Book Review: Scott Bashoor, Visual Outline Charts of the New Testament

Bashoor, Michael Scott. Visual Outline Charts of the New Testament. Revised and Expanded. El Cajon, Calif.: Southern California Seminary Press, 2020. 110 pp.; Pb.  $23.99 Link to SCM Press

There have been several series of “chartbooks” in recent memory, including many edited by H. Wayne House. I often used House’s Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament early on in my teaching career (it is now in a second edition, Zondervan, 2009). His charts on Systematic Theology: Prolegomena (Kregel, 2006). In his forward to this new edition of Visual Outline Charts of the New Testament, House says charts bring together information into a short, organized format that introduces a reader to the basics before they begin working through the subject.

Bashoor, VOCNTScott Bashoor draws on his experience in teaching at The Master’s Seminary as well as more than twenty years of teaching in local churches to create seventy-two charts covering each book of the New Testament. This book was originally published in 2016 by B&H Academic digital (available through WordSearch) and a second edition was published in print through Amazon in 2017 (now unavailable). SCS Press revised the format of the book and the color schemes, but more importantly the introductions to the books have been expanded and revised.

In the introduction Bashoor suggests four uses for his book. First, he wants to provide support for pastors preparing to preach or teach a section of scripture. Second, as a supplement to Bible reading in a seminary classroom, this chart book will help orient students to the main ideas of each book of the New Testament. Third, the chart book will help a believer reading the New Testament in their personal Bible study. Finally, Bashoor sees this chart book as a discipleship tool, introducing new readers of the New Testament to the basic structure of the biblical books. Bashoor describes his work as a reference book born out of exposition of the text in the local church and it will serve others as they preach and teach expositional sermons on New Testament books.

The introduction also explains the limitations of the book. First, the outlines are his own, although he has compared his structure to other scholarship. Second, there is usually a wide range of views for the purpose of a book. Bashoor offers his own view without comparison to other introductions and commentaries. For example, the purpose of the book of Romans is hotly debated in the commentaries, Bashoor simply states his own view of the purpose of the book without offering a range of views typically founding eh commentaries. Third, he recognizes there are controversial issues in New Testament background. For example, Bashoor considers Mark the third gospel written (A.D. 64-68) although the consensus view in scholarship is Mark was written first. He does not enter into this debate or offer alternative views because of limited space. Since his purpose is to give a graphic overview of the books of the New Testament it is not necessary for him compare his views to other scholarship.

Bashoor briefly introduces each book before presenting his chart outlining the books. These introductions are no more than a page of text and he often group books together (1-2 Thessalonians, for example). For Paul’s letters, he places the letters into the context of the book of Acts and offers a brief reconstruction of the circumstances of the letter. There are bonus mini-charts on the percentage of each Gospel devoted to Jesus’s passion (p. 6) and for Paul’s interactions with the Corinthians (p. 48). The latter is very helpful for sorting out the various communications between Paul and the church as Corinth. Adding additional smaller charts on the introduction page would add additional value to this book as a classroom tool.

The charts visually present an outline of the biblical book. Bashoor explains his method in the introduction. The top of the chart summarizes the purpose, date, recipients and author. On the far left or right a series of columns present the main sections of the book, the upper parts of each chart track the major sections of the book with the bulk of the page devoted to a detailed outline of each section. For most books, this is essentially a three or four-level outline of the book. Shorter books fit conveniently on a single page, longer books like the Gospels are presented in major units over several pages.

By way of example, the first chart on Matthew presents a five-part outline for the main body with an introduction (The King’s Birth, 1:1-2:23) and conclusion (The King’s Death, 26:3-28:20). The second chart collapses four of the five main body sections and divides “The King Formally Introduced to Israel” (3:1-7:29) into two units (3:1-4:25 and 5:1-7:29). The First Discourse (the Sermon on the Mount) is further divided into four main units and a transition. Each of these subunits is a column with a detailed outline. For a long book like Matthew, this is a helpful method for visualizing the whole book on each page.

Bashoor takes conservative positions on the date and authorship for every book. He considers Galatians the earliest of Paul’s letters, written in A.D. 49; James was written prior to Galatians (40-45). Matthew is the earliest gospel, written about A.D. 50. He dates Luke to A. D. 60-61 (followed by Acts in 63), Mark (64-68) and John (80-90; followed by the epistles, 90-95 and Revelation, 94-96). Paul is the author of all thirteen letters. He includes Philemon with the Pastoral epistles, although it is normally included with Colossians as a Prison Epistle (his chart on page 93 has Philemon as both a Prison Epistle and a “Letter to Leaders”). Hebrews was not written by Paul, but by an unknown author to Jewish Christians facing persecution under Nero, written A.D. 68-70. James and Jude are the half-brothers of Jesus; 1-2 Peter and 1-3 John and Revelation were written by the apostles Peter and John.

There are four charts in an appendix covering the traditional order of the New Testament books (including a word count for each book), a suggested chronological order of the New Testament books, a select timeline of Paul’s life and letters and the Gospel according to Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Compared to other similar chart books, there is far less of this kind of material. For example, Bashoor could have included charts giving a visual guide to the Pauline letters or the Jewish Christian letters at the introduction to those units. A single chart comparing the main themes of the four gospels would give an overview of that unit of the book. I would have enjoyed a chart comparing his dates for the composition of the Gospels with other New Testament introductions. Seeing data from several introductions across a wide spectrum would have been instructive. Despite his caveat in the introduction that his space is limited, these kinds of charts would have made this book more valuable as a classroom textbook.

This raises an important caveat about outlines for biblical books. Commentaries on Revelation differ greatly on the structure of the book and Bashoor’s scheme is no less valid than others. This is true for every book of the New Testament, even if there is a general consensus on some major structural clues. Any attempt to outline a biblical book must always be tentative since there is no way to know with certainty what the original author had in mind when they wrote the book. For example, Ephesians 3 ends with a doxology, leading most biblical scholars to divide the book into two sections (essentially chapters 1-3 and 4-6). This seems logical and is not at all controversial. But we cannot know if Paul thought of himself as writing a letter with two parts, divided by a doxology. This is especially true for the smaller units of an outline. Nevertheless, Bashoor’s outlines will help a teacher, preacher, or Bible reader to navigate a biblical book.

The color scheme uses shades of green (Gospels and Acts), blue and grey (Pauline epistles) and brown (General Epistles) with black and white for text. Sometimes the charts have too much text in a narrow column, resulting to one or two letters on a line (p. 44, for example). Perhaps turning the chart to landscape would improve the readability. The copyright page indicates the book is not to be photocopied except for brief quotations in printed reviews. This means a teacher would not be permitted to photocopy pages for use in a classroom or Bible study. This is the standard practice for other chartbooks from Zondervan or Kregel.

NB: Thanks to SCS Press for kindly providing me with pre-release PDF review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

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