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Posted October 26, 2012

Book: Reading the New Testament
Author: Pheme Perkins
Paulist Press. New York. 2012. pp. 328

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

There are many different reasons that a person might have for studying the Bible. Those who are interested in the history of Western culture need to know what the most important themes, symbols, and images in the Bible are so that they can recognize the in Western literature and art. They also need to know the major "ideas" found in biblical writers.

. . . Others may come to study the Bible because they are interested in the history involved. Or the may be interested in comparative religions. They may want to know how such a powerful religious movement as Christianity started and developed.

. . .Still others come to study the Bible because they are Christians. For some Christians, Bible study is a way of getting back in touch with a faith they might have experienced as children but then had lost contact with.

. . .These are all important reasons for studying the Bible today. A person may share all of these goals or only some of them. This book is written from the perspective of a person who shares all of these goals. But as an introduction to reading the New Testament, the emphasis lies on becoming familiar with basic information about the history, language, religion, and culture of New Testament times. It is not about how to translate the ideas and images of the New Testament into Christian life or theology today, since students use this book in many parts of the English-speaking world.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Other parables challenge us to evaluate the actions of particular characters in the stories. Their actions and success or failure indicate how persons should live in the presence of the kingdom. Sometimes the parable may have been given an introduction by the gospel writer that links it to the kingdom. A striking example of the link between the kingdom and unusual human behavior occurs in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew. Matthew has added a proverbial expression --- "The last shall be first and the first last." --- which was often used of the reversal to take place in the new age. The parable reflects a situation common in the agricultural economy of the time: when it was necessary to harvest the grapes, a vineyard owner would have to hire day laborers. Roman books on agriculture advise people to plant grapes that ripen at different times so that they would not have to hire too many people or work for too many days to pick them. Since the grape harvest was one of the busiest times, the story presumes a situation of serious unemployment. If day laborers could go all day without work at this time of year, things must have been much worse at other times.

You can see from reading the story that the experience of the persons in the story depended upon which group one belonged to. The people who worked all day, even though they may have been happy to accept the work when they started, go away unhappy. We don't hear from the other workers, but we would guess that those who had waited all day without work and then found themselves with a day's pay at the last minute were rejoicing. The owner does have to face the complaints of the first group. He may claim that he is "good," but the first group no longer experience his behavior as good even though he has honored their original contract and has also followed the law that required owners to pay the workers their wages on the same day. If this parable is about the coming of God's reign, then it turns out that the reign of God does not create universal peace and harmony. This parable is a good example of how we may have to change our lives and our presuppositions about what is fair and just if we are to experience the reign of God.

Table of Contents:

Part 1: Introduction

Why study the Bible?

The world of Jesus

The life of Jesus

The preaching of Jesus

The resurrection of Jesus

The beginnings of Christology

The world of Paul

The life of Paul

Christians: Jews and Gentile

Divisions in Corinth

Universalizing Paul's message

Mark: Jesus, suffering messiah

Matthew: Jesus, teacher of Israel

Luke: Jesus, the Lord

John: Jesus, the Divine Son

Acts: The gospel to the nations

Hebrews: the heavenly high priest

The pastoral epistles: a Pauline tradition

The Catholic epistles: an apostolic heritage

The Johannine epistles: a church divided

Revelation: Christianity and the empire