Book Notice: Handbook on Acts and Paul’s Letters

Thomas R. Schreiner. Handbook on Acts and Paul’s Letters. Handbooks on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019. 480 pages. $44.99 (hardcover).

What do you do if you don’t want to get bogged down with the details of a commentary, but you want more information than what you typically find in an introduction? Baker Academic has begun a series of handbooks on the NT edited by Benjamin Gladd (to match the already-published OT counterpart) that seeks to bridge the gap between these two extremes. Thomas Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of NT Interpretation and professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written the inaugural volume of this series: Handbook on Acts and Paul’s Letters. The remaining volumes are Andreas Köstenberger, Handbook on Hebrews through Revelation (to be published in July 2020) and Benjamin Gladd, Handbook on the Gospels.

The handbook offers a chapter on the book of Acts followed by chapters on each of Paul’s letters (one chapter per letter). As one would expect, the chapters vary in length depending on the topic: Romans receives sixty-eight pages of material, while Philemon receives ten. Every chapter opens with introductory matters such as authorship, date, and organization of the book, while lengthy bibliographies are included at the end of each chapter for further reading. The lion’s share of the material consists of section-by-section overviews of each book.

If you have read any of Schreiner’s other works, you may be surprised to find that there are, in fact, no footnotes in this volume. Some readers may appreciate this feature of the “handbook” genre, while others may be frustrated by it. Regardless, one would be hard pressed to find a surer guide through the Pauline letters than Schreiner. He avoids overly dogmatic stances on the notoriously difficult passages, and his careful devotion to the text will help the reader come to a better understanding of Paul’s writings. When reading the volume, one feels like they are sitting at the feet of a seasoned scholar, listening to the wisdom of a lifetime of careful study.

If you are a teacher or preacher, this handbook will provide a broad overview of each section that can be consulted before diving into deeper study. For example, if you are preparing a sermon series on Ephesians, you would greatly benefit from reading through the corresponding chapter in the handbook before you move into the commentaries for week-by-week exposition. Laypeople will also benefit by keeping a copy on hand to supplement daily Bible reading. Although the bibliographies are extensive, students who are looking to this volume as an introduction to the secondary sources or point/counterpoint overviews might prefer more extensive interaction with secondary literature. This is not a shortcoming of the book itself—it just represents the nature of the genre of “handbook.”

Overall, the Handbook on Acts and Paul’s Letters excels in its purpose. As a handbook to the Pauline literature, this work stands unrivaled, and I heartily recommend it.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Mark Baker (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), Dean of Faculty at Paideia Academy in Knoxville, TN.  


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