New Testament Books for Pastor and Teacher

Written by Ralph Martin Reviewed By Anthony C. Thiselton

One of the most fundamental goals of theological education is to teach and to learn the tools of the trade. It is impossible to do work of the highest standard with poor tools. Yet regularly some students are seduced into squandering precious financial resources on books which may appear to be bargains but which in the event turn out to have little substance which is of permanent value. It is therefore of the utmost importance that every few years a fresh up-to-date guide be offered to students and to prospective ministers which will provide appropriate encouragement and warning on this subject. Professor Martin’s latest volume achieves this goal admirably. It is especially helpful for those preparing for the Christian ministry, but surely hardly less useful for those already ordained. Eight introductory sections which cover the first fifty pages include Bible dictionaries, New Testament introductions, books on biblical history, and New Testament theology. The central fifty pages major on individual New Testament commentaries. The last third of the book sets out bibliographical details of publishers, dates, and availability of books already mentioned, and includes a useful index of names.

I found myself heartily endorsing all but a very few of Professor Martin’s assessments. Who can fault the verdicts that select as the all-round leading commentaries Cranfield on Romans, Barrett on 1 Corinthians, and Bruce on Hebrews? It is no less understandable that the author finds no clear leader on Ephesians, the Pastorals, or Revelation (though Bastian Van Elderen’s commentary on the Pastorals is too recent to be included in this assessment, if it has yet appeared). Inevitably one person will complain of gaps where another would omit a book as unworthy of attention. My only surprise here was the relative brevity of the section on Pauline theology, and especially the absence of such books on authority and power as those of Holmberg and Sch¸tz which are surely very important for working out one’s own approach as a minister to a theology of authority in the church. It is important to keep books on the sociological approach within the over-all frame of theological assessment.

A book such as this also provokes some healthy hermeneutical reflection. What makes a ‘good’ commentary? How can someone judge whether a commentary is good, if he or she happens to know rather less about the text in question than the commentator? Professor Martin’s shrewd comments will help to question the mistaken view that answers depend entirely on pre-suppositions and nothing more. I am sure that my own personal approval of so many of his judgments owes something to our common membership of a community of faith and of an academic guild. But this is not the whole story. Professor Martin gives us reasons for his recommendations which are as valuable as the commendations themselves. I commend this guide as a most valuable and important tool. It will serve the student and enrich the ministry of the church.

Anthony C. Thiselton

University of Nottingham and University College, Chester