One of the classes I’ll teach this fall at CBU is NT Survey. As I’m prepping for this class, it’s interesting to see how many NT Introductions and Theologies approach teaching through the NT in different ways. Specifically, there are a variety of approaches when it comes to ordering the material. You can find an NT Introduction or Theology organized in a way that mirrors the canonical order of the NT, while others might be organized based off some other criteria like date of the books or common authorship. For instance, NT Introductions are commonly organized in a way that follows the NT canon’s order. Carson and Moo’s Introduction to the New Testament, Guthrie’s NT Introduction, and Elwell and Yarbrough’s Encountering the New Testament all follow the canonical order in their NT Introductions. The exception for Elwell and Yarbrough comes in combining Colossians and Philemon, a standard practice in commentaries, and this is seen also in Green, Achtemeier, and Thompson’s NT Intro. In addition, Green et al combine 2 Peter and Jude, which is again a fairly standard practice in the commentaries. This mirroring of the canonical order, with slight exceptions, is seen in most NT Intros.
That fairly uniform pattern changes with NT Theologies. Frank Thielman’s NT Theology discusses each book of the NT in separate chapters, but these chapters are arranged through consideration of date and common authorship. Tom Schreiner, on the other hand, organizes his NT Theology based on theological themes and then walks through parts or all of the NT canon when discussing those themes. Donald Guthrie follows a similar pattern in that he organizes around themes and then shows where and how those themes are discussed in the NT, but this latter part is ordered in the following manner – The Synoptic Gospels, The Johannine Literature, Acts, Paul, Hebrews, The Rest of the NT. There is some semblance of canonical order here, but the Johannine literature is thrown together and “The Rest of the New Testament” as a category seems to ignore the uniqueness of each of the Catholic Epistles. George Ladd’s NT Theology is one of the few that not only follows the NT order consistently but also uses it as his organizational scheme. Jim Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, although a whole Bible theology and not just an NT theology, follows the canonical order as well.
Why do we find such a uniformed organization in NT Intros while there is almost no end to different approaches to NT theologies?
Perhaps more importantly, what difference does it make whether one organizes based on the canonical order or based on some other criteria (date, authorship, theological themes, etc.)?
I know how I’d answer these questions, but I’d like to hear your thoughts first. What do you think?