How do I read through the New Testament? Dr. Thomas Keene provides tools to help Christians navigate the diversity of genres in the New Testament. A lightly edited transcript is found below.
One of the challenges of reading the New Testament is that it’s so diverse. You have narratives like the Gospels and Acts, you have letters written to particular people or particular churches that seem kind of stuck in their own time, you have an apocalypse (the Book of Revelation), you have theologically deep material such as Hebrews. You’ve got a lot of different things to navigate. At times, while reading the New Testament, that diversity can be disorienting. What is the center here? What is the central issue? What do I need to know to be able to interpret the New Testament?
Understanding Christ as the Center
Well, what’s the center that draws everything together? The center that draws everything together is the event of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Everything draws on that and it points to that.The center that draws everything together is the event of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Everything draws on that and it points to that. And so wherever you are in the New Testament, I think the best way you can get your bearings, maybe you’re lost in Hebrews 7 or Revelation 19, and you’re wondering how do I get my bearings? How do I keep my eye on the ball? How do I stay focused in what the New Testament is about? The answer is always Christ. What does it tell me about what Christ has done, and what does it imply then in my own life? How does it apply to my own character as I struggle to follow Christ in the wilderness world in which we live?
How to Read Different Genres
The second component to reading the New Testament is to make sure you’re respecting the particular kind of book that you’re in. And the best way to do that is by understanding its genre and its purpose. Read the Gospels like narratives, read the letters like letters, read a theological treatise like a theological treatise, an apocalypse like an apocalypse. The best way to do that in turn is to focus on the beginning of the book. The author at the beginning of every book will give you clues and give you an orientation to what you’re reading, a signal to you, “This is what’s important here. This is how this book is to be approached.” This is the gospel, for example, of Jesus Christ, and you should read it as a gospel. This is a letter from Paul. You should read it as a letter from Paul to the Romans. Allowing the diversity of those books to speak is also a great way of respecting the integrity of each book while keeping the focus on Christ.