Many of these can be purchased in paper, kindle, or from Logos or Accordance. (I’m a big Logos user.) As with all my recommendations, take them with a grain of salt. I neither fully endorse nor vouch for everything said in these, but you will certainly learn and grow by reading them.
Samples are often available from Amazon or Google books, and in some cases I’ve linked to others here or in the past.
If you missed it, part 1 is here.
- Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament by Holzapfel, Huntsman, and Wayment
- If you’re new to really studying the NT, pick up a new translation and this large well-illustrated book. It’s one of the best things to come out of Deseret Book, although I guess it’s 8 years old at this point. Still worth reading.
- Huntsman has a lot of good things coming out of DB recently, like The Miracles of Jesus, a study of the Passion narratives called God So Loved the World: The Final Days of the Savior’s Life; a similar treatment at the other end of Jesus’ life, Good Tidings of Great Joy – An Advent Celebration of the Savior’s Birth. While I haven’t read these all yet, I’m impressed with what I’ve seen, and he’s the kind of author who merits a blanket recommendation, though.
- Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library).
- This is a serious but accessible introduction by a famed Catholic NT scholar. It’s more book-like than the two below.
- Brown also wrote the Anchor Bible Commentary on John’s Gospel, and a 2-volume series on The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave
- Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings
- The volume above is basically a NT 101 textbook for college use that introduces all the major interpretive techniques and questions used by scholars. I have an older edition, quite useful.
- Ehrman is a popular writer. Rare indeed is the scholar who can make a book on Greek text criticism crack the NYT best-sellers at #5, but he’s done it. Ehrman’s books include his story about his own journey from generic Christian to quasi-fundamentalist to loss of faith entirely (connected, in my mind), and his cynicism shows, I think. (See also the interview with him and some others, “Losing Faith, Who Did and Who Didn’t: How Scholarship Affects Scholars” from BAR.) Nevertheless, there is some value in his books.
- Crossley is not a well known name, but the word-of-mouth is very positive on his Reading the New Testament: Contemporary Approaches (Reading Religious Texts).
- If you’re a traditionalist, or just looking for baby steps, try Holzapfel/Wayment’s Jesus the Christ Study Guide. It’s not available from Amazon yet, only Deseret.
- Talmage wrote JtC based on the best Protestant scholarship available to him at the time. Since then, we’ve learned an awful lot. Think of this Study Guide as a serious update, a revision. I hear very good things.
The world of the NT is extremely different from our own. It’s not just the words that we need translated, because we will inevitably weigh and understand them from within our own experiences and cultural perspective.
- Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible
- A great, easily accessible introduction to how cultural differences lead to misunderstandings when reading the Bible. Highly recommended (though I wish they’d footnote more of their assertions.)
- Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture
- More technical and focused than above, this looks at several aspects of culture that differ from our own.
- Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels
- I haven’t read this, but was made aware of it by this review. I’m quite interested to get my hands on it, but grain of salt and all that.
- Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts
- This is a little drier and more technical, but explains the different social structures that were in place in the NT.
- Jodi Magness is an archaeologist, and well-suited to write Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus. This is another volume I haven’t read personally, but a friend who studied under Magness speaks highly of her work. Reviews say it is a bit dry, but provides a good like at the daily nitty-gritty.
The Bible of the NT?
For many of the first Christians, “the Bible” meant not the Hebrew texts, but the Greek translation(s) of it, called the Septuagint or LXX. Indeed, many of the NT citations of the OT (heavily obscured in our LDS KJV, another reason to pick up a second translation) match the Greek LXX, not the Hebrew. Sometimes the changes are significant.
- See When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, which gets directly into the issue. (Review here.)
- For a handle on the Septuagint, though slightly technical, I suggest Invitation to the Septuagint by Jobes and Silva.
- The LXX can be read in a new, free translation, the New English Translation of the Septuagint or NETS. You can buy a copy or read it free here.
- Analysis and discussion of how the NT quotes and uses the OT is available in verse-by-verse order in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.
- This issue is somewhat problematic, and can causes problems for people who expect the NT authors to be interpreting the Old Testament in context. I’ll be addressing those assumptions somewhat in my own book, but in the meantime, Peter Enns gives it lengthy discussion in his excellent Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament cf. Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) and The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New
Texts and Contexts
If you want to be a NT scholar, there is a crap ton of background literature you must become familiar with, both Jewish and Greco-Roman. Sometimes scholars become expert in just one area of this background, spending their entire lives studying it. An overview of all of these can be found in Craig Evans’ Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature. One book includes relevant selections from all of these in a verse-by-verse quasi-commentary, called Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study
Below is a selection of three major sources, skip if not interested.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls are a major source of knowledge for the kinds of Judaism, or Judaisms before, during, and after the NT period. Tons of misinformation and folklore exists among LDS about the DSS in spite of having some very competent Hebrew scholars (e.g. see the story Millet tells starting on p. 37 here.) Nevertheless, you’re not going to get anything out of reading them straight.
- A LDS view, LDS Perspectives on the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Maxwell Institute.
- A non-LDS introduction by a well-known scholar and gentleman (RIP and PBUH) David Noel Freedman, co-written with someone I’ve never heard of (presumably a student of his). I have a signed copy from visiting with him at UCSD. What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls and Why Do They Matter?
- If you must read them, I recommend this translation or this one. In spite of the titles, neither includes the Biblical scrolls, which are multiple and fragmentary. If you’d like to read those or know how they affect the OT text, read The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible.
- The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance For Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity
- This covers pretty much every aspect of them for non-specialists. I’d probably read this and the LDS volume, unless you’re a DSS completist.
- Josephus was a Jewish general and historian contemporary with the latter half of the NT. He is also a major contemporary source, writing in Greek about Judaism, history, and the OT. Josephus has long been known and translated into English. We all know that Joseph Smith and companions sang A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief while in Carthage jail, but did you know they also read aloud from Josephus? (Watch Lincoln Blumell’s presentation on Joseph and Josephus here.)
- Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament
- Mason is a Josephus scholar, and this is meant for laypeople with an interest, and includes maps.
- If you’d like to read Josephus, the older archaic translation by William Whiston (1667 – 1752) is in public domain for easy googling. Otherwise, Josephus: The Essential Works is probably your best option.
- Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament
- The Apocrypha are likely Jewish books that were and are considered canonical by some, but survived only in Greek (and Latin) translations of what would become the Old Testament. Joseph Smith was at least vaguely familiar with the Apocrypha, because it was included in the KJV purchased to use for the JST, giving us D&C 91 (see also the Joseph Smith Papers and the student manual). Several of the Bibles I recommended can be ordered with or without the apocrypha.
- See Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance
- A good discussion is also included in Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction, which covers broader territory in a quasi-chronological order.
- Kofford Press has reissued Apocryphal Writings And the Latter-day Saints, a collection edited by Wilfred Griggs, a retired polymath BYU prof. Also available online from the RSC.
These work best in electronic form (Logos or Accordance), because you can do a search on a verse reference and find everything that cites it. Or click on a word and have it open up in the dictionaries that have a reference on it.
- IVP Dictionaries
- Buy these individually or together. The NT series includes the Dictionary of New Testament Background, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Updated in 2013), Dictionary of Paul and His Letters , Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments. The paper set is here (includes the older edition of Jesus and the Gospels). The Logos sete includes several other volumes as well, and is significantly cheaper than paper. Logos has transitioned into an all-download model, but you can still get this cheap on CD from Amazon. (The functionality and rights will be exactly the same; setup and registration are a bit different.)
- I’m a fan of the OT volumes as well.
- Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
- This covers the period from the close of the OT at roughly 400 BC until 200 AD. (Also on Logos.)
- For a good, cheap supplement to the Bible Dictionary, used or paperback versions of The Oxford Companion to the Bible are under $10. (See previous discussion of the LDS Bible Dictionary.)
Part 3 is coming, and there will likely be a short part 4 as well.