Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction

Article excerpt

The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction. By Donald A. Hagner. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012, xxiv + 872 pp., $49.99.

The George Ladd Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Fuller Seminary has crowned his illustrious career by producing a magnificent NT introduction. Covering all the expected topics concerning the authorship, date, and circumstances of each of the NT books, Hagner adds a major "value-added" bonus by delving deeply into the key themes of each work, as well as providing one or more entire chapters on OT and intertestamental background; the historical Jesus; source, form and redaction criticism; the gospel genre; the life and theology of Paul; Paul as writer and missionary; Paul and Jesus; pseudonymity; the tendencies of early Catholicism; the transmission of the text; and the formation of the canon.

For those who want striking new insights, they will not find them here. This is the distillation of a lifetime of reflection, and Hagner never adopts a position that is not well supported in scholarship. What one does typically find, however, is an acknowledgment of major alternatives, judicious interaction with them, and cautiously worded conclusions. One view is often described as "slightly" preferable with a second one being "very possible." The perspectives are all within the broad range of what is generally considered evangelical, even if in a few cases Hagner tentatively opts for pseudonymous authorship. However, he stresses that this is not the kind of pseudonymity that was intended to deceive, merely the work of a disciple of an apostle or other Christian leader giving credit to the original fount of his ideas. One may decide that the arguments for pseudonymity are not convincing for a given book of the Bible, but, in an era when high-profile scholars like Bart Ehrman seem to be joining hands with those conservatives who see all pseudonymity as forgery, it is good to be reminded that there are scholars like Hagner who argue for a quite different take while also maintaining a high view of Scripture.

The constraints of this review make it impossible even to summarize the wealth of information contained in this splendid tome. Some highlights, however, may be listed. The Christian faith "rests squarely on the reality of historical events" (p. 1), necessitating both historical and critical study. The Gospels and Acts are equally historical and theological without either cancelling out the other. The overlap of the ages forms a rubric that allows us to summarize NT theology. What is most debilitating in the quest for the historical Jesus is the shift of the burden of proof from the skeptic to the believer: "Such a negative bias applied to historical sources would make the historical study of antiquity practically impossible" (p. 96).

Recent debates about redaction criticism are best resolved by a "both-and" position: the evangelists wrote both for specific local communities and for a wider Christian readership. The two-source hypothesis remains the most convincing solution to the Synoptic problem, but affirming Q scarcely enables us to say much more about it. Mark and Matthew were most likely written before AD 70, probably in the 60s, while Luke seems to be later, in the 70s, especially because of his rewording and explaining of the abomination of desolation (Luke 21:20). The key to the secrecy motif in the Gospels, particularly in Mark, involves the paradoxical nature of a suffering Messiah. Matthew's understanding of the fulfillment of prophecy frequently includes "a divinely intended correspondence between God's saving activity at different times in the history of salvation, with the earlier foreshadowing the latter" (p. 201). Whatever sense of delay Luke may have felt in Christ's return only fueled his conviction of its imminence.

The scales tip slightly in the direction of the traditional authorship claims for the four Gospels, though John has been put in its final form by his disciples. …

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