Top Recommendations for Primary Textbooks: NT and OT Surveys, Theology, and Hermeneutics

Josh Kessler on January 13th, 2015. Tagged under ,.

Josh Kessler

Joshua Kessler is the Academic Marketer for Zondervan Academic. He helps instructors find the best textbooks for their classes.

One question I’m asked a lot is, “What’s the right textbook for me?” Because there are so many textbooks out there, people don’t know which approach is going to best fit their needs.

Here are my top recommendations on some of the most frequently-taught subjects in colleges and seminaries. I’ve organized my recommendations by subject: New Testament and Old Testament Surveys, Theology, and Hermeneutics.

Don’t hesitate to request free examination (desk) copies if you’re considering some of these texts for your class. I’ll personally review your requests and get back to you as soon as possible.

Also, get free Teaching and Study Resources for these textbooks right here on ZondervanAcademic.com. Instructors, create a free account right now to gain instant access to hundreds of Study Resources. If your Instructor account is approved, you’ll get hundreds more of our exclusive Teaching Resources. —Josh Kessler

A. New Testament Surveys

B. Old Testament Surveys

C. Theology

D. Hermeneutics

 

A. New Testament Surveys

 

1. A Survey of the New Testament, Fifth Edition

Survey of the NTby Robert H. Gundry

A Survey of the New Testament, Fifth Edition is a classic survey textbook, presented in roughly canonical order.

This is a great choice for an undergraduate survey. It’s visually stimulating with a lot of images and maps, things that will draw them into the world of the New Testament. It also includes an introduction that gives you a sort of “crash course” in the history and the cultural context leading up to the time of the New Testament. Then it jumps right into the Gospels.

Something interesting about this book is that it’s geared to reading along in the New Testament as you go through this book, so it’s a survey book that actually encourages students to read through the New Testament itself. Learn More

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2. An Introduction to the New Testament

Introduction NT

by D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo

An Introduction to the New Testament is a solid seminary-level textbook. It is used in some undergraduate institutions, but it’s primarily a seminary text.

The book offers a lot of value in “special introduction,” where the authors address historical questions dealing with authorship, date, sources, purpose, and destination.

Carson and Moo’s approach is distinct from texts that concentrate more on literary form, rhetorical criticism, and historical parallels. The authors don’t minimize those topics, but they believe they’re better treated at length in a separate exegesis courses. An Introduction to the New Testament is about refocusing on the essentials of the book’s historical context.

The authors also provide book summaries, discuss the books’ theological contributions to the canon, and refer to current studies on each book (including literary and social-science approaches to interpretation). Learn More

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3. The New Testament in Antiquity

New Testament in Antiquity

by Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, Gene L. Green

The New Testament in Antiquity addresses the New Testament books in roughly canonical order, from this angle: the cultures in which these gospels and letters were written will help us understand the meaning of the book. So it talks about the historical elements of what was going on during the life of Jesus, the time of Paul, and in the lives of the recipients of these original books. You’ll see how the Jewish, Hellenistic, and Roman cultures interact to form that environment.

This is a great undergraduate level survey. (It is used in some seminaries, but it’s primarily used in undergraduate courses.) It’s in color and includes nearly 500 images (photos, charts, maps, drawings), so it’s engaging. And it can also give undergraduate students a head start on hermeneutics, because right out of the gate they understand the importance of the historical and cultural background for interpreting the New Testament. Learn More

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SUPPLEMENTAL TEXTS FOR N.T. STUDIES

I think it’s important for students of the Bible to have a good atlas. I can think of two advantages.

Often, students don’t think of biblical events as happening in real physical space. So to see a map, pictures, and the interconnection of where things are located, it helps students understand how events are related.

An atlas also makes the biblical events more real in the students’ minds. Somehow that spatial awareness helps them internalize the full significance of the events.

1. Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, Revised Edition

by Carl G. Rasmussen

Zondervan Atlas of the BibleThis atlas is ideal for NT or OT Survey courses that also emphasize the historical geography of biblical events. (If your course spends less time on historical geography, I recommend you check out the shorter Zondervan Essential Atlas below.)

We’ve looked at how the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible (ZAB) compares with other competing atlases, and I’ll summarize a few of our findings:

  • Focus – Many atlases are either too technical or too simplistic to be effective in a classroom setting, but ZAB strikes a balance between scholarship and practical classroom use.
  • Geographical Dictionary & Index – Unlike several competitors, ZAB features a comprehensive geographical dictionary and index, offering an added dimension of depth to the learning experience.
  • Digital Maps – We offer digital copies of ALL the maps in the atlas to professors who adopt ZAB for classroom use. Request a free exam copy and ask more about the free Map and Image Library to learn more about this.

Learn more about this atlas.

Request a free exam copy of the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, Revised Edition.

 

2. Zondervan Essential Atlas of the Bible

Zondervan Essential Atlas of the Bibleby Carl G. Rasmussen

The Zondervan Essential Atlas of the Bible is an abridgement of the larger Zondervan Atlas of the Bible. It’s going to be more useful for courses that have a less-heavy emphasis on biblical geography, but where the instructor still wants the students to have an awareness of where these physical events took place.

It’s concise, it’s inexpensive, it’s an excellent supplement if you’re studying books in either the New or Old Testament. It includes:

  • Nearly 200 full-color, multi-dimensional maps and images
  • Chronological charts and maps covering historical backgrounds, regions, weather, and roads

Instructors who adopt this book as a required classroom text can gain access to the Map and Image library for use in their classroom.

Learn more about this atlas.

Request a free exam copy of the Zondervan Essential Atlas of the Bible.

 

B. Old Testament Surveys

 

1. A Survey of the Old Testament, Third Edition

Survey of the Old Testamentby Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton

A Survey of the Old Testament, Third Edition has a lot of full color photos, maps, timelines, and charts, so it engages students visually. The chapters go in roughly canonical order, so it makes sense to students who are just starting to study the Bible for the first time, because it matches the order in their Old Testament.

I’ve seen the book used with good results in both undergraduate and seminary contexts. Written by two top scholars (Andrew Hill and John Walton), this book helps students explore the literary, historical, and theological issues behind the books of the Old Testament, and the Old Testament as a whole. For each Old Testament book you’ll find a section on the book’s background information, purpose, message, structure, and major themes. There are also chapters that introduce each major section of the Old Testament, plus chapters addressing issues of interpretation, geography, archaeology, history, formation of the Old Testament canon, and the Old Testament’s relationship to the New Testament.

It’s easy for an instructor to start a new course with this textbook because we have a lot of teaching resources for this book. Besides the list below, we have course cartridges. If you’re interested in a course cartridge, request a free exam copy below and include a note about the cartridge. Learn More

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2. Old Testament Today, Second Edition

Old Testament Todayby John H. Walton and Andrew E. Hill

Old Testament Today, Second Edition does an excellent job at connecting biblical study with contemporary relevance and application.

It’s in full color, with maps, images, and graphics, so it engages students. It’s also set up in an interesting way, ordered by literary units. So you have the Pentateuch together in a section, then the Historical Narratives. It does the same with poetry & wisdom, and with the Prophets. The book addresses each section as a coherent genre, but its format also allows instructors to teach through it in a book-by-book format if that’s their preference.

For a more full picture of what this text is like, I’ll quote from our catalog. The book:

  1. presents the details of the content, focusing on the story line, historical background, and literary information that address the original setting and audience;
  2. focuses on theological perspectives and on issues of the author’s purpose and the universal message of the text, building a bridge between the original audience and today’s audience; and
  3. develops an understanding of the relevance of the Old Testament writings to today’s Christian, showing how they can be applied in personal faith and practice.

Learn more about the book.

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3. An Introduction to the Old Testament, Second Edition

Introduction to the Old Testamentby Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard

An Introduction to the Old Testament is excellent at addressing critical issues and literary analysis. And of course it’s written by top-notch Old Testament scholars.

This textbook is designed more for the seminary level, and a few distinctives set it apart from other introductions to the Old Testament:

  • It emphasizes “special introduction”—the study of individual books.
  • Its perspective is thoroughly evangelical, but it interacts with the historical-critical method in an irenic spirit.
  • It features points of research history and representative scholars rather than an exhaustive treatment of past scholarship.
  • It deals with the meaning of each book, not in isolation but in a canonical context.
  • It probes the meaning of each book in the setting of its culture.

It also has a large suite of free resources (see below).

Learn more about this book.

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SUPPLEMENTAL RESOURCES FOR O.T. SURVEY COURSES

The atlases I mentioned above make great supplementary texts for OT Survey courses: the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible and the Zondervan Essential Atlas of the Bible.

 

C. Theology

 

1. Systematic Theology

Systematic Theologyby Wayne Grudem

Systematic Theology is a broadly evangelical treatment of Christian doctrine. It’s very biblically-based, with a lot of references to Scripture for each teaching.

It’s a great introduction for any student who wants to learn about theology because of that interaction with Scripture; plus, its writing is very clear and accessibile. It has become a classic work in theology over the last 20 years and it’s used in many undergraduate and seminary classrooms.

This book is perfect for a setting where you’re going to study theology over three semesters. (If you only have two or one semesters, I recommend you check out Bible Doctrine below.)

Other distinctives: there are frequent applications to the life of the church today, and to the reader’s life. Each chapter includes resources for worship. Learn More

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2. Bible Doctrine

Bible Doctrine

by Wayne Grudem

Bible Doctrine has all the same benefits of Systematic Theology (it’s broadly evangelical, a lot of engagement with Scripture, accessible explanations), but it’s an abridgement of that textbook. So Bible Doctrine focuses on the most essential doctrines of the Christian faith.

It’s ideal either for an undergraduate setting, or a setting where you don’t have three semesters to go through systematic theology. If you only have two semesters or one semester, this may be the way to go. Learn More

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3. The Christian Faith

The Christian Faithby Michael Horton

The Christian Faith by Michael Horton is an alternative to Systematic Theology. Horton does theology from the Reformed tradition, so this book has more of a Reformed emphasis.

It also has a more philosophical basis for establishing what theology is. I would say it’s more of a seminary-level text.

It’s a restatement of classic Reformed theology for our modern context. Learn More

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4. Pilgrim Theology

Pilgrim Theologyby Michael Horton

Pilgrim Theology is an abridgement and re-writing of Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith. This book retains that focus on the Reformed perspective – what Horton calls Christian theology in “a Reformed key” – but it’s now presented in more accessible terms for undergraduates.

It’s smaller in size, so it may be less intimidating to an undergraduate student as well. There are sidebars, charts and tables to help explain the key topics, and there are discussion or essay questions at the end of each chapter. I can also say that Michael Horton is a good writer. Learn More

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5. Evangelical Theology

Evangelical Theology

by Michael F. Bird

Evangelical Theology is a broadly evangelical take on systematic theology, but it’s written from the perspective of a biblical scholar.

This book is interesting: because Michael Bird is a biblical scholar, he engages with some issues that perhaps a more systematic theologian might not address.

And Bird takes a unique approach because his systematic theology begins with the gospel. He argues that the gospel is the “center, unity, and boundary of the evangelical faith.” The gospel is the lens we use to explore the other loci of theology.

And of course, since this is Mike Bird there is a lot of engaging humor in the book. The humor and amusing analogies draw students in, and hopefully open up the students’ minds to learning systematic theology. Learn More

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For Students

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Request a free exam copy of Evangelical Theology.

D. Hermeneutics

 

1. Grasping God’s Word, Third Edition

Grasping God's Wordby J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays

Grasping God’s Word has become the classic undergraduate textbook for hermeneutics.

It’s written by a New Testament scholar (J. Scott Duvall) and an Old Testament Scholar (J. Daniel Hays), and it gives students a framework for interpreting Scripture: the five-step Interpretive Journey.

Then the authors walk students through each biblical genre – Letters, Gospels, Prophets, and so on, and demonstrate how you can practice the Interpretive Journey within each genre.

One of the strengths of the book is that it begins with the content that is more straightforward, and which students are most familiar. It starts with the Letters, and from there moves on to more difficult genres such as Old Testament Narrative, Poetry, etc.

Another thing that makes this appealing to instructors is that it has a whole suite of resources around it: a workbook, a laminated sheet, video lectures, and the free resources below. Learn More

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2. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Fourth Edition

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth has established itself over the last 30 years as a go-to hermeneutics textbook for everything from seminaries, to undergraduate institutions, to classes in church settings.

It gives a general introduction to interpretive method and goes through the different genres of biblical literature.

I’ve found that one of the things people like about this book is that it’s written very accessibly, and it’s fairly brief (about 250 pages) so it’s not an intimidating-looking textbook.

The recent Fourth Edition includes these updates:

  • Updated language for better readability
  • Redesigned and updated diagrams
  • Updated list of recommended commentaries and resources

Learn more about the book.

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3. How to Read the Bible Book by Book

How to Read the Bible Book by Bookby Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart

This is a companion to How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (FAIW). This book, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, takes what you learned in FAIW and it goes through every single book in the Bible, showing you examples of how you can use the interpretive method in Genesis, Exodus, and every other book up through Revelation.

So Book by Book demonstrates how to interpret parts of every book of the Bible, and that way gives you a sturdy starting point for doing further study on your own. Learn More

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4. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Revised Edition

Introduction to Biblical Interpretation

by William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard Jr.

Introduction to Biblical Interpretation is primarily a seminary-level hermeneutics text.

Like other hermeneutics texts, this presents logical guidelines for interpreting the Bible. But this book goes into greater depth, discussing more technical matters, nuance, and special cases.

Introduction to Biblical Interpretation:

  • Defines and describes hermeneutics, the science of biblical interpretation
  • Suggests effective methods to understand the meaning of the biblical text
  • Surveys the literary, cultural, social, and historical issues that impact any text
  • Evaluates both traditional and modern approaches to Bible interpretation
  • Examines the reader’s role as an interpreter of the text and helps identify what the reader brings to the text that could distort its message
  • Tackles the problem of how to apply the Bible in valid and significant ways today
  • Provides an extensive and revised annotated list of books that readers will find helpful in the practice of biblical interpretation

Learn more about the book.

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  • Shepherd Mureriwa 2 years ago

    Hie i have gone through all the theological books i.e Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Hermeneutics)i need to understand the meaning of the biblical text ,which i think this book will address those issues
    Thank you

    • ZA Blog 2 years ago

      Hi Shepherd M., if I understand you correctly, you’re wondering if if “Introduction to Biblical Interpretation” will help you understand the meaning of the biblical text. The answer is yes, that book will show you techniques you can use to interpret the Bible.

      It isn’t a commentary on the biblical text, though. If you’re looking for books that dig into the meaning of the biblical text, I would recommend you check out some books from a good commentary series, like the NIV Application Commentary series. For example, here’s the book on Matthew: http://zondervanacademic.com/products/matthew-1

      I hope that helps. Thanks,
      Adam (Zondervan Academic employee)

  • Matthew Hicks 1 year ago

    Can one access the textbookplus+ material that is designated for students, even though they do not attend an institution of any kind? I saw that the text books that I am interested in (except for one of them) are not offered on Zondervan’s online courses.