The third edition of Encountering the New Testament by Walter Elwell and Robert Yarbrough has just been released. What’s different in this third edition? In the Preface they write that they did their “best to correct vague wording, update the bibliography, rewrite outdated sections, and add material where the previous edition was culpably brief.” It is not a “thorough-going revamping” but rather “freshly revised.” They didn’t do the former since too many professors begged them “not to tamper too much with a book that seems generally effective in classroom use.”
In the first chapter they answer the question “why study the New Testament?” They offer three answers: 1) To avoid the tyranny of preformed personal opinion, 2) To avoid misguided reliance on the Holy Spirit, and 3) To enable historical-theological interpretation. I want to highlight the second of these reasons. Though this is not new material to this edition, it is very good. They explain:
“A related danger, and an enemy of study, is the notion that because the Holy Spirit influences our lives, he will somehow fill us with knowledge of the New Testament’s truth without our having to work at mastering it ourselves. Although we should not minimize our dependence on God’s Spirit to understand Scripture correctly, it is a mistake to substitute spiritual influence alone for the substantive means of grace that God has given in the form of Scripture. Without solid understanding of God’s revelation of himself in Scripture, how can we be sure that the spiritual influence we sense is truly from God? The primary standard for making that determination must in the end be Scripture!
Martin Niemӧller, heroic Christian leader and war prisoner in Nazi Germany, told of a young German minister who said that instead of study, he trusted the Spirit for his sermons. An older colleague commented: ‘As for me, the Holy Ghost never spoke to me in the pulpit. Yes, I remember, he did speak to me once. When I was going down the pulpit steps after a poor sermon, the Holy Ghost spoke to me. He said only three words, and what he said was, ‘Heinrich, you are lazy!’ In other words, ‘the Holy Spirit has much more important work to do than to substitute for human indolence.’
Based on the Gospels we can see that Jesus had learned, mastered, and was submissive to Scripture. Jesus’s disciples were likewise serious students of Scripture—despite the benefit of personal instruction of Jesus’s feet. Paul had extensive formal training in rabbinic interpretation and continued to develop his understanding of the Old Testament following conversion. Yes, all these people trusted God and were empowered by the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit actualized the fruits of their prayer and study; he did not replace it. If study of Scripture was central to their lives, it probably should be to ours as well.” (14-15)
Encountering the New Testament is a hardcover with 448 pages and sells for $44.99.