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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Truth, 8 July 2009
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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Although written forty years ago F F Bruce's New Testament History remains a classic scholarly study of the political and philosophical background before, during and after the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. In this book Bruce traces, in infinite and objective detail, the context of the Jewish Messianic Hope prevalent at the time of Jesus. He also identified the sources and interpretations of that Hope amongst the various Jewish groups living under Roman rule.

Bruce specialised in the study of Paul the Apostle and there are plenty of references to Paul's influence as an early convert to the Christian faith. However, the book is also a brilliant description of Judaea during the Roman occupation, the philosophical schools prevalent at the time (including the different Helenistic influences) and the Jewish politico-religious groups including the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots. The political nature of these sects (which Josephus referred to as schools, "after the Greek fashion") was expressed in their doctrine and attitude towards Roman authority. Bruce's own characterisation of each of them is masterful.

Bruce was a member of the Plymouth Brethren but did not share the dispensationalist outlook sometimes associated with their teachings. He also differed on the nature of Biblical inerrancy taking the view that the Bible was historically accurate but not necessarily precise. However, in his view, a lack of precision did not invalidate the historical record. Neither did any passages open to debate invalidate the Christian gospel or its theological implications. As he pointed out, "Apart from the New Testament writings and later writings dependent on these our sources of information about the life and teaching of Jesus are scanty and problematic" However, he noted, this is not surprising using the example of Haji Mirza Ali Khan, Fakir of Ipi, to illustrate his point superbly.

Bruce draws attention to the non Christian sources of information about Christians including Suetonius, Josephus, Tacitus and others and he is not averse to questioning original works where he thinks they may have been modified to suit Christian tastes. He also makes reference to the Gospel of Thomas pointing out, "it may well be genuine" but drawing attention to the difficulties involved in authenticating a document which appears without any life-context.

However, there is clear life-context for Bruce's description of the primitive Jerusalem church, the conflict between Christians and orthodox Jewish authority as well as conflict between Jews and Gentiles all of which is set in its political, social and religious context. His description of time and place is an essential read for anyone seeking to establish the truth about early Christianity whether as an apologist or critic. Bruce was an expert in his subject and an objective historian of the highest quality. Where matters are uncertain he states so quite specifically.

Bruce would not have accepted the claims put forward by those who suggest that Paul created Christianity (a view developed in Germany theologians during the nineteenth century and whose supporters included Adolph Hitler). For Bruce, Paul preached the gospel of the risen Christ - whatever the consequences. Everything else (including pastoral duties) were secondary to that evangelical role. All this is described with the scholarly detachment expected of a Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis.

New Testament History is a book of the greatest integrity which demands to be read and has stood the test of time. A five star rating well deserved.
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New Testament History
New Testament History by F. F. Bruce (Paperback - 1 Jan 1920)
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