Donald A. HAGNER, The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012. pp. 872. $49.99 hb. ISBN 978-0-8010-3931-7. Reviewed by Eric VANDEN EYKEL, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI 53233
Hagner’s New Testament Introduction is aptly described on its dust jacket as a “capstone work.” Measuring nearly 900 pages in length, it is “weighty” in every sense of the word. While its sheer size may be initially imposing for certain audiences (undergraduates, specifically), the prose is snappy, clean, and a pleasure to read. Hagner notes in the preface that he addresses the theology and history of the New Testament from within the framework of salvation history, “the grand story of God’s work in history, in time and space, to accomplish the redemption of the fallen creation” (xi). In short, this work is penned from an explicitly theological perspective. But historical questions are by no means eclipsed, as the author does not shy from detailed discussions of pseudonymous authorship and source-critical theories.
The introductory material is comprised of three chapters: “Approaching the New Testament as the Church’s Scripture”; “The Old Testament as Promise and Preparation”; and “The World of the New Testament.” Though brief (comparatively speaking), these chapters provide adequate background knowledge of the history, theology, and narrative that undergird the world of the New Testament authors. The “core” of the book follows the ordering of the canon: Gospels, Acts, Pauline (and Deutero-Pauline) Epistles, Hebrews and Catholic Epistles, Apocalypse. Gospels are ordered according to the two-source hypothesis (i.e., Mark comes first), and the Pauline Epistles are ordered by their proposed dates of composition. The Deutero-Pauline Epistles, which for Hagner include Ephesians and the Pastorals (Colossians and 2 Thessalonians are not included in this category for reasons given elsewhere), are addressed separately. The work concludes with an elegant treatment of the processes of textual transmission and canon formation.
Each chapter includes a lengthy and helpful bibliography of relevant sources for further exploration. As an acknowledgment of the work’s intended audience(s), bibliographies are limited to sources existing in English. At the end of the work the reader will find separate indices for authors, biblical and other ancient texts, and subjects.
This textbook is suitable for both undergraduate and graduate audiences. As noted, undergraduates may find the length daunting, but the clarity with which Hagner exposits the subject matter makes the work highly accessible. Graduate students will likewise find the author’s clarity and depth of knowledge refreshing. The bibliographies will provide helpful starting points for students seeking further material for research and exegesis papers, as well as for instructors looking to supplement this text with additional readings.