New Testament Backgrounds For Beginners: Conclusion

Editor’s Note: This series is for those who want to better understand the New Testament’s historical-cultural background. You can find previous posts in this series here.

It’s rather embarrassing to admit that I’m just now finishing this series after beginning it in November. And I’m not just now finishing it because of the wealth of material I’ve been producing. My last post in this series was December 8th. But, alas, I have finally gotten around to finishing what I’ve started.

This post will be pretty straightforward. I’m simply going to provide a list of books which I think are very helpful for someone who is ready to dive deeper in to the New Testament’s historical-cultural context. I have listed these from easiest to hardest, so the order below is by design. I hope that you will find these helpful!

One final reminder before we get to the list: rejoice in the fact that our faith is rooted in actual history. Some believers I have met bemoan the fact that we need this type of context in order to understand certain passages of the Bible. Don’t. It is superbly glorious that the events and situations recorded in the New Testament happened in real time and space. In actual, documentable history. We do not have a God who operates only in the theoretical or speculative realm. We have a God who stepped out of heaven and invaded human history to make Himself known. The gospels record this invasion and the epistles record how we are now to live in light of it.

Okay, with that reminder in place, let’s get to our list.

1. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, ed. by Craig Keener & John Walton
This work is an absolute gem. If you’re looking for a study Bible, I strongly urge you to consider this one. Rather than dictating to you what a given verse may mean, this Bible provides you, the reader, with the necessary background information for you to actually engage with the text and discern its meaning.

2. Zondervan Atlas Of The Bible
There are many great bible atlases available. The reason I like this one is because of the amazing graphics used in developing the maps. Rather than just the having the topical maps we’re use to seeing, where everything looks flat, this atlas is filled with maps which view the terrain at an angle, helping you to see notable changes in topography, such as mountain ranges and valleys.

3. New Bible Dictionary, 3rd Ed.
This book is exhaustive in its treatment of terms, plot motifs, customs, and historical contexts found within the pages of Scripture. For example, how did the Pharisees develop as a group during the Intertestamental period? After all, the word “Pharisee” occurs nowhere in the Old Testament. Buy this book and find out.

4. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, ed. by Clinton Arnold
This set is great for really entering into the world of the first century. I particularly appreciate the fact that it is replete with references to Jewish works written during the Second Temple Period.

5. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
Another great background commentary, written by one of my favorite scholars, Dr. Craig Keener.

6. The Greco-Roman World Of The New Testament Era: Exploring The Background of Early Christianity
This book (and the two which follow) is not in any way a commentary. Rather, it reads more like a general history of the New Testament period, with particular emphasis on its Greco-Roman background (hence, the title). It also explores different facets of ancient life, such as what it was like to live in a city in the Roman Empire versus the country, how the ancients viewed gender roles, how they viewed a cosmos which, to them, teemed with supernatural entities.

7. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament
I really enjoyed this one and I think you’ll find its content both enjoyable and very accessible. In my view, the most important context for understanding the New Testament is its Jewish context (over against its Greco-Roman context) and this book will guide you into that world.

8. Backgrounds Of Early Christianity, 3rd Ed.
Weighing in at 620 pages, this book is definitely the heftiest of the last three. This book is chock-full of information regarding the New Testament’s Greco-Roman and Jewish backgrounds. I really enjoyed his chapter dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls, As enjoyable as this book is, I would recommend starting with the previous two before trying to tackle this one.

Well, that officially wraps this series up. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and, more importantly, I hope it has encouraged you to read the Bible in light of its historical-cultural contexts.


Questions You Need To Ask Before Teaching The Bible


Let’s be honest: teaching the Bible is scary.

If it’s not to you, it should be. Whether you are a small group leader, Sunday school teacher, professor, pastor, or anything else where the Word of God has been entrusted to you to magnify and exposit, you should tremble. Continue reading

New Testament Backgrounds For Beginners: Pt. 3


Editor’s Note: This series is for those who want to better understand the New Testament’s historical-cultural background, but aren’t sure where to start. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here, respectively.

As we venture in to week 3 of New Testament backgrounds, I want us to get a feel for what Rome’s expansion policies were like and what this meant for the various people who were placed under their power. Then, in the last part of the post, we’ll especially spend some time focusing in on how this took shape in Judea, Galilee, Samaria, etc. All the places where Jesus carried out His ministry and the region where the church was born. Continue reading

New Testament Backgrounds For Beginners: Pt. 2


Editor’s Note: This series is for those who want to better understand the New Testament’s historical-cultural background, but aren’t sure where to start. Part 1 of this series can be found here.

Last week I introduced this series by giving you a broad timeline of the New Testament’s historical context (356 B.C.-A.D. 313) and the three main people groups who formed the bulk of the cultural matrix of the first century: Romans, Greeks, and Jews.

Now this week, I want us to take a stroll through Continue reading

New Testament Backgrounds For The Beginner: Intro


Editor’s Note: This series is designed for those who would like to learn more about the historical and cultural background in which the New Testament was written, but aren’t sure where to start.

We know that the Bible was written in real time and space and that it records events that happened in real time and space. Unlike some other religions, Christians fully and unashamedly embrace the fact that the Bible has a historical-cultural context.

But unfortunately, many Christians remain frustratingly unaware as to what that historical-cultural context is. Continue reading

By Faith


Hebrews is one of my favorite books of the bible.  It manages to link the Old and New Testament with such clarity.  It is full of empowering declarative statements.  My heart turns to a worshipful attitude and reveals new mysteries every time I read it.  I just finished reading Hebrews 11.  It  takes us through many stories of the Old Testament demonstrating how God was revealed through people’s faith.  Verse 4 says: Continue reading

Does The Bible Really Say That God Hates?

Yes. Yes it does.

Among the things that the Bible tells us that God hates are idolatry (Deuteronomy 12:31), sexual immorality (Leviticus 20:1-23), child sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:31, 2 Kings 3:27), and those individuals that do evil deeds and acts (Psalm 5:4-6). Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven different things that the LORD hates. They include Continue reading

Don’t Ask Questions The Text Isn’t Answering

When we come to the Bible, we usually come with our own set of questions. What does God’s Word say about this or that? For instance, we might ask what the Bible teaches about marriage or parenting. And, generally speaking, the Bible does indeed have a lot to say on these kinds of topics. But there are two hidden dangers in this approach to Bible study. Continue reading

To Do Or Not To Do: The Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Dilemma.

I was young and God was blowing up my world. I’d tasted the poison of the world and had found fulfillment in Christ. An unquenchable desire to be in God’s Word was in my heart. I would find myself reading the Bible yearning for God to use it to change me. I’m thankful that He met my desire and continues to do so.

But there was a problem, and it was huge. Why didn’t the church that I was a part of look like the church that I was reading about in the Bible? Continue reading

Does The New Testament Teach That Jesus Is God?


What do Dan Brown, Bart Ehrman, and Arius all have in common? All agree that Jesus was not truly God.

In Dan Brown’s famous book, The Da Vinci Code he contends that the deity of Jesus is something the Church developed a few centuries later in an effort to maintain their hierarchical power.

Bart Ehrman, professor of New Testament at the University of North Carolina, likewise believes that the “early disciples” never thought of Jesus as preexistent. Continue reading