New Testament introductions provide us with background information to assist in our understanding of the text. These introductions summary the historical, political, literary, and theological background of each book of the New Testament canon.
Even though most commentaries contain background material, a single volume New Testament introduction can greatly enhance a Bible student’s library. I routinely refer to my NT introductions before starting a systematic study of a book in the New Testament.
Below, I have listed the five best New Testament introductions that are available to Christians today. The first two are more basic, while the latter three are more advanced.
Basic 1: The Lion and the Lamb by Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles (2012)
I recommend this New Testament introduction as the best first purchase for most Christians. It is evangelical, based on the hermeneutical principles laid out by Kostenberger and Patterson in Invitation to Biblical Interpretation. The authors analyze each New Testament book by summarizing the following:
- History: authorship, date, destination, etc.
- Literature: genre, literary plan, outline, etc.
- Theology: theological themes, contribution to the canon.
After a brief overview on the nature of Scripture and the political and religious background of the New Testament, this introduction is divided into three main sections.
- Section 1 covers the four gospels of Jesus.
- Section 2 covers the Acts and Paul’s thirteen epistles.
- Section 3 covers the general epistles and Revelation.
This book is an abridgment of the Cradle, the Cross and the Crown. It is more user friendly. It omits some of the more lengthy discussions on challenges to the traditional views of authorship. It also includes application points to help the read apply to teachings of a particular New Testament book.
Published in 2012, this introduction is up-to-date. It can be used for self-study. It makes an excellent textbook for a college level NT introduction course. It serves as an excellent reference work for Christians who want a solid, evangelical introduction of the New Testament.
Basic 2: Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey by Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough (3rd Edition, 2013)
The layout of this textbook makes it very accessible with excellent colored photographs, tables, and diagrams. Most chapters include excellent chapter summaries and study questions to stimulate further thought and discussion. The authors are fairly evangelical conservatives, so I have little reservation recommending this work for newer Christians.
But if I were to choose one New Testament introduction for Christian laymen, I still prefer the Lion and the Lamb.
Advanced 1: The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown by Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles (2nd Edition, 2016)
This second edition includes an updated bibliography, additional maps, discussion on the different NT literary genres, and a summary storyline of the entire Bible.
Pastors and serious Bible students will prefer this larger work compared to the abridgment, the Lion and the Lamb. The structure and format of this introduction is almost identical to the abridgment. Currently, the 2nd edition is not available in eBook format, so I have not upgraded. But I don’t believe there’s a compelling reason to purchase the second edition if you already have the first edition.
Advanced 2: Introduction to the New Testament by D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo (2nd Edition, 2005)
I routinely reference this introduction. Many Bible colleges and seminaries require this volume as a textbook for their NT Introduction classes. Most of the book is dedicated to introductory material, though there is some theological discussion.
Although other NT introductions often neglect early church father writings, Carson and Moo routinely reference patristic writings. I do not own any of the more critical introductions like Raymond Brown’s Introduction to the New Testament. I feel that Carson and Moo’s volume is sufficient in its discussion on critical topics like the new perspective on Paul.
Advanced 3: New Testament Introduction by Donald Guthrie (4th Edition, 1990)
Robert Thomas, professor of New Testament at Master’s Seminary, required his students to read every single word in Guthrie’s New Testament Introduction includes all its footnotes. He felt that this is the best New Testament introduction, and he has good reason.
Guthrie’s introduction is detailed, conservative, and comprehensive. I believe this book is out of print, but you should still be able to find new and used copies. I do not recommend this as your first NT introduction unless you are a seminary or advanced Bible student. Guthrie did not format his introduction to help less advanced students unravel the big picture and key points.
Other New Testament Introductions
- An Introduction to the New Testament by D. Edmund Hiebert
- The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction by Donald A. Hagner
- Introduction to the New Testament by Raymond E. Brown
- The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament by David Aune