Review: Understanding the Times

Title of Work:

Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century

Author of Work:

Andreas J. Köstenberger


Pastor Phil Arnold

Page Number:

Format Availability:


Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century, edited by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Robert W. Yarbrough.  Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2011. 400 pages.

SS.19.New Testament Studies in the 20th Century.LgThis volume is a collection of essays in honor of the 65th birthday of D. A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  The contributing essayists serve at several conservative evangelical seminaries throughout the world.

D.A. Carson is one of the most recognized scholars in contemporary New Testament studies. In addition to his well-known commentaries on Matthew and John, Carson has written on such important topics as gender-inclusive language in Bible translations, the emergent church, and the challenges of communicating biblical truth to a postmodern world. As much as anything, Carson is known for tackling a wide variety of issues facing the modern church.

This Festschrift in Carson’s honor presents a series of essays exploring a wide variety of issues in the realm of New Testament studies.  The book is divided into three major sections: New Testament Studies and Ancillary Disciplines, Special Topics in New Testament Studies, and New Testament Studies through the World.  Because a summary and evaluation of each of the book’s twelve essays would go beyond the scope of this review, it will address the most significant essay from each of these three major sections.

Essay #1 – Greek Linguistics and Lexicography by Stanley E. Porter

After a critical evaluation of the weaknesses of some of the most widely-used works of Greek lexicography (i.e. BDAG, Louw-Nida, TLG), Porter attempts to suggest a new approach to this issue. Drawing heavily on Charles Ruhl’s linguistic theory of monosemy, he contends that we ought to have a minimalist approach to a word’s inherent meaning.  He says, “In other words, whereas maximalists attribute maximal meaning to the word itself, minimalists see only minimal meaning in the word and attribute the rest to pragmatics or to the function or use of language” (32). The rest of the article seeks to illustrate the impact of this “minimalist” linguistic philosophy to our understanding of a few important Greek constructions (i.e. the preposition ἐν, the perfect tense, genitive case).

The first important issue to note about this essay is that it is – far and away – the most difficult in the collection. The author assumes the reader has (at least) a basic understanding of various linguistic theories and philosophies. In addition, his critical evaluation of some commonly used lexical resources may be a bit discouraging. If you can wade through the technical jargon, however, this essay has much to offer. Porter’s “minimalist” view of lexical semantics is a fresh reminder that a passage’s context – and not a lexicon – determines a word’s meaning.  It serves well as a piece to spark important considerations in the area of lexicography.

Essay #5 – Lifting up the Son of Man and God’s Love for the World by Andreas J. Köstenberger

In this essay, Köstenberger “attempt[s] to move beyond a ‘proof text’ approach to John 3:16 and examine the verse in its historical, literary, and theological contexts” (142).  The historical analysis consists mainly of a comparison of John’s Gospel to such apocryphal works as The Apocalypse of Abraham, 2 Baruch, and 4 Ezra and emphasizes how different John’s Gospel is from these writings in its assertion of God’s love for the whole world.  The literary analysis shows how the famous words of John 3:16 relate to the rest of the Nicodemus discourse and (again) emphasizes how these famous words illustrate God’s universal love for all people.  In the theological analysis, Köstenberger shows how the theological themes of John 3:16 (new birth, the lifting up of the Son of Man, and God’s love for the world) relate to other New Testament passages.

This essay is arguably the most helpful in the volume.  It serves as a beautiful example of the methods and benefits of sound exegesis. Following Köstenberger’s emphasis on a passage’s historical, literary, and theological context leads to more fruitful exegesis and a greater understanding of the relationship of a given passage to the rest of Scripture.  In addition, this method protects the exegete from allowing his preconceptions and biases to distort his understanding of the text. This essay will serve anyone who is looking for a fresh approach to exegesis and text study.

Essay #10 – New Testament Studies in North America by Craig L. Blomberg

While recognizing the difficulties of such a task, Blomberg attempts to summarize the vast body of New Testament Studies literature being produced in North America.  He examines the major activity in scholarly fields surrounding some of the most highly debated parts of the New Testament (i.e. the “historical” Jesus debate in the Synoptics, the general neglect of John’s Gospel, the roles of Law and Gospel in Paul’s letters, and the millennial arguments in Revelation). He also discusses the hermeneutical tendency in North American scholarship to “read virtually every part of the New Testament in light of the background of Roman imperial activity” (296) and the “various ongoing feminist approaches to biblical texts and themes” (297).

Since the third section of this volume focuses on the state of New Testament studies in various parts of the world, this section might seem to be most helpful for those engaged in world missions. This article, however, shows why it is important for pastors to be aware of the trends in New Testament studies closer to home. Such awareness not only helps us understand the preconceptions and biases of other Christians and their writings, but also shows us why the church at large so desperately needs to hear the confession of conservative Lutherans.

This collection of essays is a must-read for those pastors who have a special interest and/or aptitude for New Testament Studies.  In addition to serving as a brief overview of the field in the early 21st century, these essays might also provide a “springboard” into areas of further interest and study.  While it may not be a book every pastor would like to own, any of its essays would serve well as a discussion starter for circuit and conference meetings and papers. The volume will provide any pastor with the opportunity to think more deeply and clearly about the many areas of New Testament studies.