Some months ago, Andy Naselli (professor of NT at Bethlehem College and Seminary) sent me a PDF of a new book he had just completed entitled How to Understand and Apply the New Testament. Over the next few weeks, I read it with great interest and, more importantly, with great benefit.
Here’s my bottom line: I like this book and I commend it to you.
Now a brief, informal review.
As you can tell from the title, this book serves as a basic primer on how to study the NT. The principles in it are, of course, applicable in many ways to the OT but there is a companion volume on the OT by Jason DeRouchie (who also teaches at Bethlehem). This book seems targeted primarily at students, perhaps the very people Andy teaches. It starts at the beginning and walks the reader through the process of, well, understanding and applying a NT text.
However, it is not just students who will benefit. Anyone with an interest in knowing the Word deeper will find this book and its methodology helpful. Sunday school teachers, Bible study or small group leaders, or any sort of Christian who takes the Word seriously will benefit. Even pastors who preach regularly will find it helpful as a refresher and a refiner of methods they already use. The chapters on Greek require some knowledge of Greek, but those who don’t know Greek can just skip them, or read it and learn a little.
There are twelve chapters, each of which deals with a specific area of study such as genre, text criticism, Greek, context, theology, application, etc. Each chapter is filled with clear and concise steps that are illustrated by examples that show the method being applied.
The book contains many personal anecdotes and stories because it was originally developed as a lecture series. This lends itself to an informal style of writing which actually helps the reading of it.
One of the downsides of this book is its length, running almost 350 pages of text not counting the front matter (TOC, Intro, etc.) and the end matter (glossary, indices).
But here’s why that doesn’t matter as much: Much of the length is found in the illustrations, which help the reader, but are not necessary to the point of the book. Don’t read that as an excuse to skip the illustrations the first time through. Read it as freedom to skip them the second or third time through and focus just on the steps as they apply to the passage in front of you. One could even benefit from a methodological handout that condenses the key questions to ask and things to look for to just a few pages. You might create that handout on your way through, or wait until Andy creates one of some sort. As Andy notes in the Introduction (don’t skip it), exegesis can’t be boiled down to a steps. It is both a science and an art that, over time, will become second nature of a sort. But until then, it is helpful to have a list of questions you need to answer and things you need to look for. This book will identify those things for you and give you direction on how to find them.
One thing I have noticed in Andy’s writing is his use of very detailed outlines. This book is no exception. Though it has a table of contents in which each chapter is named with a one line explanation, it also has a twelve-page Analytical Outline that is more detailed that gives all the major headings in the book and serve as a summary of the book. The downside of this Analytical Outline is that it doesn’t include page numbers. (Andy, see if you can get P&R to add those in.) This outline will help you to find particular parts of the book as you need them or want to review them.
Much more could be said and others have done that elsewhere.
In the end, I recommend How to Understand and Apply the New Testament and encourage you to pick it up and work your way through it. You will benefit from it.