Book Notice: A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies: Understanding Key Debates

Nijay K. Gupta. A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies: Understanding Key Debates. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. 208 pages. $24.99 (paperback).

In A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies, Nijay Gupta, Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois, draws from his experience as a New Testament researcher and instructor to provide students with a concise primer on important debates taking place in NT scholarship. Since discussions of current topics in NT studies can be characterized by complex histories and technical jargon, Gupta seeks to educate the reader by introducing and explaining thirteen key debates (e.g. the Synoptic Problem, pseudonymity, Paul and Jewish Law). Gupta’s goal for this book is to “aid the uninitiated in understanding, in a simple way, some of the most important and hotly debated issues in academic study of the New Testament” (xi).

Before reading this book, readers should understand Gupta’s goals and intentions in writing it. Gupta does not explicitly argue for any of the positions laid out in his book (though readers should practice careful discernment in evaluating his presentations and sources). Instead, Gupta summarizes and organizes the elements of his chosen thirteen NT debates to help his readers work towards forming an educated opinion for themselves on the subjects. For example, in Chapter Nine, “The New Testament and the Roman Empire,” Gupta provides questions that give the impetus for covering the topic—“How did the earliest Christians conceive of their relationship with and responsibilities toward the Roman Empire? Were they explicitly and directly critical of Rome?” (121). Then he defines Empire studies (121–22) and lays out the two major views (opposing vs. negotiating Empire; 123–27). He ends with a test case that reflects on the phrase “peace and security” in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 (127–30). Each chapter follows a similar pattern of definition, side-presentation, and reflection.

His tone is generally balanced and professional. For example, in his chapter on the Synoptic Problem, Gupta presents the debate within the sciences of source criticism and social memory (3–12) without himself engaging in any overt theological argumentation to sway the reader towards a particular view. This preserves the purpose of his book, which is to simply provide an overview of NT debates in an academically credible way for a wide readership.

While one book cannot cover everything, there are a few other important topics that Gupta could have addressed as well, such as discussions on trinitarianism, Second Temple Judaism, or ecclesiology. Nevertheless, the thirteen debates Gupta does cover are all crucial debates that any student of the New Testament should understand. Therefore, the central strength of the guide is its usefulness. Even though it is primarily written for “relative newcomers” (xi) to NT scholarship, this work can also aid the well versed as it lays out positions clearly, discusses the pros and cons of each, and offers additional resources (at two academic levels: beginner and advanced) for each topic. On the whole, teachers, students, and the curious alike will find Gupta’s guide practical and informative, and for the most part a solid foundation for beginning deeper investigations into some of the key issues in NT studies.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. CBS book notices are not full academic book reviews. The present book notice was written by Jonathan Wright, a Ph.D. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


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