I just finished reading a great book that provides a brief historical overview of some of the major “events” shaping the New Testament world. While it doesn’t claim to provide a comprehensive look at any of the events, nor does it claim these are the only events to impact the New Testament world, it does a great job of providing context for the world in which Jesus came, the Christian church was birthed and the New Testament was written.
The seven events described are:
- The Death of Alexander the Great – describes Alexander’s conquest of the known world and the resulting spread of Greek culture.
- The Process of Translating Hebrew Scriptures into Greek – because of the spread of Greek culture, even Jewish people in the time of Jesus would have read their own scriptures in Greek; this section describes how that happened and why.
- The Rededication of the Jerusalem Temple – describes the events depicted in the apocryphal book(s) of Maccabees where the Jewish people revolted against one of Alexander’s successors (Antiochus Epiphanes), which resulted in the rededication of the temple.
- The Roman Occupation of Judea – despite gaining independence for approx. 100 years, in-fighting meant an easy victory for the new Roman Empire as it spread across the known world. This section describes how this occupation impacted the culture.
- The Crucifixion of Jesus – self-explanatory
- The Writing of the New Testament Texts – describes the timeline and process of writing these texts.
- The Process of “Closing” the New Testament Canon – describes how these specific texts became to be read more widely and eventually adopted as texts on par with the Holy Scriptures (Old Testament)
Taken together, describing these events help provide incredible historical insight into the world behind the New Testament.
At the end of the book, the author (Warren Carter) provides some concluding thoughts for people and I’d like to summarize them here in my own words.
- The NT did not drop out of the sky untouched by human hands. It is shaped by the world from which it was written and ignoring this fact can cause us to miss some of the claims it attempts to make.
- The NT was written in a multi-cultural world and not one that tried to segregate themselves and avoid encountering other ways of thinking.
- The NT extends and re-imagines God’s covenant with Israel in the OT. It is very connected to this larger story.
- The NT very much engages the Roman Empire. At times the writings are very critical and at other times accommodating. This was a group of people trying to make sense of their place in a world where their leader had been executed as an enemy of the empire.
- The NT speaks with various voices. They are multiple, diverse, varied and at times at odds with one another. This was seen as a good thing and invites us into a “conversation among diverse voices”.
- The NT is a social document that emerges from community and for community.
- The NT shows the early church re-reading everything in the Scriptures through “Jesus-glasses”. Jesus has reframed the entire story and they were not afraid to reinterpret what they thought was in the scriptures according to what Jesus had now revealed about God.
This book is a great introduction to the historical formation of the New Testament as we have it today. Context matters!