If you could only have one book to go with the Bible, this is an excellent choice.
The IVP Introduction to the Bible
Editor: Philip S. Johnston
Publishers: IVP Academic (www.ivpress.com/academic)
If background and context are crucial to understanding the meaning of Scripture, The IVP Introduction to the Bible is an excellent quick reference for discovering it. Various contributors from the US and UK provide overviews of all the major sections and all the individual books. Among the scholars are Desmond Alexander, Tremper Longman, Howard Marshall, Brian Rosner and Mark Strauss. Each writes in their field of expertise.
Their work is equal to or greater than the notes found in the best study Bibles. There you have space constraints, which require smaller text and abbreviated subject matter. One thing you do not get is detail on individual verses, which is where study Bibles have an advantage in that they do provide some commentary. However, the best source for exposition of individual verses remains one-volume or multi-volume commentaries.
This book provides clear and concise presentations that contain a wealth of distilled scholarship for anyone wanting to grasp themes and subject matter. The insights are highly relevant. On the inspiration of Scripture, Mark Strauss writes, “Though the Holy Spirit who inspired Scripture may be perfect and precise, the vehicle of transmission (human language) is subject to ambiguity and imprecision. Our comprehension of divine revelation is therefore always partial and incomplete (1 Cor. 13:12)” (3).
The views are current and conservative, avoiding controversy, though readers may disagree with some conclusions. Traditionally, the author of Revelation has been identified as John the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles. Carl Mosser writes, “John the son of Zebedee became an apostle, but little in Revelation supports identifying its author with one of the apostles. He never calls himself an apostle, and gives no indication that he is among the twelve apostles written on the New Jerusalem’s foundations (21:14), or is among the twenty-four enthroned elders, probably the twelve patriarchs and twelve apostles (4:4, 10; 5:8; 11:16; 19:4). So it seems unlikely that the author was John the son of Zebedee but we cannot determine his identity more than that” (265-266).
Returning to the beginning of the book, Mark Strauss’ definition of terms is valuable. He explains the difference between plenary and verbal inspiration, “Plenary means ‘full’ and refers to the fact that all Scripture is equally inspired. Verbal means that the words themselves, not just the ideas, are inspired by God. Here we must be cautious, however, since words are arbitrary signs which indicate conceptual content. It is the meaning of these words ― the message which they convey — which is ultimately inspired by God. In this way a translation of Scripture which accurately represents the meaning of that text remains God’s Word” (3). Some may disagree with that last thought, but this careful, reasoned analysis of every aspect of Scripture is found throughout, which makes this a great addition to any personal or institutional library. Ministers and teachers will find it helpful in sermon or lesson preparation.
Every section is interesting, but because it is less familiar to me, I especially enjoyed reading “Between the Testaments.” Carl Mosser takes readers through a fascinating account of the 400 year period between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.
Two of the best features come at the end of each section. There is a short synopsis that discusses each book’s relevance for Christians. This is especially helpful in the Old Testament, where believers sometimes wonder what applies. This highlights the importance of context, which this book consistently provides. In “Introducing the Old Testament,” we find this apt summary statement, “The basic rule of thumb for Christian interpreters of the OT is that the moral law, governing ethical behavior, continues in effect for the Christian, not as a means of salvation, but as a code ― based in God’s character — by which to live. By contrast, while we can learn from the civil and ceremonial laws, we are not directed by them in the same way” (45).
The other helpful feature is a further reading section, which shows where to turn for more detail. The list provides the best scholarship on the subject with short comments from the author.
The layout is pleasant to the eyes and the text easy to read.
Do you need help in understanding and applying the Bible? Maybe you just want a reliable reference to keep you on track. Look no further. If you could only have one book to go with the Bible, this is an excellent choice.