Making sense of the New Testament requires navigating a labyrinth of different cultural, religious, political, and economic groups that existed in first-century Jewish society—as well as in the Roman Empire at large. In this introduction to the major people groups of the New Testament world, William Simmons clarifies New Testament history and teaching. He provides a historical analysis of major Jewish groups (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes) and important Greco-Roman groups (Philosophers, Herodians, and Centurions). Important subgroupings within the first-century church—Hebrews and Hellenist, for example—are set in the larger context of the Judeo-Roman mix. Color photographs of ancient sites and archaeological discoveries highlight the descriptions. A helpful resource for anyone interested in understanding the New Testament world better, this book also makes an excellent textbook for an introductory college or seminary course on early Christian history or backgrounds.
Scribes. Pharisees. People of the land. These and other groups are interwoven throughout the New Testament narrative, often appearing with little or no explanation. Peoples of the New Testament World draws upon current scholarship to illuminate the nature and significance of these groups for the serious student of the Word.
“One cannot understand the person and work of Jesus, the story of the early church, and the continued development of Torah Judaism without a thorough knowledge of the Pharisees.” (Page 51)
“Perhaps no other religious group played a greater role in the life of Jesus and the early church than the Pharisees. Some form of the word ‘Pharisee(s)’ appears eighty-eight times in the Gospels, eight times in the book of Acts, and once in the Epistles, making a total of ninety-seven occurrences in the New Testament (UBS4). As prominent as the Pharisees were, it would be a gross simplification, if not a distortion of the truth, to characterize Jesus’ ministry as simply ‘anti-Pharisaic.’1 His vision and agenda cannot be defined as a simple counterpoint to the Pharisees. Furthermore, leading Pharisees of the time, such as Nicodemus and Gamaliel (John 3:1–9; 7:50; 19:39; Acts 5:34–39), did not oppose Jesus, and other Pharisees came to identify with the early Christians (Acts 15:5).” (Page 50)
“This intense focus on the law also became the hallmark of Ezra and Nehemiah. For them, strict observance of the law became the definitive sign that distinguished the true Jew from those who had no place in the commonwealth of Israel (Ezra 9:4; Neh 8:3, 18; 9:3). It appears that at this time the proper observance of the Sabbath, circumcision, and purity regulations took on a prominence as never before (Jer 17:19–27; Isa 56:1–8; 58:13–14; Ezek 4:12–15; 22:26). This extraordinary focus on religious code and ritual could have been a seminal factor in the birth and development of the Pharisees.” (Page 53)
This book is highly recommended for general survey courses and those seeking to understand the cultural context of the New Testament. Simmons has produced a richly illustrated and extensively researched monograph that deserves to take its place among the existing handbooks on the New Testament.
—Criswell Theological Review
The breadth of material covered in the space of just a few hundred pages is impressive. One comes away with a basic knowledge of lifestyles ranging from emperors to slaves; from high priests and lofty philosophers to people struggling to maintain religious identity in the face of daily necessities. . . . References for further reading are provided, and each chapter has its own annotated bibliography to help guide one to clarification on specific topics. All in all this is a clear, well-presented coverage of a subject that is sure to be of interest to students of the New Testament.
An insightful and accessible introduction to some of the religious, political, and social groups that made up the world of the New Testament. . . . The chapters are lucidly organized, with an introduction to each group followed by a nuanced discussion of the significance of the group for the New Testament. . . . Ample (but not exhausting) footnotes and annotated bibliographies at the end of each chapter provide up-to-date resources for readers interested in pursuing any particular topic in more detail. . . . Numerous charts, illustrations, photographs, and maps make this a very attractive volume. . . . This book offers readers a solid introduction to the religious, political, and social context of the New Testament. It would be a particularly good choice as a supplementary textbook for introductory courses on the New Testament, although pastors, church teachers, and some graduate students will also find it useful.
—Biblical Theology Bulletin
This book has much more detail than most dictionary articles and commentaries. It is well researched and includes helpful annotated bibliographies after each chapter. . . . It can be read cover to cover or serve as a reference volume. It is packed with illustrations and maps that help illuminate the context and contribute to the interesting nature of the subject matter. . . . Students of the New Testament will profit from this book.
The Logos Bible Software edition of this volume is designed to encourage and stimulate your study and understanding of Scripture. Biblical passages link directly to your English translations and original-language texts, and important theological concepts link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. In addition, you can perform powerful searches by topic and find what other authors, scholars, and theologians have to say about the Word of God.