Thursday, May 06, 2010

How The New Testament Came Together: Reviews

Last year I published a booklet on How the New Testament Came Together (Grove Books). These sort of booklets don't generally get reviewed in academic journals, but I have seen two reviews, one on a blog and one in a Christian newspaper. Since they are both positive (!) I thought I would share them with you in the hope that this useful little booklet would be more widely used.

Andrew Gregory, who is Chaplain at University College in Oxford and teaches NT in the Faculty of Theology over there, reviewed it in the Church of England Newspaper. There does not seem to be any on-line edition so I have posted a copy of the review here.

Fortunately Andrew seemed to really like the booklet, describing it as an 'excellent account', 'clear and accessible', 'nuanced and winsome', in short 'an excellent book and [one which] deserves to be widely read'. I think I might get away with quoting one paragraph:
As is to be expected of a Grove Booklet, the discussion is short, clear and largely jargon free. But no one should doubt the depth of detailed knowledge and careful judgment that underpins this work. Teachers and other specialists who read it will appreciate the way in which Head offers a clear and accessible route through a range of primary evidence and modern debates, and will want to add it to reading lists for their students. Students in turn will find an excellent introduction to the topic, and a useful list of further reading in the endnotes. For other readers, who have no essays to write, and who want just a brief but informed introduction to the formation of the New Testament, I know of nothing to rival Head’s account.
Andrew had a couple of "quibbles". He thought that on occasions, where the evidence is thin, I tended to "maximalist" rather than "minimalist" conclusions. On this I waver a bit between taking this as a compliment (since Andrew tends to be a bit "minimalist"); and wanting to dispute the reduction of such a complex field into two alternatives. I also don't think I am a "maximalist" really. He also thought I should have discussed the criteria for canonicity in the early church. On this I'm sure I would have done if I thought I could have documented them in the early church. And thirdly he was mildly concerned that among the "Questions for Reflection" at the end of each chapter where some that could not be answered from the information provided in the booklet (e.g. "How does the canonical shape of Paul's letter collection affect our interpretation of Paul?"). On this I am unrepentant, since I see them as questions for (further) reflection, not questions for comprehension.

Matt Evans, who blogs at Broadcast Depth, also reviewed the booklet and he liked it too. In fact he liked it so much he gave it an A (which was nice, as it is a long time since I have had a piece of written work graded). He said:

How the New Testament Came Together is a handy little booklet. It gives just enough information to its reader to allow them to better understand where their Bible came from. It also gives them an idea of what kinds of discussions took place over what should and should not be in the New Testament canon.

The only thing that I wish this primer included was a little more information on the early church councils and what they did to help or hurt the formation of the New Testament canon. Other than this, I believe Peter Head accomplished his purpose wonderfully.

This booklet should be read by those with little knowledge or doubts of how their Bible came to be. It is an extremely simple read, yet thorough enough to get its reader to think and to convince them to research the topic more for themselves.

So there may be some mileage in a revised edition which addressed the criteria and church council issues; but otherwise it is nice to get such positive reviews.


  1. Hi Peter,
    I will have to get the book then!
    Frederik Mulder

  2. Peter,

    If you e-mail a copy to me, I can review it and post the review at the TC-Alternate Yahoo-group.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  3. Hi Peter, this sounds exactly what I am looking for. I will make your booklet a required reading for my Intro to NT course next Semester. Thanks and God bless.

  4. Dr. Head, I'm so glad you stumbled across my little review of your booklet. It really was superb! I'm happy to see others are taking note of that fact.

  5. It's good to hear about your book, although I can't decide if I'd rather read a 'winesome' or 'winsome' one.

  6. sorry about the spelling problem/typo.

  7. I too am interested in this booklet. Where could I get a copy. Or better yet, would you give one out in exchange for a review? I could review it at and my KJV-Only Debate blog.

    Email me (just click my Blogger profile for the email) if you're interested.


    Bob Hayton

  8. Grove Books sells it in an e-version as well as hardcopy; click on the "Grove Books" link in the original post, and on the Grove website follow the e-book link. It's actually a downloadable .pdf format. Instant delivery! (I know, because I bought a copy yesterday--hope a pence or two of the price makes its way to Peter's pocket!)

  9. Mike, thanks for the tip. I'll have to check it out.

  10. Yes, as Mike said, click on the link and you can purchase either as an e-book or as a real booklet. Discounts available for large quantities.
    If you want a free copy for a review I suggest that you contact the Grove Books people through the web-site.
    And yes there are royalty payments. 7.5% after the first 500 sales (I checked the website, I don't normally keep this sort of information in my head).

    If you have an idea for writing a Grove Book then let me know.

  11. Thanks Peter, I'll check that out. Thanks too for your ministry to the wider church, God bless.

  12. God Bless you, Peter, for the time you spent on this quick and easy resource for future students.