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The New Testament: A Literary History
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The New Testament: A Literary History


Fortress Press 2012

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How Did We Get the New Testament?

Gerd Theissen takes up the problems of the New Testament writings’ emergence and the canon’s formation out of the wide variety of early Christian literature. Drawing on Max Weber’s discussion of the evolution of religious movements, Theissen correlates waves of developing early Christian literature with a series of phases in the life of the movement: the charismatic phase (the roles Jesus and the apostle Paul played as the “twofold beginning” of Christian literature), the pseudepigraphic phase (referring to the “fictive self-interpretation” of each of those figures), the functional phase, in which other independent forms developed, and the canonical phase, as the New Testament took shape as the literature of a world religion.

In the Logos edition of The New Testament: A Literary History, you get easy access to Scripture texts and to a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Hovering over Scripture references links you instantly to the verse you’re looking for, and with Passage Guides, Word Studies, and a wealth of other tools from Logos, you can delve into God’s Word like never before.

Key Features

  • Studies the New Testament’s literary composition and history
  • Provides an overview of the New Testament canon’s formation
  • Addresses the two basic forms of literature in the Jesus movement: gospels and letters
  • Analyzes four phases: charismatic, pseudepigraphic, functional, and canonical


  • The Twofold Beginnings of a History of Early Christian Literature
    • The Oral Prehistory of Early Christian Literature in the Historical Jesus
    • The Sayings Source Q
    • The Gospel of Mark
    • The Historical Conditions for Paul’s Letters
    • The Pre-Pauline Oral Tradition
    • The Pauline Letter as Literary Form
    • The Sequence and Development of the Pauline Letters
    • The Collection of Paul’s Letters
  • The Fictive Self-Interpretations of Paul and Jesus: The Pseudepigraphical Phase
    • Pseudepigraphy as a Literary-Historical Phase in Early Christianity
    • Paul’s Fictive Self-Interpretation in the Deutero-Pauline Writings
    • Jesus’ Fictive Self-Interpretation through the Redaction of the Jesus Traditions in the Synoptic Gospels
    • Jesus’ Fictive Self-Interpretation through the Transformation of the Jesus Traditions in the Gospels Associated with Gnosis
    • Jesus’ Fictive Self-Interpretation through the Continuation of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition in the Jewish-Christian Gospels
    • Jesus’ Fictive Self-Interpretation through the Harmonizing of the Jesus Tradition in Other Apocryphal Gospels
  • The Authority of the Independent Forms: The Functional Phase
    • The Independent Differentiation of Partial Texts and Tendencies
    • The Acts of the Apostles
    • The Revelation to John
    • The Letter to the Hebrews
  • The New Testament on Its Way to Becoming a Religious World Literature: The Canonical Phase
    • Canon as a Means to Stability Based on Compromise and Demarcation
    • Extra-canonical Literature as the Attainment of Flexibility

Praise for the Print Edition

Writing with his usual verve and clarity, Gerd Theissen gives us a fresh perspective on the history of the development of the New Testament and its establishment as canon. This is a literary history and more. Theissen attends to the genres and sub-genres of the two basic forms of literature in the Jesus movement, gospels and letters, related to the two chief ‘charismatics,’ Jesus and Paul; to the subsequent ‘fictive self-interpretations’ of these two founding figures; and to the basic phases of historical development marked by continuous crossing of class and cultural boundaries. This literary-critical history of the New Testament joins the ranks of Herder, Overbeck, Baltman, Dibelius, and Schmidt as another milestone of research on the origin and development of the New Testament and early Christian literature.

John H. Elliot, emeritus professor, University of San Francisco

Product Details

  • Title: The New Testament: A Literary History
  • Author: Gerd Theissen
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress
  • Publication Date: 2011
  • Pages: 304

About Gerd Theissen

Gerd Theissen is a professor of New Testament at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and the author of The Religion of the Earliest Churches and The Shadow of the Galilean. He is a coauthor of The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide and coeditor of The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels.

Sample Pages from the Print Edition

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