Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey. 2nd Edition

By Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough
Grand Rapids : Baker (2005). 446 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
17.1 (Spring 2006) : 114-115

After only seven years of the volume’s use, Walter Elwell and Robert Yarborough have updated their basic-level undergraduate NT survey, Encountering the New Testament [see TMSJ 10 (1999):291-93]. The authors state that in this second edition of their text, they have sought “to correct vague wording, update bibliography, rewrite outdated sections, and add material where the previous edition was culpably brief” (11). However, no thoroughgoing revamping has occurred because the earlier work seems to have been generally effective in classroom use. Therefore, the second edition follows the same pattern as the previous work.

The text continues with the same divisions as the first edition. After an introductory chapter on “Why Study the New Testament?” (19-35) come four parts: “Encountering Jesus and the Gospels” (37-190), “Encountering Acts and the Earliest Church” (191-250), “Encountering Paul and His Epistles” (251-344), and “Encountering the General Epistles and the Apocalypse” (345-85). An epilogue concludes the main text, and is now entitled “Matters to Ponder” (387-94). An extremely valuable glossary of key terms in NT study is still included (395-406). The main content of each chapter is again supplemented by sidebars that contain primary sources, quotes, and contemporary concerns, and focus boxes that present practical application of the chapter’s material. For those who have a marked copy of the first edition and/or use it in teaching, an added benefit of this second edition is that it follows with only slight alterations in the pagination of the original edition.

In keeping with the authors’ purpose, the second edition has only a few variations. The majority of the added material in the main text is found in the following new sections: “So Many Translations” (30), critical issues in each chapter concerning a Gospel (84, 95-96, 105, 114-15), “Themes in Acts” (211), and “General Epistle Summary” (373). A new sidebar, “Corruption in the Church” (230), is a further addition. A great amount of the rewriting is found in the focus boxes; twelve of the twenty-five have been changed in the second edition (30, 84, 132, 187, 203, 219, 246, 269, 322, 340, 370, 39 3). The bibliographies have also been updated and a few new footnotes have been added to reflect works not available in 1998 when the first edition appeared. In the main text, the authors now recommend P. Stuhlmacher’s Revisiting Paul’s Doctrine of Justification as a response to the “new perspective” on Paul instead of T. Schreiner’s The Law and Its Fulfillment (261), although Schreiner’s work is still recommended in the bibliography for further reading on Paul (271). The visual content has not been significantly revised. The chapter summaries and review questions remain unchanged from the original work.

Because this second edition is basically the same as the original, the judgments passed on the original review remain. The textbook continues to be pedagogically sound, visually oriented, with a good introduction to the historical background of the NT and a satisfactory discussion of the purpose, structure, and major themes of each NT book. However, three weaknesses are still present. First, the authors view the church in continuity with the OT people of God; for them, the church is the new Israel (21, 203, 266). Second, the book is weak in warning the beginning student concerning the dangers associated with critical methods used in NT study. Third, the presentation is a little on the “lite” side when compared to the NT surveys of Gundry [see TMSJ 15 (2004):120-21], Lea and Black [see TMSJ 15 (2004):123], and Tenney. But it seems that this second edition of Encountering the New Testament will continue to find a prominent place in the undergraduate study of the NT, so teachers and pastors must be aware of its content and impact.