Book Thoughts #7: „A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies” by Nijay Gupta

Nijay Gupta’s A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies is aimed to introduce ‘relative newcomers’ to major debates in the field. The author has selected thirteen controversial issues and summarised major approaches to them. He avoids as much as possible technical language and attempts to lay succinctly the heart of each debate. At the end of each chapter, Gupta provides us with suggestions for further readings which are divided into categories of ‘beginner’, ‘advanced’ and books supporting specific positions on a given issue.

Thirteen major debates discussed by Gupta are: 

  1. The Synoptic Problem
  2. The Historical Jesus
  3. The Fourth Gospel and History
  4. Jesus and Paul
  5. Paul’s Theological Perspective
  6. Paul and the Jewish Law
  7. Interpreting the Book of Revelation
  8. Pseudonymity and the New Testament Letters
  9. The New Testament and the Roman Empire
  10. Women in Leadership in the New Testament
  11. Justification by Faith and Judgment according to Works
  12. The Old Testament in the New Testament
  13. The Application and Use of Scripture

His selection of topics is very reasonable and covers main topics that are currently controverted in the field of New Testament studies. I would add myself a chapter on Christology. It could be argued that the use and application of Scripture is not really a subject that fits with the rest as it belongs more to the realm of pastoral theology and ecclesiastical considerations than an academic study of the New Testament per se. I am, however, glad that it was included as I believe that the New Testament should be studied for the church and in order to be applied in our lives.

Gupta outlines all of these debates in a fair way. He attempts to emphasise the strengths of every position and writes in a way that helps readers to understand why someone may be attracted to a given view. In conclusions of each chapter, he gives some pointers for moving the discussion forward and tries to bring out reasons for disagreements without taking sides in any of the discussions. 

Although all of the issues presented in the book are indeed debated sometimes it is not easy to neatly divide views. Gupta in several cases creates his own heuristic labels to capture the controversy. One may take an issue with that some of them are a bit arbitrary. For instance, in the chapter on the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, he outlines two major positions: that New Testament authors use the Old Testament ‘out of context’ and ‘with the context’. But I would hold to the sensus plenior (which he discussed under the first category) and yet generally believe that New Testament authors usually paid attention to the original context. It would be probably unfair, however, to criticise this as some simplification is necessary for pedagogical purposes.

Overall, I think Gupta’s book fulfils its aims well. It will be a great resource for undergraduate and seminary-level introductory courses in the New Testament studies. It could also be of use for pastors who would like to refresh their memory concerning major issues that are controverted in academic literature. 

Nijay K. Gupta. A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies: Understanding Key Debates. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020.

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