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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Introduction to the New Testament

Leslie Houlden

A. Introduction.

1.

This article sets out to ‘introduce’ the New Testament. But in literature as in life, introductions may be of two kinds. At a formal lecture or public meeting, the speaker is usually introduced with a factual account of career and achievements. We receive in effect the speaker's credentials, flattering him or her and reassuring the audience as it settles to what lies ahead. Such introductions, with their battery of facts, generally bear no close relation to the substance of the ensuing utterance, except that they lead the listener to expect a display of some competence in, say, economics, but none in civil engineering.

2.

Introductions at social gatherings are of a different character. When we are introduced to someone, we do not expect a monologue of information about our new acquaintance to flow from the introducer, still less from the person who faces us. No, introduction is a mere beginning. It offers the prospect of conversation where we shall range around for points of contact and explore possible features of character and opinion; so that gradually, but quite unsystematically, we may build up a picture of the one who has been introduced to us. If the introduction leads to sufficient interest, we shall hope that it leads to further meetings, so that our sketchy picture may become fuller and more exact. We shall take steps to ensure that the process continues from this propitious beginning. We shall certainly not expect that the first encounter provides more than a few unrelated bits of information and half-formed impressions. Loose ends will not worry us in the least.

3.

This Introduction is of this second kind. At many points, the reader who is new to the subject will wish to question and clarify, and may even be frustrated by the incompleteness of what is provided. The aim, however, is to open subjects rather than to close them. Moreover, though a range of ideas on a particular subject will often be given, to indicate that it is not all plain sailing and where the rocks and shoals lie, this Introduction represents only one among the many possible perspectives on its subject. Further information on many topics comes in the detailed articles that follow, or else in other works of reference, such as Bible dictionaries or encyclopedias or in fuller commentaries on particular NT books. The aim here is to stimulate curiosity, even to incite to discontent, so that the New Testament may continue to fascinate as well as edify its readers.

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