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Mark Powell: Introducing the New Testament


Mark Allan Powell, Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 560 pages, ISBN 9780801028687.

In the long line of NT introductions, there are some whose chief merits lie in the depth of their analysis, and there are others that are judged better for their pedagogical merits. Powell’s NT introduction scores well in both departments. Powell has not skimped with respect to either the difficult questions or in presenting the necessary background material to understand a particular NT writing—with one exception (see below). Yet his writing is everywhere clear, and presumes no prior technical knowledge of the field. (Powell even defines words like “passion” and “synoptic” as he goes along.) The book’s layout is strikingly beautiful, with plenty of brightly colored photographs and charts, and lots of sidelights. (This is in keeping, of course, with the changing style of the college textbook. What the devolution of the college textbook to this more high-schoolish mode of presentation says about the modern college student is perhaps a depressing question.)

This book is poised to become one of the leading NT introductions in the coming decades. Its chief competitor will be Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament, now in its fourth edition.

Given the depth of Powell’s discussion, a course designed around this book could easily make due without assigning any supplementary reading. There is, however, one exception: teachers should beware that Powell’s discussion of the synoptic problem fails to mention any of the main arguments lying at the center of the debate, and the student will get a poor grasp of the field from Powell’s superficial (but drawn-out) discussion. (For example, the term [or concept of the] “minor agreement” does not appear anywhere on the eight pages devoted to the synoptic problem, and, indeed, there is no paragraph in which it might naturally fit, and yet the minor agreements are one of the main points of contention in the debate.) In the past 100 years, no expert on the synoptic problem has written a NT introduction (except perhaps Kümmel). Powell’s book is a reminder of that fact.

Reviewed by John C. Poirier

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2011

About the Author: John C. Poirier, Th.M. (Duke Divinity), D.H.L. (Jewish Theological Seminary), is an independent scholar who has published numerous articles on a wide range of topics. He is the author of The Invention of the Inspired Text: Philological Windows on the Theopneustia of Scripture (2021).

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