The making of the new testament


Patzia's book under review is a good example of a dynamic literary book in the area of the biblical New Testament. The book demonstrates the work of an associate professor of New Testament and director of Fuller Theological Seminary in Northern California. Patzia Arthur is also author of Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon in the New International Bible Commentary.

The book under review is indeed valuable; the author deals with the study of origin, collection, copying and canonizing of the New Testament documents.

Perception expressed by the Author

The author synthesizes a wide range of scholarly research in a readily understandable form. He also introduces the literary world of the New Testament, and then devotes sections to the gospels, the Pauline literature, and other New Testament materials, before turning in some details to specifically textual issues.

The author gives a historically informed overview of critical methods of biblical scholarship that have developed in the past years. Central to this review are the core questions that would remain like puzzle to learners and teachers of the New Testament students.

These questions include:

  1. How were books and documents produced in the first century?
  2. How were the stories and sayings of Jesus circulated, handed down and shaped into Gospels?
  3. Would a first century librarian have known instinctively how to classify a gospel, an Act or an Apocalypse?
  4. What do we know about ancient letter writing, secretaries and "copy shops"?
  5. When and where were the New Testament documents written?
  6. Why were four gospels included instead of just one?
  7. How were Paul's letters sent here and there, gathered into a single collection?
  8. Who decided - and what criteria - which documents would be included into New Testament?
  9. Are there other letters, gospels and Acts that would almost make it into the New Testament but did not?

Good attempts were made by Patzia to answer the questions in this book using his own perceptions and understanding. The author gives an elaborate historical background through which Christianity came; this includes the library world into which he states was quite sophisticated and productive.

According to Patzia, the Old Testament came however, from some general geographical region. It recounts Israel's beginnings from patriarchal age (2000-1300 B.C.), the reign of David (1000-962 B.C.) and Solomon (962-922 B.C.), and the Major Prophets from the eighth to sixth century B.C. This body of literature spans over 1000 years of history and involves at least thirty different authors.

Arthur, in his book claimed availability of literature that goes back as far as the fourth millennium B.C. to the ancient Near East civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Canaan. According to him, these texts include mythical, epics, legal, historical and ritual materials which are helpful for understanding the biblical history and literature.

Arthur also commented on the existence of oral tradition. According to him, in the first century Judaism, a significant amount of learning was accomplished through memorization. Scribes and Rabbis would teach people in schools and synagogues to commit their instructions to memory and repeat them in their homes and public life.

Manuscripts were very costly to produce, so even individuals who were able to read could not afford their private copies of scriptures. Only the scribes had access to scrolls that were kept in the synagogue.

Jesus communicated with his disciples orally; the crowds did not come to Jesus' meetings with note books and left without paper copies of the good new according to Jesus. They simply had to retain the message by applying it to their daily life, retelling it and memorizing it. This may explain why Jesus used certain forms of teaching such as parables and parallelism.

Purpose of writing the book

The book was written with good intention of teaching the practices and doctrines as contained in the New Testament part of the Holy Bible.

The author engaged the wealth of his knowledge in the book in order to treat each chapter with clear understanding. The use was book well -ordered as the contents were in the order of the English canon, exploring the purpose and the message of each book and shows how their literary structures have been applied to accomplish the intentions of their authors.

Systematic pattern employed

The author was systematic in approach and style of writing as he explores the writing of the gospel whereby he states a few reasons why the gospels might have been written. He follows a systematic form of writing which is somewhat helpful for the readers, the reader were able to follow the sequence of events leading to the writing and putting together of the New Testament.

Critical observation

The book demonstrates intelligent though from the author's point of view. Also, some of the views expresses are capable of sparking off advanced debates and arguments among scholars. One of such 'controversial issue' is that the gospel of John was written in Ephesus in the late first century.

The author also alleged that the authorship of some Paul's letters are questionable, which includes 2 Thessalonians. However, later on, he states that Paul himself gives in 2 Thessalonians an explanation about how to tell that the letter is authentic. If Paul did not write the letter, his explanation is not worth inclusion - it may seem to be assumption on his part. The treatment of some issues in the book is scanty and not robust enough to advance intellectual discourse.


Arthur's book under review is a very reliable literature for the understanding of the New Testament and the emergence of the early church because of the historical and theological background it provides. The book under review clearly provides information on the study of origin, collection, copying and canonizing of the New Testament documents.

The information is however, helpful to any serious and critical student of the New Testament. It provides an informed scholarly research and a historically informed overview of critical methods of biblical scholarship that have developed in the past years. The book is really a contribution to knowledge in this filed of theology.


  • Patzia Arthur G.: The Making of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text & Canon (Inter Varsity Press, UK: 1995).

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