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The New Edition of My New Testament Textbook

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have finished editing my textbook on the New Testament for its seventh edition (title still:  The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings).   The book was first published in 1997 and has always been designed for college/university students taking a one-semester course on the New Testament.  In it I do not presuppose any knowledge of the topic, but begin at ground zero.

When I started doing research on the first edition of this textbook back in the mid-90s, I had very clear ideas about what I wanted it to be.   First and foremost, I wanted to approach the New Testament from a rigorously historical perspective.   It is not that I had any difficulties at the time, either professionally or personally, with introductions that were more geared toward theology, or exegesis, or literary criticism.   But I wanted my book to be different.   I wanted to situate the writings of the New Testament more thoroughly than was typically done in the historical, cultural, social, political, literary, and ideological worlds from which it emerged; I wanted it to plow beneath the surface to find clues not only about such traditional issues as authorship, sources, and dates, but also about what was then still a vibrant field of study, social history; I wanted it to ask historical questions of the texts and of the events that they either narrated or presupposed.   I was interested in the history of the text and the formation of the canon of the New Testament.  In the historical Jesus.  In the historical Paul.  In the history of the Johannine community.  In the historical realities lying behind Matthew, and 2 Corinthians, and Revelation.

Relatedly,  I wanted the book to be highly comparative:  how does John compare with the Synoptics?  How do they compare with each other?  How does the preaching of Jesus compare with the accounts of the Gospels?  Or the theology of Paul?  How does Paul’s theology stack up against the letter of James?  Or the book of Hebrews?  How does the book of Revelation compare with everything else?   And on and on.  In my view these questions are central to the historical study of the New Testament, and are inherently interesting.

I also wanted the book to be critical, engaged in rigorous scholarship so that students reading it could see what the critical questions were and what evidence was typically adduced in order to answer them.   I absolutely did not want to emulate some of my predecessors in trying to introduce students to the prominent scholars of the past who took one position or another, and pretend that this is the same thing as introducing them to actual evidence.   In my experience, 19-20 year olds are simply not all that interested, and do not need to be, in the different positions taken on the nature of Justification in Paul by Bultmann, Käsemann, J. Louis Martyn, E. P. Sanders, N. T. wright, and Douglass Campbell.   They’ve never heard the names of these scholars (fine ones, all of them), and, so far as I’m concerned, in an introductory class, they have no need to hear of them.   Far more interesting than a list of names of modern scholars is a grappling with the texts themselves, to try to make sense of Romans or Galatians.

Finally, I thought this kind of approach could be achieved at a level that a 19-or 20-year old might appreciate.  The really difficult task was satisfying that audience and the other audience of a textbook: the university professors who decide whether to use it.  My goal was to make the book interesting, even intriguing, for beginners and yet fully competent in its scholarship.   As far as making it interesting, I realized that the choice of content was fundamental:  the study of the New Testament is absolutely fascinating if you know where to look, but dreadfully dull if you look elsewhere.  At least as important was the style of writing and the layout of the page.

So now it’s in the seventh edition.  I have made a number of changes here and there, including adding a number of “boxes” throughout.   The boxes in the book are like inserted discussions (such as you might find in a news magazine like Time or Newsweek) on a related topic that is particularly interesting but not *directly* germane to the narrative of the chapter itself.  The two most common boxes that I have are titled “Another Glimpse Into the Past,” where I give some additional factual information about the topic and “Something to Think About,” where I discuss a controversial topic that can generate different opinions.

For this new edition there are a dozen new boxes scattered throughout (I’ve eliminated others – especially the ones I thought were the … least interesting!).   I’ve thought it might be a useful exercise to post these new ones on the blog.  They are like short snippets on interesting topics, each of which could be discussed in 30 pages or more, but which I devote usually 300-400 words on only.

Since these are shorter than my normal 1000-word blog posts, my idea is to have *two* postings a day (so you can get your money’s worth on the blog!).  (I had thought about combining them to give two in each post, but since they are all on topics vastly different from each other, I decided that might be confusing).  And so these will be my upcoming mini-posts, two a day for a week or so, starting tomorrow, unless something more pressing comes up that I need to post about instead!




My Pod Cast Interview with Sam Harris
The Digital Bible (by Jeff Siker)



  1. Avatar
    DavidNeale  October 23, 2018

    I am looking forward to this! (I have long wanted to get a copy of your textbook, but buying textbooks new is so expensive, and I thought it would be wrong to buy a second-hand copy and thereby take it away from a student who might need to buy it for their studies.)

  2. Avatar
    Actual_Wolfman  October 23, 2018

    Professor Ehrman,

    Would you suggest this textbook for those simply interested in learning the history of the New Testament?


    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2018

      Yup, it’s a good resource for that — it’s its raison d’etre!

  3. Avatar
    saavoss  October 23, 2018

    Professor Ehrman, when will the new edition be available, and will it be available through an online bookseller? Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2018

      Probably in a bout six months; and yes indeed, it’ll be on Amazon etc.

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 23, 2018

    My edition of this textbook has been incredibly helpful to me. The “layout” with the “boxes” is a terrific way to present stuff. That you have finished this project shortly after finishing your book on the “Afterlife” is truly amazing. You are something else.

  5. epicurus
    epicurus  October 23, 2018

    I often go through a little OCD with side boxes in books. Should I stop reading mid topic and lose my train of thought, and read the side box, or should I wait a page or two until I’ve finished the current idea or sub heading. But then there is often another box there. Somerimes I save up the boxes and read them all at once.
    Decisions, decisions.

  6. Avatar
    fishician  October 23, 2018

    Oh, geez, will these be included in the test, professor?!

  7. Avatar
    Stylites  October 23, 2018

    The occasional touch of humor also helps to make your New Testament text such a great read for anyone of any age. it does not distract from the professionalism of the book.

  8. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  October 23, 2018

    Great idea! They will be a welcome addition to my copy of the Second Edition.

  9. Avatar
    bamurray  October 23, 2018

    Good idea!

  10. Avatar
    chrispope  October 23, 2018

    Bart:: any idea when the 7th edition will go on sale, please? Sounds like a ‘must have’ for me.

  11. Lev
    Lev  October 23, 2018

    Bart – You are one of the most fascinating human beings I’ve ever come across.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand you:

    1. Work as a lecturer for undergraduate students on biblical studies.
    2. Produce works for the professional academy.
    3. Publish popular works for the general public (including this daily blog).

    Are you aware of anyone else who combines these roles together as you have? I can’t think of anyone who does all three. And you have a wife and have raised children – how do you do it all?!?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2018

      Lots of people do #1 and *either* #2 or #3; not so many do all three. (And as to #1, it’s mroe than undergraduates; I also teach graduate students working toward their PhD; that actually takes a lot more time and energy!) I do it by being crazed about efficiency. And by not watching much TV! (Just sports, really, and news when I feel like getting depressed)

      • Lev
        Lev  October 27, 2018

        So does that mean you’ve never seen Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 28, 2018

          Breaking Bad is my all time favorite TV viewing. I’ve never done Game of Thrones.

          • Lev
            Lev  October 28, 2018

            That’s awesome to hear – I am a huge fan of Breaking Bad also. If you loved Breaking Bad, you may like Better Call Saul, with some people (including me) claiming it is at least as good if not better than Breaking Bad.

            I think you would enjoy Game of Thrones for its depiction of grisly medieval realism and gripping storyline. One of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen – the depth of character development, musical score, large-scale realistic action scenes (the ‘Battle of the Bastards’ is incredible) and photography is astonishing! There’s so much else I could rave on about, but that would get into spoiler territory.

            PS: Not that I want for a second to distract you from all your other work – but perhaps swapping depressing news for GoT would work?

        • Avatar
          Pattycake1974  October 29, 2018

          Battle of the Bastards was one of the best episodes on there. Game of Thrones deals with a lot of taboo topics that will make your head spin. I really liked Breaking Bad, but GoT is where it’s at for me. I think it holds the record for the most Emmys won right now. It took me a few seasons to really get into it, but once I did I was hooked!

  12. Avatar
    Hume  October 23, 2018

    Did original sin stay with humanity until Christ came sacrificed himself? If so, how did humans get into Heaven before Christ? Was that even possible?

    I thought humans were not allowed into Heaven with original sin?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2018

      I’m afraid those are theological questions that a mere historian such as I cannot answer….

  13. Avatar
    dws  October 23, 2018

    Great idea. Looking forward to this.

  14. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  October 23, 2018

    Interestingly enough, I have a professional development this week about the issues surrounding textbook use in the classroom from the middle grades through college. According to a 15-year international study quoted in Subjects Matter (my assigned reading), American students have the heaviest and thickest textbooks than any other country in the world; enough to break a foot if dropped on it. Back injuries from carrying textbooks have increased to the point of sparking the current fad of rolling backpacks.

    There are actually people who critique textbooks. It’s usually (or hopefully) someone who is an expert within the genre s/he is critiquing. Problems with textbooks: not age-appropriate for the student, uninteresting to the student, does not engage the student with higher-order/critical thinking questions, bad design, authoriatative (one-sided, introduces bias of the author), the expectation that students should read massive amounts of informational text like a novel or story, too expensive, and out of date or not staying current with the latest data/studies. All textbooks contain errors. One company was so horrible with making mathematical errors, the school threatened to sue if it wasn’t fixed. Sounds crazy, but purchasing a curriculum full of errors is costly.

    The good news is, at least for me, textbooks are here to stay. I’m an advocate for students having at least a textbook in the classroom with access to it online at home. Even with all the e-reading going on, most of us prefer a book in our hands over digital reading.

    My current literature series is awesome, but the grammar portion is terrible so I supplement with other sources. Still, I think textbooks are important to have, and when they’re well-designed, it makes all the difference in classroom success.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  October 24, 2018

      Another thing to add to my previous comment—
      Textbooks are only meant to cover a topic, not go in depth. In-depth study falls to the teacher/instructor which is difficult because there’s hardly any time for in-depth study.

      Being the designer of your own textbook and teaching it is definitely advantageous. Does your textbook come with a teacher’s edition or guide? The college textbook I taught from was terrible. Everyone of us in adjunct complained about it because there was not enough support to us as instructors who are not professors. So I am wondering how often your textbook is given to an adjunct person (you may not know or maybe not at all) and whether s/he has any guidance: pacing, manual, etc…

  15. Avatar
    mkahn1977  October 24, 2018

    My wife says I can’t buy any more books until I read all the ones I already have, so I’ll have to hold off on buying this one right away!

  16. Avatar
    mannix  October 24, 2018

    I have the 6th edition. Are there significant differences between that and your new one? When will it be available?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2018

      There are some — especially in the new boxes. But the substance is very similar.

  17. Avatar
    rivercrowman  October 24, 2018

    Bart, should there be a minor edit 6th edition page 205 concerning Ecclesiastes. Bible reference should be 12:13-14 instead of 13:13-15? Look forward to the new edition!

  18. Avatar
    Hormiga  October 24, 2018

    Reading over this has helped me organize some earlier perceptions about e-reading vs paper-reading.

    1) For ordinary linear reading for enjoyment , like most fiction, popular science, news etc., e-reading on a kindle or similar is the way to go.

    2) For reading texts that need a lot of bookmarking and flipping back and forth(*) paper rules.

    3) For detailed fast searches, perhaps coupled with 2), e-reading on a computer with good search capabilities is needed.

    (*) And end notes are never sufficiently to be deprecated.(**) Footnotes on the same page are so much better.
    (**) “never sufficiently to be deprecated” is a polite way of saying what I really meant.

  19. Avatar
    kjme410  October 27, 2018

    This brings back good memories. This book in 1997 is what introduced me to you. I was taking an intro to NT at Auburn, taught by Dr. William Doty (visiting scholar for that term). We used Burton Mack’s book, “Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth”. One Monday, Dr. Doty showed up with your book and said, “I finally found our textbook!”. Looking forward to this purchasing this new edition.

  20. Avatar
    randal  October 30, 2018

    Dr Ehrman: I’d like to see a book comprising of all your blog posts. That would be an awesome quick reference to anything New Testament and early Christianity.

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