The Bible is a living and active book (Heb. 4:12), inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21) and breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). The message of the Bible is a timeless truth, relevant for all people in every place.
Even so, we have to admit that the cultures and period of history from which the Bible originated are somewhat different from twenty-first Century Northern Ireland. For that reason we also have to confess that our understanding of Scripture is frequently ‘westernised’.
This has been highlighted most forcefully in my recent reading of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey.
Therefore, below I recommend three introductions to the New Testament and three introductions to the Old Testament. These books make invaluable resources for the Pastor and lay preacher. However, there is also much benefit in all Bible readers picking one (or all) of these books up and learning a bit about the different books of the Bible.
There are several great features to this volume. To begin, both Carson and Moo are excellent New Testament scholars and biblical exegetes, yet they write with clarity. The content of the book consists of several articles spread throughout introducing the New Testament and genres of writing in the New Testament as well as a chapter on each book of the New Testament. The layout is plain, simple and easy to read. Each chapter has an extensive list of commentaries and articles referenced (of great help to the preacher). Both of the authors sit firmly in the evangelical conservative camp and therefore, while their work is extensively scholarly, it is biblical faithful too.
This volume is a degree more technical and scholarly than Carson & Moo’s. Therefore, this may be preferred by the serious reader. The content is similar to the above book with articles and a chapter on each book of the New Testament. The layout of each chapter is slightly different from Carson & Moo’s and so lends a helpful companion to their introduction. I have found this volume to be more sensitive to social and cultural issues in the original context.
This volume is different from both of the above books. Mark Dever, through his time at Capitol Hill Baptist, Washington D. C. has preached a sermon on every book of the New Testament. These sermons are overview sermons taking the congregation through the central themes of each book. This book has collected those sermon transcripts together. Dever’s overview sermons are not your typical passionless, wordy, and uninspiring overview sermons. His exegesis is evident, illustrations illuminating (apt, I know) and application refreshing for this type of sermon. These sermons often offer a lot of the information provided in the above books (without the presentation of all sides of arguments though), however tend to stir the heart more than the above books. This would be a great book for the more occasional readers.
As would be evident from looking at the front cover of this book, it is the Old Testament companion of Carson & Moo’s volume. The authors are of similar elk to Carson and Moo, the contents of the book mirror the New Testament and the benefit is of the same level. I find Longman of particular help in many Old Testament books and subjects and so am eager to put my hands on anything he writes. Again, this volume offers a great blend of scholarly work and biblical faithfulness.
This is one of my treasured possessions, and an invaluable source of help in understanding the Old Testament. In many respects this volume is of similar style to DeSilva’s book, although is not its Old Testament companion. There is a chapter on each book of the Old Testament, but also introductory articles on the traditional groupings of the Old Testament (Torah, Prophets and Writings) as well as a final section on the background of the Old Testament (including chapters on The Authority of the Old Testament for Christians, Geography, Formation of Old Testament and Messianic Prophecy). This comes highly recommended from myself, as it was highly recommended to me.
This is the companion volume to the aforementioned Dever book. In addition to preaching a sermon on every book of the New Testament Dever has also preached a sermon on every book of the Old Testament at Capitol Hill. This book carries many of the benefits that the above book does and comes with the same recommendations. Of particular help in this volume is the idea of promises made, which Dever goes on to display in his New Testament volume are indeed promises kept.
Perhaps you read that list and think you couldn’t be bothered reading any of those books, or they are too pricey, or they just wouldn’t get used in your house. Well, there is one more book I could recommend.
Apart from the unfortunate, and somewhat arrogant, subtitle (The only book you need beside the Bible) this is a very good book. This book covers all of the books of the bible offering an overview, summary, outline, key themes and relevance today for every book of the Bible. Additionally, this volume contains articles on the nature of Scripture (authority and inerrancy), doctrine (with study aids), Christians living (with study aids) and some reference resources. This is written at a more popular level, covers all of the areas that the above books do and comes at a cheaper price than most of the above books. What this book lacks in depth is made up for in accessibility and would be a good starting point (before moving onto the above volumes) or an adequate substitute for the above volumes.
I believe that the most important book to read is the Bible itself. However, I feel it is also important to understand the Bible correctly and so I commend all of these books to you and urge you to get your hands on some of them and broaden your knowledge of world that the Bible originated in.