A Survey of the New Testament
By Robert H. Gundry
Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
6.1 (Spring 1995) : 101-102
Since 1970, Robert Gundry's A Survey of the New Testament has been a standard textbook used in college NT survey courses. In 1981, Gundry updated his textbook with a second edition that expanded and updated his bibliographies and improved the visual appearance with better maps and pictures. Now, he has provided a third edition which seeks to upgrade the textbook for beginning students of New Testament. Again, the bibliographies are updated and the visualization is modernized. But for the third edition, the chapters on the four Gospels have been completely rewritten. The second had a thirty-three page discussion of the backgrounds, theme, and outline of each of the Gospels, followed by a ninety-three page exposition of the life of Christ using the order of A. T. Robertson's A Harmony of the Gospels. The third edition has a twelve-page introductory overview of Jesus' public life and ministry. The exposition of each Gospel follows individually, not in a harmonistic fashion. Discussion of the four Gospels consumes one hundred and sixty-nine pages in this new edition. This is the major change in the third edition.
The new text retains the many commendable features of Gundry's first two editions. First, Gundry is concerned to get the beginning student reading the text of the NT. He asks the student to read the biblical passages before reading his discussions of them. Also, each chapter in the text begins with thought provoking questions so that the reader is guided in what to look for as he reads the biblical book. Second, in the first three chapters the author gives an excellent, succinct discussion of the political, cultural, and religious backgrounds of the NT. He keeps this material to a minimum so that the student can quickly get into the reading of the Bible itself. Gundry then weaves further background information to elucidate his discussions at the appropriate points. Third, the bibliographies are good guides for further reading. Fourth, Gundry is fair to opposing viewpoints on many issues of NT interpretation. Fifth, and most importantly, Gundry is staunchly orthodox in speaking of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Sixth, while some would quibble about his datings, Gundry supports with reasons the traditional authorship of the NT books. This textbook, for example, upholds Matthean and Johannine authorship of the Gospels attributed to them, as well as the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles and the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, as the biblical text states.
Unfortunately, a number of weaknesses mar the presentation, particularly for the beginning student. Gundry accepts the position that Mark was the first canonical Gospel written. He states, "Marcan priority enjoys considerable favor" (99). This presupposition controls his discussion of the Synoptic Gospels. He discusses Mark first and his discussions of Matthew and Luke assume that they have adapted Mark for their purposes. Further, Gundry advocates a measured use of form and redaction criticism as long as one does not reject the historicity of the underlying material. The individual units of the written Gospel material were true because they were based on the actual events and sayings of Jesus. The evangelists then tailored these earlier materials about Jesus to suit the needs of their own times, according to Gundry. He concludes, "Conservative scholars find good historical and theological reasons for full acceptance of the gospel records. . . . But measured by the purpose for which the gospels were written—to proclaim the good news about him [Christ] for evangelism and church life—the gospels merit our trust" (108). Finally, Gundry sees the `kingdom' as "(1) a sphere of rule and (2) the activity of ruling" (114). For the author, the second predominates in Christ's earthly ministry so that in his discussion of individual Gospel passages, he uses "God's rule" instead of "kingdom of God/heaven." Thus, Gundry negates the aspect of the `kingdom' having a realm.
Overall, this is a good NT survey textbook. The work on Acts and the Epistles is excellent. However, the student needs to be discerning in the chapters on the Gospels.