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Can you read the New Testament like a disciple and a scholar?

As you read the New Testament, there are resources to help you read like both a disciple and a scholar

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1433 Armenian manuscript containing illustration of Jesus walking on water.

1433 Armenian manuscript containing illustration of Jesus walking on water.

Daniel of Uranc, Wikimedia Commons

When studying the New Testament, it’s possible to read it like a disciple and scholar.

Well-known and well-respected scholars like N.T. Wright have published extensively on issues related to the New Testament, such as who Paul was and what it was like to be alive during the time of the New Testament.

Here’s a guide on how to read the New Testament like a disciple-scholar, including resources to check out.

New Testament resources

“The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians”

N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird co-authored this book, which is an introduction to the world of the New Testament. It’s written for students and is readable. Along with maps and illustrations, this book provides a general overview of the issues in the New Testament that scholars care about, along with providing perspective about the historical context.

“An Introduction to the New Testament”

Raymond Brown’s introductory book is uniquely comprehensive. For readers who are looking for a general analysis of every book in the New Testament, along with a broad glossing of historical context and literary context, this book has it all.

“Paul: A Biography”

N.T. Wright sees Paul as a central figure in Christianity and wrote this biography of Paul to understand his conversion and his influence within Christianity. This biography is written accessibly and Wright’s refreshing perspective on Paul focuses more on the impact of his conversion and influence, and less on the complexities of his theology.

“Conformed to the Image of His Son: Reconsidering Paul’s Theology of Glory in Romans”

Haley Goranson Jacob, scholar trained by Wright. wrote a book about the theology of grace in Romans. This book has more of an academic tone, but would be an interesting read for someone who wants to hone in on one particular concept and learn to understand really well. Jacob’s book deals with Paul’s theology on salvation as well.

“Is the New Testament Reliable?”

Paul Barnett argues for the reliability of the New Testament in his 2004 book. Barnett’s take is that the New Testament can be trusted. He addresses contemporary counter-arguments to his position throughout the book.

“Interpreting Scripture: Essays on the Bible and Hermeneutics”

For anyone looking for a primer on how to read scripture well, Wright’s book of collected essays offers a gloss of major issues within the New Testament. Some of the issues that he addresses include faith, justification, salvation and early understandings of ancient Christians. While the tone is academic, he writes accessibly.

“The Lukan Passion and the Praiseworthy Death”

Peter Scaer’s monograph about the Passion of Luke provides a deeply enriching study of that portion of text. Academic in tone and nature, this monograph is about how the author Luke used rhetorical tricks and tools to write the death of Jesus in a way that would resonate with his audience.

“Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels”

If, when reading the New Testament, there have been moments where it seemed like an author was quoting the Old Testament, Richard Hays’ book might be for you. In his book, he describes how the authors of the gospels intentionally quote and refer to material from the Old Testament. He says that this is one of the ways that they use to communicate that Jesus is the Messiah.

Reading the New Testament like a disciple-scholar

Reading scripture as a disciple-scholar is the pursuit of truth as an intentional believer in Jesus Christ.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said in 1975 at the Annual University Conference, “Whatever our particular fields of scholarship, the real test is individual discipleship, not scholarship. But how good it is when these two can company together, blending meekness with brightness and articulateness with righteousness. Such outcomes occur, however, only when there is commitment bordering on consecration.”

As a disciple-scholar, reading the text for understanding and reading the text to apply it to your own life are both important practices. On a few occasions, President Russell M. Nelson has demonstrated this in real-time in general conference.

In April 2007, President Nelson said, “The doctrine of repentance is much broader than a dictionary’s definition. When Jesus said ‘repent,’ His disciples recorded that command in the Greek language with the verb metanoeo. This powerful word has great significance. In this word, the prefix meta means ‘change.’”

He continued, “The suffix relates to four important Greek terms: nous, meaning ‘the mind’; gnosis, meaning ‘knowledge’; pneuma, meaning ‘spirit’; and pnoe, meaning ‘breath.’”

President Nelson then explained how this understanding of the word “repent” helped him to understand the concept of repentance, which he applies in his own life.

In his 1998 essay called “Toward Becoming a Gospel Scholar,” John Welch said that the journey to becoming a gospel scholar is one of both head and heart. He said about those who go down this path, “Ultimately, the challenge is to look into your heart and decide that you really want to walk the path of becoming a scripture scholar, eventually coming to love the words, the principles, thoughts, and experiences on each page of scripture.”

Basics of the New Testament

Brigham Young University professor Tyler Griffin recently wrote an article for Church News, in which he gives basic information about the New Testament. He wrote, “The 27 books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek, even though the Jews mainly spoke Aramaic. Matthew, Mark and Luke share many common elements, so they are often referred to as the ‘synoptics,’ meaning ‘to see similar things.’ Most of their stories and teachings take place up north, in the Galilean region.”

He continued, “John’s Gospel, on the other hand, is over 90% unique. He focuses largely on Jesus’ ministry in and around Jerusalem. The fact that the four Gospels each give us slightly or drastic differing viewpoints on the life and ministry of Christ is a blessing. Each was written to a different audience to convince them of Jesus Christ’s divinity.”

The gospels focus on the ministry of Jesus Christ. Christ’s nativity narrative appears in two of the gospels, but the majority of their focus is the ministry, atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In addition to the four gospels, there are several epistles and the Book of Revelation. Authors of the epistles often were writing to specific congregations to address concerns that they may have had (e.g., Corinthians is addressed to a group of believers at Corinth). The epistles were sometimes written as general advice to all believers in Christ as well.

Terms to know

Reading the scriptures can be done in a couple of different ways. Two terms that are often used to describe the broad approaches to scripture are exegesis and eisegesis.

Exegesis: Think of exegesis as asking who, what, where, when and why. The intention of exegesis to find the original meaning of the text. Asking these questions often requires historical analysis. A simple way to begin doing exegesis is to get curious about the text. When reading a section of verses (often called a pericope), try asking yourself who, what, where, when and why, and then begin looking on the internet and in books to find answers to the questions you are asking.

Eisegesis: This term is the opposite of exegesis in the sense that instead of asking yourself about the context of the verse, you are reading yourself into the text. Eisegesis reflects the viewpoint of the reader and not necessarily the viewpoint of the author.

Pericope: A self-contained section of scripture, such as a parable.