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The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament Hardcover – February, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Keener has accomplished a monumental task in assimilating a vast amount of primary and secondary material on first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman culture and making it accessible to nonspecialist readers. In addition, he displays a wide knowledge of New Testament scholarship (Pauline studies, gospel studies, etc.). To make this commentary useful to a diverse audience, Keener has minimized theological comments and emphasized historical, cultural, and social background. The text is clearly written and fairly free of technical jargon. There are few citations in the text to primary sources (and none to secondary ones), since the author felt they would be cumbersome to lay readers; some readers (the more curious or skeptical ones) may feel shortchanged by the omission of such references. But in light of the overall quality of the commentary, it's a small matter. This volume should be a useful addition to public, academic, and seminary libraries.
- Craig W. Beard, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham Lib.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Well-written in a style suitable for both professional students and daily disciples." (World Christian)

"Keener has indeed taken careful aim at an aptly defined target, and his equally careful methodology has enabled him to hit it dead-center. . . . His purpose is to place at the modern reader's disposal the cultural background of the Bible, something that the original readers already knew and assumed. . . . Few pages do not contain some helpful cultural insight into a New Testament passage. . . . Even those already familiar with New Testament background will profit." (Biblical Archaeologist)

"Keener . . . has done the remarkable. He has produced a work that was genuinely needed but not envisioned--until now." (Faith and Mission)

"It is nearly impossible to imagine that one person could have compiled all the information contained within this volume. But Keener has not simply compiled material; he has mastered it. . . . At every turn of the page, whose who treasure the Bible will find something new and valuable." (Themelios)

"The product of a decade of work, this commentary is indispensable for Bible study. . . . By selectively providing background information from a variety of primary and secondary sources, Keener admirably bridges the cultural gaps experienced by modern readers of the Bible. . . . Sermons and lessons will be greatly enhanced by referencing this excellent resource." (Ministries Today)

"Keener succeeds in being informative and, this reviewer thinks, more than fair in trying not to impose his views on the texts. . . . Keener, as he promised, wrote a 'popular' rather than a scholarly book. Keener's scholarly credentials are strong and his book is a God-send to busy pastors. As already indicated, it is of great help to Bible students who do not have access to a theological library." (Southwestern Journal of Theology)

"A stunning work destined certainly to become a standard resource for study of the New Testament." (Journal of Psychology and Theology)

"Keener has accomplished a monumental task in assimilating a vast amount of primary and secondary material on first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman culture and making it accessible to nonspecialist readers. In addition, he displays a wide knowledge of New Testament scholarship (Pauline studies, gospels studies, etc.). To make this commentary useful to a diverse audience, Keener has minimized theological comments and emphasized historical, cultural, and social background. The text is clearly written and fairly free of technical jargon. . . . This volume should be a useful addition to public, academic, and seminary libraries." (Library Journal)

"Uncovers cultural backgrounds and provides historical perspective for nearly every verse in the New Testament." (The Mennonite)

"In recent years scholars have provided Bible translations and study helps of various kinds, but one major resource has been lacking. Where could busy ministers and laypersons go to find the background for 'what was going on in Bible days'? . . . A resource tool is finally available, providing the background for every passage in the New Testament. . . . The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament condenses over ten years of careful research into a resource tool that is at its readers' fingertips. . . . [Keener's] earlier books, which tackle issues like New Testament teachings on divorce, women's roles, and slavery, are heavily documented; but The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament is readable and should be accessible to all students of the Bible. . . . Otherwise unavailable information brings various texts alive." (The Baptist Informer)

"A fine tool for personal Bible study. It analyzes the historical-cultural background of every passage of the New Testament in clear, non-technical language, making it especially useful for those without expertise in Greek or ancient history. Unlike a typical commentary, which interprets the meaning of each text, Keener's book offers insights which enable readers to study individual texts with greater personal involvement and practical gain. The author, an evangelical Protestant, is remarkably balanced and unbiased in his analysis, making this quite suitable for Catholic use--a valuable supplement to a good concordance, commentary, and Bible dictionary." (The Bulletin of Applied Biblical Studies, The Franciscan University of Steubenville)

"Books are available that give us the cultural, social and historical background of Bible passages, but most are hidden away in academic libraries. Now Craig Keener . . . provides us with a single volume in a verse-by-verse format that covers the entire New Testament. Why use a background commentary? With it, we get a glimpse of the New Testament authors' original concerns and purposes. . . . Keener writes in clear, non-technical language for the lay person. His commentary is a valuable tool for teachers, small-group leaders, pastors, missionaries (who are trying not to impose their own cultural biases in their new setting), and all who enjoy digging deeper in their personal study of God's Word." (Discipleship Journal)

"So far as this reviewer can discern, Keener knows his ancient sources and knows the best recent ideas on how to interpret them. . . . Teachers, pastors and students of the Bible will find it immensely helpful; I will probably include it in my next revised list of eight to twelve books recommended for a 'Basic Home Christian Library.'" (Presbyterion)

"This in-depth study is based on ten years of research by Keener. . . . It provides at least some cultural background for nearly every verse in the New Testament. . . . You need to have it in your theological library." (A.M.E. Zion Quarterly Review)

"An excellent resource for pastors and teachers. The impressive volume contains a verse-by-verse look at cultural, religious, and social issues that come into play in the New Testament context. This is background information that most pastors' libraries will not contain, which makes it a vital tool for serious Bible study and preaching." (The Communicator)

"Whether you preach sermons, teach Sunday school, lead a small group, or read the Bible for personal study, your understanding of God's word can be deepened and enriched by learning more about the context of each passage from this valuable book." (PRISM Magazine)

"This is a splendid book to have next to your Bible. . . . A fascinating Bible study resource." (Good News)

"A few hours with this volume will rapidly convince one that Craig Keener . . . is a rising star among evangelical New Testament scholars. . . . Written simply and clearly, though meticulously researched, this book will be a valuable acquisition for every thoughtful student, pastor, and teacher who tries to understand the original setting for any passage in the New Testament. . . . Carefully researched and judiciously written from an orthodox Christian perspective to provide dependable information without overt theological bias. I heartily recommend it." (Enrichment)

"I never study a New Testament passage without consulting this excellent work, and do commend it at every opportunity! . . . For us 'working communicators' it is often a great shortcut to a quick remembrance of the background to passages and at other times, truly enlightening." (Todd Hunter, bishop, Anglican Church of North America)

"A rich and lucid resource for understanding God's Word. This work is presented in a way that serves the needs of pastors in their sermon preparation, as well as lay members in personal Bible studies." (Charles Blake, Presiding Bishop of Church of God in Christ)

"Specifically designed to meet the needs of pastors and students who have less access to scholarly resources and less time to mine exegetical details. As such, it is extremely accessible and user friendly, a welcome addition to the pastor's bookshelf." (Christopher Hall, Eastern University)

"Carefully researched yet accessible for the busy pastor or other reader, this commentary puts years of research at the reader's fingertips, passage by passage, in a single volume." (George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God)

"The book is a rich and accessible mine of important information and a remarkable accomplishment." (D. Moody Smith, Duke University Divinity School)

"One of the most useful available reference tools for pastors and laypeople alike, and I frequently recommend it from the pulpit. The reader simply has to look up his comments on a passage to find out, for example, why it was momentous that the prodigal son received sandals and a ring when he returned to his father. Although background material is often notoriously slippery and debatable, Keener makes it useful for students of the Scripture." (Gary Shogren, Biblical Theological Seminary)

"We can no more ignore the humanness of the writers of the [Bible's] written word than we can discount the humanity of the living Lord. But their humanness had cultural connotations. . . . It is therefore not only helpful, but also necessary, for us to know of their cultures the better to understand the inspired word. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament will prove most helpful in this regard." (D. Stuart Briscoe, pastor and author)

"Every biblical text has cultural assumptions. Like an intriguing archaeological dig, Keener's work surfaces the cultural and worldview assumptions of the New Testament. This work brings background to the foreground, so the text's meaning is more accessible to all." (Darrell Bock, Dallas Theological Seminary)

"Here is a book many people have been waiting for. . . . The IVP Bible Background Commentary should prove to be a truly useful book." (Gordon Fee, Regent College)

"This book will meet a significant need. . . . The discerning reader will detect how well Keener has drawn on the results of much recent research and presented it in a way that pastors and laypeople will be able to grasp." (Clinton E. Arnold, Talbot School of Theology)

"Most one-volume, single-author Bible commentaries or study Bibles are erratic in their coverage. . . . Craig Keener's work is an astonishing exception. . . . He can be trusted in almost every statement he makes, and even his more interpretative opinions are consistently well-grounded. Keener has given preachers and lay Christians alike an invaluable resource for years to come." (Craig Blomberg, Denver Seminary)

"A phenomenal work. I know of no other New Testament reference that brings together so much information and insight into one volume. Keener has gathered a host of background material from a broad range of ancient and modern sources and put them literally at the preacher's fingertips." (Cheryl Sanders, Howard University Divinity School)

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Product Details

  • Series: IVP Bible Background Commentary
  • Hardcover: 842 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic; First edition (February 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830814051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830814053
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 2.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Craig Keener is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky. Three of his many books have won national awards, and his background commentary has sold over half a million copies (including electronic copies and translations). Craig is married to Dr. Medine Moussounga Keener, who holds a Ph.D. from University of Paris 7. She was a refugee for 18 months in her nation of Congo, and together Craig and Médine work for ethnic reconciliation in the U.S. and Africa.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 80 people found the following review helpful By faience on March 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Finally, here's all the stuff I always wanted, but could never get in the notes of a study Bible. Keener's book is 831 pages of double-columned passage-by-passage commentary, readable but never "dumbed down." "Background" refers not only to history, but to society, culture, and everyday life, and the book is both interesting and illuminating.
IVP is an overtly Christian publisher, which might make some readers, those who want objective scholarship, wary. It need not. The vast majority of this commentary is concerned with documented fact. Not all, of course. Some events are matters of controversy among historians -- for example, Herod's "slaughter of the innocents," which is mentioned by no other document than the Gospel of Matthew, and which many scholars think never happened. But, on checking the relatively "liberal" HarperCollins Study Bible, I find this isn't mentioned there either, which indicates that the verdict is still out, and that Keener has acceptable reason for taking Matthew's word on the subject. If the objectivity question bothers you, you could use Keener's book in conjunction with an ecumenical study Bible, such as HarperCollins or New Oxford Annotated. But this volume seems, to me, to be that rare book that both faith-based Bible readers, and objective scholars could love.
My biggest complaint is that, while the binding and paper are high quality, the paper is heavy & the binding stiff. It will not open flat for easy back-and-forth referral between it and the Bible text you're using.
Other than that, it's a wonderful piece of work on all counts.
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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful By book lover on May 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have been using this resource for more than four years in a variety of contexts--academic classes, Bible studies with high school and college students, and so on. This book is an invaluable resource.

Two main reasons to buy this book: 1) We are all very removed from the cultural perspective of the authors who wrote the New Testament. This book helps bridge that gap by pointing out details we would consider irrelevant and giving context to other details we would otherwise misunderstand. 2) The text is highly readable and accessible for a wide selection of readers. The scholarship is very strong, fair, and thought-provoking, and furthermore, the editorial team did an excellent job ensuring that the information was presented in a clear and interesting manner. I've often found myself provoked to curiousity and ended up reading more than I originally intended to (and, no, that is not a habit for me with most reference books!).

A brief word, too, about the fact that an evangelical publisher is responsible for this book being published. First, every publishing house has biases, so to judge an evangelical publisher for publishing work sympathetic to evangelical tendencies is a bit harsh. Secondly, as one who reads a fair amount from a variety of sources, I have often found that IV Press books exhibit an uncommon level of integrity and fairness in the way their books are written. Thirdly, it is a logical fallacy to argue that a book does not contain truth or is inaccurate due to its origin. Have an open mind and judge the accuracy of the material on its own merits.

Really, this is a great text, in some ways better than the Old Testament Bible Background Commentary. I know several dozen men and women who regularly use this book in their work and who consider it very helpful for the purpose of presenting the New Testament accurately. I strongly recommend this book to you.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Curtis Evans ( on June 13, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Craig Keener is a very good scholar. His use of source material (primary and secondary) is very judicious and sound. I have always wanted a book that tried as much as possible to avoid giving interpretation, but instead focused on background customs and "everyday" perspectives of the peoples of the first century. This book does just this. However, one cannot entirely avoid interpretation in a volume like this. Still, Keener's work will help you get more out of your Bible study and it will help you avoid esoteric explanations of the Scriptures. This book is especially good for those who are weary of commentaries. Thanks again to Keener for the work put into this book.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Cintron on June 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Keener, in my opinion, wrote the best Bible study resource available. What seperates this referance book from others is its thoroughness, and scholarly tone. This book reveals information based on complete cultural studies. The cultural point-of-view sheds light on confusing or seemingly outdated passages in the Bible. Keeners work puts Bible passages in its proper context--how the readers of the time would have read it. Keener manages to write thoroughly and concisely, rarely seen in the scholarly world of books. He writes what you need to know and not a word more. No long explanations, unless necessary. No elevated word choices(you don't need a dictionary to understand what he's saying, unlike the MATHEW HENRY COMMENTARY).
This book may also be used in place of a regular commentary. It may also be used as a referance for similar or related Biblical passages (many cross referances are given), or, a word study, as the cultural meanings and original usages of words are given.
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