How is it that a first-generation Jewish messianic movement undertook a mission to the pagan world and rapidly achieved a momentum that would have a lasting and significant impact on world history? This momentous question has surprisingly eluded the concentrated focus of historians and New Testament scholars. Perhaps it is because the story of early Christian mission encompasses so much of the history of early Christianity. And to tell that history is to traverse a broad spectrum of issues in contemporary New Testament studies, all of which have been investigated in specialized depth, though frequently unconnected to a unified picture. On the other hand, as Eckhard Schnabel comments, those who have attempted to paint “the portrait of early Christian missions” have “often painted with brush strokes too broad.” As a result, an “undifferentiated picture of early Christian mission” is widely held.
In this monumental study, Schnabel gives us both a unified and detailed picture of the rise and growth of early Christian mission. He begins with a search for a missionary impulse in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism. He then weighs the evidence for a mission of Jesus to Gentiles. But the center of focus is the apostolic missionary activity as it is related in Acts, Paul’s letters, and the rest of the New Testament.
Here is a study that seeks to describe all the evidence relevant to the missionary strategy and tactics of the early church, to explain the theological dimensions of the early Christian mission, and to integrate the numerous studies published in the last decades into a synthetic overall picture. Schnabel’s detailed and immensely informed analysis will reward careful reading and reflection, and form a solid basis for a new understanding of the rise of Christianity and the nature of Christian mission—both then and now.
Comparatively few biblical studies of mission exist. Those that do were written primarily by missiologists. Most New Testament scholars, even a number of fairly conservative ones, doubt that Second Temple Judaism or even Jesus himself significantly foreshadowed the missionary zeal of the early church beyond Jewish circles. What would a comprehensive study of the relevant New Testament data yield, especially if prefaced by a survey of Old Testament and intertestamental developments, and undertaken by someone who has mastered the secondary New Testament literature in all three major European languages? The result is a magnum opus, for both Schnabel and the discipline, that should be the defining work on this topic for years to come.
—Craig L. Blomberg, Denver Seminary
The sheer size of this book demonstrates not only the fantastically wide knowledge of its author but also and above all the way in which the activity of mission permeates the New Testament story. There is nothing else available that can compare with this major treatment which discusses every aspect of the subject in the light of constant, critical interaction with current scholarship and yet manages to remain beautifully clear and immensely readable. This book is, quite simply, indispensable for the New Testament student.
—I. Howard Marshall, University of Aberdeen
The publication in English of Eckhard Schnabel’s magisterial work on early Christian mission is a major event for which both author and publisher are to be congratulated most warmly. This amazing achievement, which carefully sets the Christian mission within its wide-ranging historical and geographical contexts, and considers the mission theology of the biblical material, fills a vast gap left for more than one hundred years since the appearance of Adolf von Harnack’s work on the spread of Christianity. Whether it is the relevant teaching of the Old Testament on this theme, the nature of Jesus’ mission and that of his apostles, the mission theology of each of the Evangelists, what the Acts of the Apostles tells us about the spread of Christianity, or the motivation, practice and theology of Paul’s missionary endeavors, Dr. Schnabel’s comprehensive volume is a profoundly reliable guide, and provides countless insights that will inform and inspire the reader. A former missionary to the Philippines, he writes fully, judiciously and with conviction about a subject that lies close to his heart. It is an outstanding work to which I shall return again and again.
—Peter T. O’Brien, Moore Theological College
As strange as it may seem, since the time of Adolf von Harnack at the turn of the twentieth century there has never been an attempt at a comprehensive critical account of the earliest period of Christian missions. Now in his massive and magisterial two-volume work that ignores neither history nor theology, Eckhard Schnabel has sought to remedy this gap in scholarly research. I predict that scholars will be interacting with this work for decades to come because of its thoroughness, meticulous attention to detail, and integration of knowledge from fields as wide-ranging as archaeology, classics, Roman and Jewish history, linguistics, sociology and of course biblical studies. This is a book every serious student of early Christianity must have on his shelf. There is nothing else quite like it.
—Ben Witherington III, Asbury Theological Seminary
Professor Eckhard Schnabel’s Early Christian Mission is a masterpiece that stands in the tradition of Harnack and Lietzmann. Schnabel first judiciously traces the origins of early Christian mission and then skillfully identifies the diverse expressions of mission in the early Christian movement, from Jesus to Paul and beyond. In doing this he creates the historical, social and religious context in which the writings of the New Testament and related literature can be meaningfully read and appreciated and in the light of which the origins of Christianity can be understood with much greater precision. Professor Schnabel has placed us all in his debt.
—Craig A. Evans, Acadia Divinity College
Eckhard J. Schnabel (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is Mary F. Rockefeller Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He has taught previously at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois), Freie Theologische Akademie (Giessen, Germany), Wiedenest Bible College (Bergneustadt, Germany), and Asian Theological Seminary (Manila, Philippines).