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Monday, May 7, 2012

"A Survey of the New Testament" (Robert H. Gundry)

TITLE: A Survey of the New Testament: 5th Edition
AUTHOR: Robert H. Gundry
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (593 pages).

A good survey is one that is diligent in its exegetical work, faithful to the original intent of the Bible, and well-aware of the scholarship available for that topic. This one-volume survey has been so popular and widely used by seminarians, Bible teachers, pastors, theologians, and students, that it is now into its 5th edition. Filled with illustrations, maps, and charts, Gundry does a fine job in giving us a work that is readable and readily usable for any survey of the New Testament. There are tonnes of materials on the New Testament, and merely sorting them through is one thing. Selecting which to include or to exclude is much more challenging. Thankfully, we have an experienced New Testament scholar to help us sieve through all the difficult work.

Famous (or some may say infamous) for his tremendously insightful and controversial commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Gundry continues to share his brilliance with this slightly expanded version of the survey. Compared with the 4th edition, this version is a lot more student-teacher friendly. With updated bibliographies to whet the appetite of scholars, digital flashcards to aid the job of teachers, and Powerpoint slides and various student materials to help the student do less hand copying and more listening and understanding, this 5th edition maintains a fair coverage of all the various books of the New Testament.

There is an intentional historical survey that begins with the inter-testament era of the Greeks, the Maccabeans, and the Romans. With description of the rise and fall of the kings, emperors, and leaders, Gundry sets the tone for understanding the contexts prior to the first coming of Jesus Christ. The illustrations and the tables are useful summaries for the text, which should aid more visual readers or the nervous student. Like a wise and gentle teacher, Gundry provides summaries of each chapter learnings and reminders of what have readers learnt.

I like the book for 8 reasons. Firstly, it makes learning about the New Testament a very enjoyable experience. With colour, interesting snippets and stories of the New Testament contexts, readers will not be bored at all. Secondly, it is an extremely helpful book for teaching. Bible teachers can easily use this book as a reference curriculum in any kinds of survey for the New Testament. Thirdly, it provides the new student a gateway into the world of New Testament studies.  With each New Testament genre, Gundry gives out an introductory map of what to expect, and closes with a list of solid scholarship material for anyone wanting to probe deeper. Fourthly, the book is deep and wide. For a one-volume work, it is amazing how Gundry can pack in not only the historical contexts, he makes space to deal with the philosophical, the various religious beliefs, and literature at that time. A deliberate decision was made to avoid going too deep into the various nuances of the different evangelical viewpoints, mainly for the reason of space. Fifthly, the survey is fair. The five parts in the book are given fair coverage not only in terms of page lengths, but with reasonable level scholastic interpretation, with minimal personal bias. This latter element is perhaps the biggest reason for recommending this book widely for teaching in a wide range of denominational and non-denominational contexts. Sixth, the book is extremely well-structured. For those of us who likes to read maps, this survey is an excellent map for anyone desiring to understand the New Testament well. The points are detailed without bogging readers down with too much data. The outline of each NT book is also an excellent structure for teachers on their classes, pastors for their sermons, and believers for their read-through-the-Bible expeditions. There is a lot of genre-sensitive commentary which I appreciate. The commentaries on the gospels are perhaps the strongest part of the book. Seventh, the illustrations and the colourful maps and tables are helpful devices for teaching and remembering. So often, we get big surveys that give us everything, but students find them too much heavy lifting. This book gives us useful mnemonics and visual keys to take home.  Finally, the survey is a great introduction especially for those of us from an evangelical tradition. For those of us lost about which commentary to begin with, with all the different Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Progressive Protestants materials, finding which to begin with can be a challenge. For those with an evangelical background, this survey is a good start. In fact, it is an excellent choice to begin with.

Part IV that talks about the letters of Paul is exceptionally good. It compares and contrasts the patterns, the literary nuances, and the similarities and differences in the writings of Paul, Peter, and James. The theological arguments are well covered, with comparisons between law/grace, works/faith, flesh/spirit, all given space for the student to appreciate the important controversies through the ages. The survey also brings out common confusions that students generally encounter. For instance, there are more than one 'James' in the Bible. Gundry makes a point to draw these different James's out for the benefit of readers. Gundry regularly makes allusions to the heroes of the faith, like Martin Luther, and the martyrs, of how they have countered the cultural expectations and religious persecutions of their times.

Closing Thoughts

It is important to realize that this book is NOT a commentary of the New Testament. It is a survey that provides the historical contexts, a framework to understand each NT book, and a sizeable reference to understand the origins, the purposes, the trajectories, and the message of the NT. Any personal comments are well indicated so that students are able to identify what are the author's personal opinions and those that are more factual in nature. In any survey, there will definitely be interpretations. What makes this survey shines is the way plain texts can be taught in such an illustrative and even enjoyable manner. This is the mark of a great teacher and scholar. I highly recommend this 5th edition for all teachers, pastors, seminarians, students, and laypersons.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.


  1. How does this text compare with the 4th edition? I understand that you said it was more user friendly in terms of extra exterior materials but what about just the content of the book? Has the content changed much?

  2. I do not see a significant number of changes. Again, the 5th edition is a sharper book in terms of pedagogical tools. Moreover, there are a lot more resources that are in the CD. If you do not have a copy of any edition of Gundry's, this will be the preferred edition to buy. If you already have the 4th edition, there is no reason to buy this, unless you are intending to use it for teaching purposes.