Behind the Scenes of the New Testament

By Paul Barnett
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (1990). 247 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
5.1 (Spring 1994) : 101-102

Barnett has written Behind the Scenes of the New Testament to acquaint his readers with the wealth of solid historical information within the NT and to reconstruct the NT story along historical lines. The purpose of this information is to verify the historical elements in the NT so as to keep critics from easily dismissing the relevancy of the theological content. So Barnett's purpose in the book is not just an educational one. He also has apologetic and evangelistic designs.

To accomplish his purpose, the author tells the story of the NT, beginning at Bethlehem and concluding at Patmos. He concentrates on the history of the first century A.D., blending extrabiblical history with the record of the NT. The first half of the book surveys the story of Jesus as recorded in the gospels from 7 B.C. to A.D. 33 (the dates Barnett chooses for the birth and death of Jesus). The last half of the book is a historical reconstruction of the apostolic age.

Barnett writes with conviction, insight, and simplicity. The book is not musty, but is gripping in its presentation. After telling the story of Jesus, the author summarizes His teaching, concluding,

The sayings of Jesus, read in the context of his actions, reveal him to have been a man powerfully convinced that he was God's Son, sent by God into the world, with divine authority, to fulfill a God-given mission to call and to save the lost (104).

The claims of Jesus clearly confront the book's readers in fulfillment of the book's purpose.

Although the work has a great deal of good historical data, Barnett adopts a number of unique viewpoints. He sees a major development in the strong division in the early church into two racial branches, one Gentile -led by Paul- and the other Jewish -led by James. In time, the Jewish branch itself divided into the Palestinian -led by James- and the non-Palestinian -led by Peter and John. On the contrary, the NT sees no such division, but rather emphasizes the unity of the ministry of these men, not the diversity. Moreover, Jas 1:1 shows that letter to be addressed to Jews in the dispersion (i.e., non-Palestinian Jews), and Gal 2:9 reflects the unity of James with Peter and John. Both biblical and extrabiblical information call Barnett's strict distinction into question.

Barnett's espousal of the four-source origin of the Synoptic Gospels will be a disappointment to TMSJ readers. So will his favoring of a preterist/idealist interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

These criticisms should not overshadow the strengths of Barnett's book, however. He has sought to defend the historicity of the NT and its message concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet many, including this reviewer, will question some of Barnett's historical reconstructions in the presentation of his case for the historical veracity of the NT record.