Book Reviews

The New Testament in Its First-Century Setting

Essays on Context and Background in Honour of B. W. Winter on His 65th Birthday

P. J. Williams, Andrew D. Clarke, Peter M. Head, David Instone-Brewer, editors Grand Rapids 2004-06-01

This is an impressive collection of essays in honor of Bruce Winter, retired Warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge, England. Winter has published many books and articles on the historical and cultural backgrounds of the New Testament. This fitting collection has the same focus. The book includes twenty-one articles in four sections: Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypse. The contributors are an impressive group of scholars.

The articles on the Gospels are P. J. Williams, “The Linguistic Background to Jesus’ Dereliction Cry (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)”; Rikki Watts, “Jesus and the New Exodus Restoration of Daughter Zion: Mark 5:21-43 in Context”; Peter M. Head, “Papyrological Perspectives on Luke’s Predecessors (Luke 1:1)”; Alan Millard, “Zechariah Wrote (Luke 1:63)”; David Peterson, “Atonement Theology in Luke-Acts: Reflections on Its Background”; and Andreas J. Köstenberger, “ ‘I suppose’ (omai): The Conclusion of John’s Gospel in Its Literary and Historical Context.”

Three articles on Acts are Steve Walton, “ JOmoqumadovn in Acts: Co-location, Common Action or ‘Of One Heart and Mind’?”; Irina Levinskaya, “The Italian Cohort in Acts 10:1”; and Conrad Gempf, “Before Paul Arrived in Corinth: The Mission Strategies in 1 Corinthians 2:2 and Acts 17.”

The lengthiest section is on the Epistles and includes ten articles: Alanna Nobbs, “‘Beloved Brothers’ in the New Testament and Early Christian World”; Andrew D. Clarke, “Equality or Mutuality? Paul’s Use of ‘Brother’ Language”; I. Howard Marshall, “ ‘For the Husband Is Head of the Wife’: Paul’s Use of Head and Body Language”; E. A. Judge. “The Appeal to Convention in Paul”; Brian S. Rosner, ‘With What Kind of Body Do They Come?’ (1 Corinthians 15:35b): Paul’s Conception of Resurrected Bodies”; Peter T. O’Brien, “The Summing Up of All Things (Ephesians 1:10)”; David A. J. Gill, “A Saviour for the Cities of Crete: The Roman Background to the Epistle to Titus”; Peter Walker, “A Place for Hebrews? Contexts for a First-Century Sermon”; David Instone-Brewer, “James as a Sermon on the Trials of Abraham”; and D. A. Carson, “‘You Have No Need That Anyone Should Teach You’ (1 John 2:27): An Old Testament Allusion That Determines the Interpretation.”

The final section on Revelation includes two articles: Bruce W. Longenecker, “Rome, Provincial Cities and the Seven Churches of Revelation 2–3”; and Paul Barnett, “Revelation 12: An Apocalyptic ‘Church History’?”

Each article is worthy of review; however, comments here are limited to four representative ones. Alan Millard’s article, “Zechariah Wrote (Luke 1:63),” describes writing in the ancient world (including discussion of first-century Palestine). Modern readers familiar with reading and writing in their own context might easily overlook the significance of such a simple statement as “Zechariah wrote.” Millard’s helpful survey concludes that reading and writing were generally restricted to professionals including priests. Nevertheless no one would need to go far to find such individuals if needed. In “Atonement Theology in Luke-Acts: Reflections on Its Background,” David Peterson argues persuasively against the view that Luke did not associate atonement with Christ’s death. Peterson traces Luke’s development of soteriology and demonstrates that although Luke emphasized resurrection and glory, atonement is also part of Luke’s comprehensive description of soteriology.

Conrad Gempf explores reasons for possible differences between Paul’s missionary approach to Athens and Corinth in his article, “Before Paul Arrived in Corinth: The Mission Strategies in 1 Corinthians 2:2 and Acts 17.” Among other possibilities, this thought-provoking article considers options such as a changed strategy in Corinth (reflected in 1 Cor. 2:2) after a failure of a sophisticated approach in Athens (Acts 17). Gill’s article, “A Saviour for the Cities of Crete: The Roman Background to the Epistle to Titus,” includes much illuminating information about Roman Crete. It discusses “savior” language in this context and contrasts this with similar language in the Book of Titus. Gill concludes that the careful manner in which Paul employed this language would not result in confusion among Gentile readers.

These articles provide a number of helpful insights into various aspects of the Roman world with detailed supplemental information to more general treatments of this subject. The book also includes a brief biographical forward by John B. Taylor and a list of Winter’s publications. The book concludes with a list of ancient sources (including the Bible) and an index of modern authors. This helpful volume is a fitting tribute to a scholar who has labored for decades to help readers understand the New Testament in its context.

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Joseph D. Fantin
Dr. Fantin believes an accurate understanding of God's Word will enable the believer to grow in his or her relationship with Christ, to love God and others, to bring Christ's love to a lost world, to build up the church, and most importantly, to glorify God. He is committed to teaching exegetical method in order to help students understand, apply, and teach the Bible in order to achieve these goals. His research interests include the prison epistles, the first-century world, Greek, linguistics, and relevance theory. He and his wife, Robin, have two children: Jillian and David.
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