Last week I began teaching a series of seminars at ChristChurch London called Theology Matters: The Gospels. Each term in 2015 we will spend four weeks looking in depth at the stories of Jesus’ life, examining the major themes and unpacking some of the most difficult sections. You can find out more about what we’ll cover here, and we’ll be putting up recordings here.
I put together a reading list to accompany the series. I’ve no doubt we’ll recommend plenty more resources as we go through and address particular topics like the parables, Torah, miracles and so on. But this is probably more than enough to get you going! Here are my suggestions, with some comments about each.
Not strictly on the gospels, but immensely helpful nonetheless is Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for all its Worth, which lays out helpful principles for how to read, understand and apply the various different sections of the Bible. The introductory chapters and two chapters on the gospels and the parables are well worth reading.
And while we’re on broad reference books, D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo’s Introduction to the New Testament is packed full of helpful material. And Carson and Beale’s Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament is an invaluable book to help you look into the background of particular verses and understand how the New Testament writers understand and interpret the writing of their Old Testament counterparts. More of a reference book than a reading book, but if nothing else, it’ll look great on your shelf!
Books on the Gospels
There are loads of books that give good background to the gospels themselves and the world in which they were written. Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes has some really eye-opening material on the Middle Eastern context of the gospels. Even though I don’t buy every conclusion Bailey reaches, some of his insights are amazing and will help you understand various passages, phrases and allusions in a whole new light.
For short books that look at each of the four gospels in turn, I’d recommend Peter Leithart’s The Four or Richard Burridge’s Four Gospels, One Jesus? both of which have helpful material on the different purposes and emphases of the various gospel writers.
If you want to know how, when and why the gospels were put together, I’d recommend Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Bauckham argues that the gospel accounts are not late creations by anonymous authors, but trustworthy accounts from original eyewitnesses. This is not a short or easy read, but if you want to know how the gospels were put together and why we can trust them, this is well worth the effort.
And since Lent is just round the corner, if you want a book which you can read in the run up to Easter, I recommend Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor’s The Final Days of Jesus.
Technically a person rather than a category – but I think it’s fair to say that nobody has influenced my reading of the gospels more than N.T. Wright, so he gets a section of his own. Some of his books list him as Tom Wright, and as a rule of thumb the ones bearing initials are meaty and academic, whilst the ones bearing the friendlier ‘Tom’ are more accessible and popular level.
Simply Jesus and How God Became King both fall into the ‘Tom’ category and are great, accessible books that explore who Jesus was and what he came to do. They provide good background to the gospels and help to paint a picture of Jesus that makes sense of his first century context.
In addition to these, Wright has produced short commentaries on every book of the New Testament and his …For Everyone books on each of the gospels are well worth reading.
If you have the appetite for it, I’d highly recommend checking out the first two volumes of the Christian Origins and the Question of God series, but be warned, they are beasts!
Volume I: The New Testament and the People of God is quite technical, and looks at a range of questions about history, epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge), hermeneutics (the at of interpretation) and the origins of Christianity. I’d forgive you for skipping over it and heading straight to Volume II: Jesus and the Victory of God, which is one of my all-time favourite books and seeks to understand Jesus, his actions, teachings, life and death in context. It is an immensely rewarding book and provides the background for many of his more popular books recommended above.
There are hundreds of great commentaries on each of the gospels, ranging from accessible easy reads to really heavy (and often dry!!) academic books. I’ve barely read a fraction of them, so I’m sure there are plenty of others worth recommending… but here are just two of my personal favourites for each gospel.
Matthew: Leon Morris’ Gospel According to Matthew in the Pillar series (PNTC) strikes a great balance between being technical, but also fairly accessible. D.A. Carson’s two-part commentary is maybe a little more dense, but well worth the effort.
Mark: The Bible Speaks Today (BST) series is generally reliable and accessible, although sometimes doesn’t go as deep as one might like, and Donald English’s The Message of Mark is a good example of this series. On the other hand, the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) is a technical, dense, sometimes-infuriatingly-pedantic, but often brilliant series and William Lane’s The Gospel of Mark is one of the better ones.
Luke: Leon Morris’ Luke: An Introduction and Survey (TNTC) is a reasonably accessible introduction to Luke’s gospel. And for a more in-depth commentary, Joel Green’s The Gospel of Luke (NICNT) is a good, though technical, alternative.
John: D.A. Carson’s The Gospel According to John (PNTC) is not only my favourite commentary on John, but one of my favourite commentaries in general. It’s a great balance between being technical and accessible. I don’t really need to recommend another commentary on John, but for consistency I guess I ought to give you a second one! Bruce Milne’s The Message of John is also pretty decent and a bit more accessible.
You may also want to check out some of our past sermon series, including Cross Roads from 2013, which looked at a selection of passages in Luke and I Am from 2012, which looked at Jesus’ challenging claims in John’s Gospel.
If you want any other recommendations, or have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.