A Historical Introduction to the New Testament

by Robert M. Grant

Robert M. Grant is professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, A formost scholar in the field, his books include Gnosticism, The Earliest Lives of Jesus, and The Secret Sayings of Jesus.

Copyright 1963 by Robert M. Grant. Originally published by Harper and Row in 1963.


(ENTIRE BOOK) Grant deals historically with the New Testament writings. He discusses both the methods used in analyzing and interpreting the New Testament and the conclusions to which they lead. Topics include textual criticism, translation, and literary and historical criticism.


  • Introduction

    We are going to try to look logically at many questions concerning the New Testament. Much exegesis of the New Testament has suffered from its lack not of theological but of logical method.

  • Chapter 1: What the New Testament consists of — The Cannon

    The New Testament is the product of the Church while the Church is not the product of the New Testament. The church could have proclaimed, and in fact did proclaim, the gospel without possessing the New Testament; but the New Testament could not have come into existence apart from the Church.

  • Chapter 2: Materials and Methods of Textual Criticism

    The primary goal of New Testament textual study remains the recovery of what the New Testament writers wrote. To achieve this goal is well-nigh impossible.

  • Chapter 3: The Nature of Translation

    We face the question of translation: We are not first-century Greeks. We all use translations. Thus we need some clear principles for translating. 1. What did the word mean to the author? 2. What did that word mean to the earliest readers? 3. What has it come to mean in later times? We must avoid a clear defined meaning to all the mysteries of the Bible. We must not place New Testament words and thoughts into an inflexible meaning.

  • Chapter 4: Literary Criticism

    The primary function of literary criticism is the understanding of the structure of a document and the reflection of the author’s purpose as expressed by means of this structure.

  • Chapter 5: Historical Criticism

    Historical criticism is concerned with the time/place setting of a document, its sources, events discussed in or implied by the document. Historical criticism builds on textual and literary criticism, and its end product is the writing of history, a narrative which reports events in a sequence roughly chronological.

  • Chapter 6: The Necessity of Theological Understanding

    There is no particular reason for studying the New Testament over any other collection of ancient documents unless we consider why they wrote. This is the ultimate question of New Testament study.

  • Chapter 7: The Gospels

    Almost all analysis of when, why, where, and how the gospels were written ultimately fails because it neglects the extent to which the evangelists were involved in the transmission of the Christian tradition as well as the extent to which they were free to arrange and rewrite their materials in ways which seemed meaningful to them and to the communities of which they were members.

  • Chapter 8: The Gospel Of Mark

    Most of the gospel of Mark consists of materials, apparently derived from oral tradition, concerning what Jesus did and said. To some extent they are bound together by summaries which reflect the evangelist’s own view of these materials.

  • Chapter 9: The Gospel of Matthew

    Matthew’s own religious interpretation of the story of Jesus points in the direction of an apocalyptic-minded Christianity emerging from Judaism toward the direction of a universalizing Catholicism.

  • Chapter 10:<B> </B>The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts

    Although the end was postponed, as Matthew envisioned, we should not agree that it was originally regarded as imminent. Similarly while Luke minimizes Jewish-gentile differences it is possible that in Galatians Paul exaggerates them. The fact that Acts reflects certain purposes on its author’s part does not mean that views contrary to those purposes are necessarily authentic, or more authentic.

  • Chapter 11 The Gospel of John

    The author was probably not the son of Zebedee but a Jerusalem disciple of Jesus who wrote his gospel around the time of the Roman-Jewish war of 66-70 (probably not long after it) in order to present faith in Christ to bewildered and distressed Jewish sectarians. These sectarians lived either in Palestine itself or in the Dispersion.

  • Chapter 12 Aprocryphal Gospels

    There were many apocryphal gospels in existence as well as the four synoptic gospels. The most important was one ascribed to Peter, the other the Gospel of Thomas. Thomas was discovered in 1945 but not identified until 1952, and was probably written in the first part of the second century.

  • Chapter 13 :The Pauline Epistles

    The most important goals in studying Paul’s letters, are to determine: (1) what the gospel was which he preached and (2) what the nature of the controversies was in which he was engaged.

  • Chapter 14: The Non-Pauline Epistles

    We are not altogether justified in treating the Pastorals and Hebrews together, for the objections to the Pastorals have arisen chiefly in modern times; ancient Christians, who in general knew Greek better than we do, had no difficulty in regarding the Pastorals as authentically Pauline, while they regarded Hebrews as written by someone else. We are not altogether justified in treating any of them as non-Pauline, for the Pastorals explicitly represent themselves as by Paul while Hebrews does so by implication.

  • Chapter 15: The Book of Revelation

    We should conclude that the book was written or dictated by an early and significant John, perhaps the son of Zebedee. Two important features of this book are the End Times which dominates it, and the use, throughout the writing, of hymn-like materials.

  • Chapter 16: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers

    Some of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers were accepted as canonical at a very early date. Among these are the Didache ("The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles"), the letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (I Clement), and the "epistle" of Barnabas.

  • Chapter 17: The Graeco-Roman World

    Many aspects of the Graeco-Roman world have relevance to Christian origins. These include the Roman Government, the religion of the time, and the considerable emphasis on education.

  • Chapter 18: Palestine In Graeco-Roman Times

    Only the rise of a new and greater power than those of the then active world could bring some sort of stability to the upheavals of the area and the corridor of Palestine within which many of the military operations took place.

  • Chapter 19: The Problem of The Life of Jesus

    What can we know historically about Jesus? A critique is given in the following areas: Extra-biblical writings, oral tradition, form criticism, Jesus’ birth, Jesus in the temple, John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, the temptation, Galilee, call of disciples, the apostles, the miracles, Jesus’ teachings, the transfiguration, the Jerusalem ministry, the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday, the rejection of Jesus, and the resurrection.

  • Chapter 20: The Mission of Paul

    It is impossible to understand early Christianity unless Paul’s labors are taken into account. We have two main sources of Paul’s work: 1. His letters. 2. His work as described by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles.

  • Conclusion

    It has been the attempt of this writing to follow a method likely to produce relatively verifiable conclusions to the documents we possess. The principle virtue of this approach is that it proceeds from the known to the unknown, beginning with the texts we have and proceeding to a literary analysis of them, then to historical analyses and syntheses.

  • Chapter 21: The Church in the New Testament

    There are not many references to the “church” in the New Testament. But the existence of the Church is obviously implied by the existence of the oral tradition embodied in the various gospels, as well as by the existence of the gospels themselves. In finding out what the Church meant to early Christians we need to bear in mind the whole of their life, not just the explicit statements they make about the nature of the community.