Book Review – Encountering the Old/New Testaments

Arnold, Bill T. and Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey.  Encountering Biblical Studies. Third Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker, 2008. 448 pp. Hb; $49.99.  (Link to Baker) (Link to Logos)

Elwell, Walter A. and Robert W. Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament: A Christian Survey.  Encountering Biblical Studies. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker, 2013. 528 pp. Hb; $49.99. (Link to Baker) (Link to Logos)

Baker Academic released a third edition of their New Testament Survey textbook in May of 2013, the Old Testament textbook is in a second edition (2008). I have used both books in Bible Survey courses and found them to be excellent textbooks for an undergrad, freshman level course.  Both books come with a CD-ROM containing a number of student helps. (The introduction to the books describes this CD as “fun and informative to use,” my students did not find it helpful at all.) Baker has continued to improve the books by adding online resources for both professor and student for Encountering the New Testament.

PrintBoth books are written by solid evangelicals and demonstrate a commitment to the inspiration and authority of the Bible. In EOT, Arnold and Beyer state that “plenary verbal inspiration seems to deal best with all the biblical evidence” (EOT p. 25).  Both books begin with a chapter orienting the student to the study of the Bible, placing an emphasis on the importance of the Bible for personal salvation and understanding what truth God has revealed.  For example, “The Bible’s words are God’s words” (ENT, p. 22)

But this does not mean that these books ignore contemporary methods for reading the Bible. In EOT Arnold and Beyer discuss the Documentary Hypothesis as well as multiple authorship theories for books such as Isaiah.  While they do not accept these theories, they are conversant with and respectful of these views.  Likewise, in ENT Elwell and Yarbrough have a very well-written chapter on Historical Jesus issues. Their conclusions are solidly conservative evangelical, but the student will have enough understanding of the issues at stake to move on to more advanced studies in the gospels.

Both books are richly illustrated and have many side-bars and charts to help the student manage the information presented in the chapters. Some of the pictures in EOT are not very high resolution (or are old, p. 185, Tel Dan). The presentation of maps in both books is minimalistic, which in most cases works very well.  They use a few colors to highlight the theme of the map, and only mark locations that are important for that map.

EOTEach chapter has clear objectives and a set of key words” that the student ought to be able to define and describe after reading chapter.  There are a number of text-boxes containing parallel literature (ANE literature, church fathers) or longer quotes from contemporary scholarship. Some boxes deal with theological issues. For example, In EOT, there are paragraphs on Evolution, the origin of Evil, Sexuality in Leviticus, etc. In ENT, there are “focus” boxes that discuss modern applications of the text, such as Miracles, Missions or Persecution.

These books are well-designed for use in a classroom. My impression is that they will be welcome in a conservative undergraduate environment, although there is enough depth in each book that they could be used in Introduction courses at the seminary level. I think that both books would be excellent for an interested layperson who wants to develop their knowledge of the Old and New Testaments.

Classroom Resources

Both Encountering the Old Testament and Encountering the New Testament are designed to be used in the classroom.  To this end, the books include the sorts of things usually found in textbooks – chapter objectives, key terms, review questions, and bibliography.

Baker provides resources for the professor as well as study aids for the study as a part of their Textbook Sources site.  Student resources include online videos introducing each chapter and chapter summaries. The online videos are simply Robert Yarbrough talking for about two or three minutes. There are no graphics or production at all, so they are not exactly exciting to watch.

The questions at the end of the chapter are reproduced on the website. Students can review with a web-based flashcard system and take a practice quiz. The student receives feedback on why answers are incorrect after they complete the quiz. There is also a flash card deck for Quizlet, an app for iPad and Android platforms. I would suggest that this data be ported to Study Blue, another popular study aid for iOS.

Logos on the Desktop

At this time, there is no Kindle version of either book on Amazon. Encountering the New Testament is available on the Baker website as an ePub book ($37.49).  Both books are available in the Logos Library. This means that all of the features of Logos can be used for these books.  Everything is linked in a Logos book, including scripture references and indices.  Just one example: I clicked on a text box from Eusebius and it opened my copy of Church History in the Post-Nicene Fathers set.

On the desktop version of Logos, the reader can read footnotes and scripture in floating boxes. Clicking on scripture will open the text in your favorite Bible. Logos has a timeline feature. When a date is given in the text of either book, the user can click the timeline flag to open the Logos Timeline. Photographs in ENT can be sent to PowerPoint or copied and pasted into any program.  Words marked in bold in the print version indicate the word appears in the glossary. Moving the mouse over the bold/blue text floats the glossary entry.

Clicking the title on the Bibliography at the end of a chapter will allow the user to copy and paste the bibliographic entry in plain text, BibTeX or Refer/BibText formats (for importing into Zotero, for example). In almost every case, the user will want to use the plain text format.

ENT iPad 02One of the most interesting features of ENT is that the end-of-chapter questions can be answered in the book itself.  A small textbox appears under the question and the reader can fill in the answer for themselves. Unfortunately this box does not expand, I entered about three lines of text before the text scrolled up.  The boxes accept Unicode fonts (I pasted Greek and Hebrew).  I am not sure if there is a limit answers, but I pasted the entire book of Galatians into the box without any problems. I do not recall this “workbook” feature in a Logos book before, but it has promise.  If the Question Box could be printed (or exported to an RTF file) with the answers inserted, this would be a way for students to do the questions as a homework assignment within Logos itself.

Encountering the Old Testament is still in the second edition and is not as advanced as ENT in the Logos version.  There are no photos or maps in the electronic version. All of the text features are present, but none of the bells and whistles.  In fact, there is no ePub version available for EOT at this time.  I assume that if Baker does a third edition of Old Testament book that they will develop classroom resources and will include the features found in ENT.

Logos on the iPad

Many students are using Kindle or some other ebook reader for their textbooks. Using Logos to read these books a very enjoyable. All of the features of the iPad Logos app are available, including highlighting and note taking.

The iPad version of Logos does not have timeline feature, but both footnotes and scripture will appear in a floating window.  (Some Logos books have the footnotes at the bottom of the page, but that is not the case for these two books).  Tapping a word that appears in the glossary will take the reader to that entry in the glossary; although the “return” navigation button is sometimes hard to see (it is an arrow in the upper left hand side of the screen). I would have preferred glossary entries to float like Scripture or foot notes links.

ENT iPad 01The photographs in ENT look great on my iPad 3, although there does not seem to be any way to zoom with the pinch gesture. I rotated the iPad to landscape and the photograph was much larger. The photographs sometimes appear on a single page, sometimes embedded in the text.  I assume that this depends on the size of the photograph. Unlike the desktop version, there is no “send to Keynote” feature, and although the photographs appear to copy, I cannot find a way to paste them into Keynote, Pages or Evernote. If you were really desperate, you could take a screen shot and edit the photo. The charts look good on the iPad, but sometimes they run over a screen break. It would be nice to force charts onto a single screen.

A real benefit for reading books in Logos is that real page numbers are included.  On earlier Kindle books, it was impossible to find a real page in a book. (If the syllabus says “read pages 42-53,” a Kindle user had to poke around until they found the proper section. This is addressed in newer Kindle books.) The Logos books have very detailed table of contents with links to specific sections.  In addition, each chapter begins with a list of topics linked to chapter sections. The books have both brief tables of contents as well as a detailed one.

ENT iPad 03

On the iPad, Bibliography, if the book appears in the Logos library, the title is a link to the book. If you happen to own the book, the Logos app will open the book for you. Like the desktop version, study questions in ENT can be answered in Logos itself.  I personally find reading a book in the Logos App a better experience than in the Kindle App, at least on the iPad.

Conclusion. Both of these books are ideal for a Bible survey course, either at the undergraduate or graduate levels. As I said above, they are solidly evangelical although they interact with a range of scholarship that might challenge more conservative readers. 

Logos has a special price for a three-book bundle of Encountering the Old Testament, Encountering the New Testament, and Encountering Romans by Douglas Moo. I plan on reviewing Encountering Romans soon. I notice that Logos also has other books in this series, including  Andreas J. Köstenberger, Encountering John and C. Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms. It would be nice to see these other texts added to a “bundle,” perhaps Romans, John and Psalms should go together, leaving EOT/ENT as a bundle so students using these books in a class can buy the Logos version.  (UPDATE: Logos has an “upgrade” for the Encountering series on offer as a pre-publication, 25% off for Bill Arnold, Encountering Genesis, Brett Beyer, Encountering the Book of Isaiah, and Donald Hagner, Encountering the Book of Hebrews.)

Thanks to Logos for kindly providing me with a review copy of these books in the Logos Library. At some point in the past Baker provided me with classroom review copies.  This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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