but see #4 as well)
    • Yes, the hardcopy is $40. But, it’s a coffee-table style book with lots of pictures, sidebars, and quality text. It’s the kind of thing you can read, but also interest your kids in.
  4. OR if you have some familiarity with NT scholarship, either Brown or Ehrman (listed in part 2) There are some tradeoffs.
    • Brown’s Intro is longer and older (potential negative), but he was a Catholic priest (positive, in my book).
    • Ehrman’s Intro is newer and arranged like a college textbook, with pictures, sidebars, etc. However, Ehrman’s loss of faith means he often pushes (I feel) the more cynical, non-traditional perspectives. I still find him valuable to read, but it’s not necessarily something that’s going to offer devotional or uplifting bits.
  5. Paul: A Very Short Introduction
    • This is a bit of a gamble, since I haven’t read it. How do I recommend it? On the reputation of the publisher (Oxford), the series, the length, the price, and the author. E.P. Sanders started a revolution in understanding Paul and Palestinian Judaism when he argued that our understanding of Judaism at the time of Jesus was more influenced by Luther’s conflation of Catholic indulgences/legalism with NT Judaism. Not everyone has accepted his arguments (and I am no expert), but they have really made an important impact.  If anyone could write a book at the sweet spot of accessibility, price, and content, Sanders would be it. Also, his other books tend to be fairly technical, so this is a good entry point.
  6. Something on history and culture, probably one of the three volumes below.



Jesus and Judaism

That Jesus was Jewish is both obvious and not always well-known or understood, as is the idea that the Jewish schism which resulted in Christianity as a distinct religion led to both movements reacting against each other in formulating doctrine and ritual. Not too different from the RLDS/LDS schism in some ways.


Mormons tend to be very weak in Paul. Even with a modern translation, he can be very hard to understand. Plus, Protestants love Paul, so theological cooties and stuff. While the Gospels appear simpler (they’re not, so much), we really don’t read Paul in any kind of context or depth, very selectively, and that seriously weakens our missionary work and understanding of the gospel, I think.

  • NT Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective
    • N.T. Wright is an Anglican priest and NT scholar, who used to be the Bishop of Durham. I really like his stuff, and he’s been well-received in LDS circles. He writes both technically (usually as NT Wright) and more popular books (usually as Tom Wright), such as Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope.  All his books are here.
  • Wayment From Persecutor to Apostle: a Biography
    • An LDS biography.
  • Richard L. Anderson’s Understanding Paul is highly Mormonized and perhaps outdated, but does a really good job at what each of Paul’s letters is about, the issues in each church Paul set up, etc.
  • NT Wright’s commentary on Romans (together with Acts-1Corinthians in the New Interpreter’s Bible Series is quite good.)
  • BYU’s James Faulconer, modeling close slow reading, has some very good work on Romans 1, 5-8. The first part of this is available free from the Maxwell Institute.


I’ve updated my Gospel Doctrine blog recently with my blogging plans for next year.

Happy Reading!

16 comments for “Recommended NT Resources, part 3: History and Commentary

  1. People might also be interested to know that a new edition of the Church’s New Testament Institute manual was recently released.

    By any measure, the new edition is a big improvement over the previous one (originally released in 1978). For example, rather than march chronologically through Jesus’ life by harmonizing the four Gospels, the new manual treats each Gospel separately. Other differences in approach can be seen in a quick comparison of how each manual treats certain New Testament “hot spots.”


    Previous manual: After summarizing the opinions of various scholars in the matter of Christ’s birthday, Elder James E. Talmage compares their conclusions with modern revelation and then affirms: “We believe that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, April 6, B.C. 1.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 104.)

    New manual: Concerning the year in which Jesus Christ was born, “the Church has made no official declaration on the matter” (J. Reuben Clark Jr., Our Lord of the Gospels [1954], vi). The calendar currently used throughout most of the world was created many centuries after Jesus Christ lived, and experts disagree about how to use existing historical information to calculate the year of His birth.


    Previous manual: n/a

    New manual: The most reliable early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark do not contain Mark 16:9–20, and the style of the Greek language used in these verses differs from the rest of Mark. This suggests that these concluding verses might not have been written by Mark, but rather by scribes who added accounts of the Savior’s appearances after His Resurrection to bring the ending of Mark’s Gospel more in harmony with the writings of Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts. Whatever the reasons for the manuscript variations, the Church accepts all of Mark 16 as inspired scripture. Its value is based not on which human being wrote it, but on its inspired testimony of truth (see 2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:21; D&C 68:4).


    Previous manual: [doctrinal discussion of water, blood, spirit]

    New manual: Certain phrases may have been added to 1 John 5:7–8 as late as the fourth century A.D. The apparent addition is the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth.” [Followed by doctrinal discussion]


    Previous manual: Latter-day Saints are fortunate in that they do not need to thread their way through a maze of conjecture in order to form a conclusion. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explains … [that] “in any event, Paul did write Hebrews, and to those who accept Joseph Smith as an inspired witness of truth, the matter is at rest.”

    New manual: In some of his sermons and writings, the Prophet Joseph Smith attributed statements from Hebrews to the Apostle Paul … A Christian tradition dating to the second century A.D. holds that Paul was the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the fourth century A.D. Jerome added Paul’s name to the title of Hebrews in his Latin translation of the Bible. Most Latter-day Saints accept Paul as the author of Hebrews; however, some scholars have questioned the tradition of Paul’s authorship, noting that unlike other epistles, Hebrews does not name its author in the book itself. The earliest manuscripts give the title of the book as simply “To the Hebrews.” Because early Christians were uncertain about the authorship of Hebrews, it became customary to place Hebrews after Paul’s epistles in the order of New Testament books. Moreover, the style, language, and ideas of Hebrews are different from Paul’s other epistles. For the purposes of this manual, we accept Paul as the author.

  2. I didn’t notice until I had already bought a couple of these books that Amazon is having a 30% off sale (one book) by using a promocode HOLIDAY30 — be aware of that, especially if you’re buying more than one book tonight.

  3. Thanks JMS. I’d heard good things about the new manual, but hadn’t seen yet.

    Ardis- Yes indeed. That’s the link/promo at the very top of the post. I’ll clarify it.

  4. Thanks for putting the short list together Ben – much appreciated. Your three posts helped me get all my books for next year! Looking forward to the reading.

    It’s too bad you can only get up to $10 off using the Amazon promotional code. I bought several books, hoping to get 30% off each book, but could only get a max of $10 off the total purchase. I suppose there might be a way around this by buying one book at a time, using a different card each time (assuming the use of the code is linked to the card), but I didn’t want to deal with the hassle.

  5. I am wondering what your thoughts are on the somewhat older and likely out of print book Toward Understanding the New Testament by Sterling M. McMurrin, Lewis M. Rogers published by Signature Books. I own a copy and found it to be very informative and interesting, but I am not sure where it would fit in your list, if at all.

  6. Gary- I haven’t seen it,and couldn’t say, but some generalities probably hold. It’s probably outdated in some respects, but virtually anything quasi-academic that simply tries to restate, analyze, and make clear the text, will be helpful in some respect.

  7. @ Gary. I read it several years ago, but found it to be too humanistic in nature for my taste. I know it wouldn’t fit on my list although some other Signature publications would. It is available in Signature’s Online Library, I believe, so you might want to check the publisher’s website. I particularly liked the “Pre-Nicene New Testament by Robert M. Price, although it too, seemed to be more secular. I have no opinion of their Amazing Colossal Paul, not having read it yet. .

  8. Ben S. The Paul book that really could be recommended is N.T.Wright’s Faithfulness of Paul (2 vols.). It is the fourth book in his series “Christian Origins and the Question of God” and its amazing. Its a bit pricey for a paperback, but well worth it. It summarizes Wright’s feelings and interpretations on all the books of Paul. As for translations, I would agree that it is a must, I would recommend the Jewish Annotated New Testament among all the others since its a good carry-over from the Old Testament and sets up a lot of other areas to study.

  9. Terry- “Faithfulness of God” is on the list. Just managed to list NT Wright twice, with different books, under Paul.

  10. Re: Toward Understanding the New Testament by O.C. Tanner, Sterling M. McMurrin, Lewis M. Rogers:

    Terrible book honestly, even if you set aside the attempts to explain away the miracles and the base assumption that there was no chance Christ was divine (they spend way too much time trying to explain away the miracles).

    But even if you set that aside and try to read it for the general information on culture, history, etc. – well, the book reads as if the authors hadn’t read any NT scholarship after World War II (though I’m sure the authors actually had, they just didn’t act like it in this book).

    I think the only reason it gets any traction in certain LDS circles is because it was published by Signature; I can’t imagine it having any influence in the wider world, since it was so outdated even when it was published.

  11. Don’t forget Phil Harland’s podcasts on Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean; great stuff on development of apocalypticism, Satan, Pauline epistles, discussions of the Gospels, voluntary associations, and other aspects. Well worth listening to and more systematized than Mark Goodacre’s fascinating grab bag.

  12. Ben, thank you for all your work putting these lists of references together. They inform and whet my appetite in many ways.

    A particular thank you for the link to the BYU New Testament Commentary project website. For those like myself who have only a passing familiarity with the existence of the project (let alone its website), it is probably worth noting that it includes a Bibliography page for “LDS online resources regarding the New Testament” ( which includes links for a “Full Bibliography” as well as topical bibliographies. Suggestions for the addition of other items may be submitted. And the page also says that a bibliography of print resources will be added “soon” (whatever that may mean).

    Julie M. Smith’s work in noting the revisions to the CES New Testament Manual is also very much appreciated.

  13. Another book that I think should be on the list is Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth Bailey. He has a few other books in the same vein. Bailey is a Biblical scholar who has spent most of his life in the Middle East, and in this book he puts stories from the life of Jesus in cultural context. It’s not hugely expensive, but $20 is more than I usually spend on books.

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