The New Testament: Its Background and Message. 2nd ed.

By Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black
Nashville : Broadman & Holman (2003). xviii + 653 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
15.1 (Spring 2004) : 123-123

The late Thomas Lea was the sole author of the first edition of The New Testament: Its Background and Message when it was published in 1996. With his death, the publisher commissioned David Black, professor of NT and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, to update the book (xvii). Except for expansions of a few discussions, updated bibliographies, and the addition of maps, the text remains unchanged from the 1st edition (xviii). Sadly, the footnotes are moved from the bottom of the page to endnotes in this new edition. The volume is designed to be used in teaching NT survey to beginning college and seminary classes. It seeks to strike a balance between the critical background issues and the specific content of each NT book (1).

The text is divided into five parts. The first part introduces the background to the NT (5-82). Chapters on the political, cultural, and religious background are repeated from the first edition. The fourth chapter on the canon, text, and genre of the NT contains a rewritten section on textual criticism. Black has spelled out more precisely the principles and practice of NT textual criticism (77-78). The second part of the work discusses Jesus and the Gospels (83-278). After a chapter introducing the life of Jesus comes a chapter on the Synoptic problem. Black has changed Lea’s “the best solution to the Synoptic problem stems from a theory of interdependence” to “the most widely held solution to the Synoptic problem stems from a theory of interdependence” (120). Black, after discussing the Markan priority theory, admits that it contradicts the statements of the early church fathers (122). He concludes, “No overarching hypothesis is possible in solving the synoptic problem” (126). He devotes one chapter to the background and outlines of the Gospels, followed by four chapters that survey the content of the life of Christ using the paragraph numbering from A Harmony of the Gospels by A. T. Robertson.

The final three parts are little changed from the first edition. Part three discusses the growth of the early church in Acts (279-329). Part four covers the epistles of Paul (331-491). After a chapter that overviews Paul’s life, his letters are presented in chronological order, beginning with Galatians. Part five includes chapters on Hebrews, the General Epistles, and Revelation (493-605). Elements of truth are seen in each of the interpretive approaches of Revelation, preterist, idealist, historicist, and futurist (586-87). The work renders no firm decision concerning the meaning of the millennium. A helpful glossary of important terms enhances the value of the book for the beginning student (637-44).

The New Testament: Its Background and Messageis a good introductory survey from a broadly evangelical perspective. The volume is a solid, more inexpensive alternative to Gundry (reviewed above in this issue of TMSJ) if one can live without the pictures and color of Gundry’s work.