The New Testament World

Assessment item 1: Report


Student: George Huang
Subject coordinator: Ockert Meyer

This report will be on the first chapter of Mark Allen Powell’s “Introducing the New Testament”. The topic of the first chapter is “The New Testament World”.  In this report, I will seek to summarise the content of the first chapter briefly and thoroughly. It is my aim to convey the content of the first chapter and the value of which I gained from reading it.

Powell begins the chapter by briefly summarising the historical periods that have lead up to the world that is found when reading the New Testament. He gives brief descriptions the nation of Israel during the Persian, Hellenistic, Hasmonean and Roman periods. The reader should note that all these periods are periods of occupation. This provides a helpful background of the animosity the Jews of the New Testament had towards the world and the desire for the Messiah.

After the historic briefing, Powell continues the chapter by introducing the people that were living in Palestine that lived through the time of Jesus and New Testament writings. Powell gives descriptions of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the Zealots, the Herodians, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles.  Powell spends more time writing about the Samaritans and Gentiles, mainly outlining their relationship with the Jewish people.

Powell then spends time describing the Roman rule during the world of the New Testament. He also briefs the reader on significant Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate and Herod Agrippa I. According to Powell, life under Roman rule was mixed. The Roman Empire was generally stable and prosperous but people of Palestine lived in oppression, like the other Roman conquests. This is another important backdrop in which the New Testament is set against.

Powell continues the chapter but describing and outline the different world views, theologies and philosophies that were popular or prominent in the New Testament world. He goes into detail about Hellenism, Wisdom Theology, Dualism, Apocalypticism and the many Roman philosophies, religions and various practices. With more time and detail, Powell writes on Gnosticism and its emergence during the second century. This gives the reader better understanding what early Christian teaching was up against, namely what Jesus had to contend with during his life.

The chapter concludes with descriptions and explanation of the various social systems and cultural values of the New Testament world.  Powell discusses the importance the topics of wealth and poverty, purity and defilement and patronage and loyalty. In each topic, Powell continues the picture of the world that was during the New Testament and many of the relevant issues raised in the New Testament. This gives the reader a better understanding on the needs and issues that were relevant to the people of the New Testament world.

Powell concludes the chapter by reminding the reader that the New Testament is not a single world, isolated from the events and locality surrounding it.  In fact the New Testament world are many worlds that allow the many cultures that share the spotlight. The goal of the chapter is not only to provide the necessary contextual awareness to understand details in the New Testament, but also to remind the reader that the message of the New Testament, the person of Jesus Christ, is a universal message and its intended audience is universal.

In the opening chapter, Powell sets the scene for anyone wishing to study the New Testament in deeper level and this is brief but effective. The real value of this chapter is that is breadth of relevant topics covered by Powell. This equips the reader with the valuable awareness of the New Testament world without requiring too much time or effort.  Even if Powell lacks the depth that many other books would provide, it is not necessary when you consider the immediate goals and aims of the book.

A small negative of Powell’s approach is his approach itself. The chapter only sets itself out to provide a brief summaries of all the important issues and contextual settings of the New Testament. This would not be the chapter where you would seek deeper answers to the world views, cultures or history of the New Testament.  Powell does provide extra readings for more curious readers with more time on their hands but the lack of detail and depth may be frustrating for some readers.

However, I found this approach to be quite effective for my needs. Powell’s overall purpose in the entire book is to provide the reader a better understanding of the New Testament. To achieve that goal, Powell focuses his attention on the actual writing in the New Testament, as it can be seen in the contents. It then would be unproductive to spend more time needed on the background information, such as history and cultural settings, than already spent in this chapter.  There is enough information to continue reading Powell’s booking as an informed student of the New Testament and Powell describes and summarises the individual topics to give direction to more eager readers to pursue.

I found the greatest asset from this chapter is from his concluding sentence. It reads:

“One thing to remember, however, is that in every New Testament writing the Christian, Jewish and Roman contexts overlap: Christian concerns, Jewish concerns, and Roman concerns are super imposed. The Christian claim in these writings is that the Jews and Romans alike find a new identity in Jesus Christ (see Gal. 3:28). The God of Israel is the hope of the Gentiles and, indeed, is the God of the entire universe (c.f. Romans 1:20; 15:4-12)”

Through the brief overview of the diverse world that the New Testament is set in, Powell does a discrete but effective job of reminding the reader that the message of the New Testament, the person of Jesus Christ, is relevant and addresses the spiritual problems all mankind. The people of the New Testament, living in Palestine, were diverse in culture, history and spirituality. Yet the answer to all their problems is Jesus Christ. How much more should a reader, with the gift of hindsight, see that the person and work of Jesus Christ is a response to the apparent Godless world that we see in the New Testament? Then there is only a small leap of faith to connect the diverse world of the 1st Century to the diverse world of the 21st Century where the same brokenness and need for a saviour is as great as it was two thousand years ago.



Powell, M A 2009 , Introducing the New Testament, Baker Academic.