In this clearly laid out volume of two, Wenham and Walton focus on the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles and provide scholars and students alike with the essential elements for understanding this first part of the New Testament in its historical and literary setting. Divided into five sections and thirteen chapters, the text opens with a brief introduction that serves as an instruction on how to use the book. The various sections and chapters that follow outline key elements of the Gospels and Acts, and each chapter closes with suggested texts for further reading. Additionally, with the exception of Chapter 2, Wenham and Walton pose a series of essays at the end of the various chapters that are designed not only to aid students in the recapitulation of material but also to help them see the implications of and connections among certain points stressed within each chapter. The volume closes with a brief glossary of notable terms.
Prior to their discussion of the Gospels, Wenham and Walton shed light on the historical backdrop to Jesus and the New Testament. Chapter 1 of the first section, "Setting the Scene," considers the time period dated from the Persian period to the Jewish war. The chapter's main focus is on Greco-Roman times and the prominent dynasties and families of this period. Chapter 2 looks at Judaism in first-century Palestine. Here Wenham and Walton outline what they consider to be five marks of second temple Judaism: (1) "one true God" (pp. 25-28); (2) "God has chosen Israel" (pp. 28-29); "God has provided a way to live" (pp. 29-34); (4) "God has given the people a land, focused in the Temple" (pp. 34-36); and (5) "hope for the future" (pp. 36-37). A discussion on the main parties and groups within first-century Judaism follows.
The second section of the text, "Approaching the Gospels," provides information on the term "gospel," and examines how the four Gospels are similar and dissimilar to other ancient literature. Various tools (e.g., narrative criticism, social-scientific, etc.) are succinctly outlined, along with a series of approaches for interpreting and understanding Jesus' parables, miracles, and apocalyptic imagery. Wenham and Walton balance their discussion of the Gospels' historicity with comments on how the Gospels can be used in contemporary times.
The life, teaching, and aims of Jesus highlight the volume's third section, "Understanding Jesus." Of particular interest is the discussion on the quest for the historical Jesus which synthesizes the major scholarly contributions made to this area of study. Represented is the thought of Hermann Samuel Reimarus, H. G. Paulus, David Strauss, A. Schweitzer, Rudolph Bultmann, E. Kasemann, and John Dominic Crossan, among others.
Having developed a rich context for the study o f the Gospels, Wenham and Walton next turn to the study of the three Synoptic Gospels and John, all featured in the fourth section of their work. Each Gospel is studied individually, with one chapter being devoted to each. Both the historical and literary dimensions of the Gospels are explored as well as their theological messages.
The final section, Chapter 13 of the book, explores the Acts of the Apostles. What makes this segment of the work distinct from the previous chapter's study on the Gospels is a focus on Acts as a text that can be read today, thus linking an ancient world to a contemporary context.
Throughout the volume there are charts and maps that complement the volume's orderly presentation of a whole host of ideas and facts. Written in a didactic style, this text is meant for beginning students of NT on the undergraduate level. I highly recommend the use of this volume to teachers and professors of beginning courses in Biblical Studies