I have decided to add an “Introduction” to my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  I is very similar (indeed!) to the introduction that I have now in my Introduction to the entire Bible.  The whole idea is to get students to see why taking an academic course on the NT is very important.   Here is the new Introduction, in full:



Why Study the New Testament?

The New Testament is the most commonly purchased, widely read, and deeply cherished book in the history of Western Civilization.  It is also the most widely misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misused.  These facts alone should make it worth our time to study it.   But there are other reasons as well – religious reasons, historical reasons, and literary reasons.

Religious Reasons

Most people who study the new Testament do so, of course, for religious reasons.  Many people revere the Bible as the word of God, and want to know what it can teach them about what to believe and how to live.   In this book we will not study the New Testament in order to promote any particular religious point of view or theology – Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Jewish, agnostic, atheist or anything else.   We will instead be approaching the New Testament from a historical point of view.   But even from this alternative perspective, there are solid religious reasons for studying the New Testament  — even for those people who are not themselves religious or interested in becoming religious.  That is because in order to understand our world, and the religious people in it, we need to have a firmer grasp on the book that stands at the heart of the Christian religion.

Historical Reasons

Arguably the most important reason for studying the New Testament – especially from a historical point of view —  is because of its importance for the history of Western Civilization.

The dominant religion of Europe and the New World for the past 2000 years has been Christianity.  This religion continues to assert an enormous influence on our form of culture.  This is true not only on the individual level, as people are guided in their thoughts, beliefs, and actions by what they learn in this religion.  It is true on the broadest historical scale imaginable.  Christianity has had the single greatest impact on Western civilization of any religion, ideology, or world view, whether looked at culturally, socially, politically, or economically.   There is no other institution that can even come close.  And at the foundation of Christianity –at its heart, one could argue – stands the New Testament.  If one does not understand the New Testament, one cannot fully understand the course of the history of the world we inhabit.

And more than that, there can be no doubt that…