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Seven Events That Shaped the New Testament World

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“Warren Carter is a skilled writer. Organized around seven key events and their effects, this book provides a fresh approach to setting the New Testament and early Christianity in context.”—Craig Keener, Asbury Theological Seminary

This useful, concise introduction to the worlds around the New Testament focuses on seven key events in the centuries before and after Jesus. It enlightens readers about the beginnings of the Christian movement, showing how religious, political, and economic factors were interwoven in the fabric of the New Testament world.

Leading New Testament scholar Warren Carter has a record of providing student-friendly texts. This introduction offers a "big picture" focus and is logically and memorably organized around seven events, which Carter uses as launching pads to discuss larger cultural dynamics and sociohistorical realities that were in some way significant for followers of Jesus and the New Testament. Photos and maps are included.

1. The Death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE)
2. The Process of Translating Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (ca. 250 BCE)
3. The Rededication of the Jerusalem Temple (164 BCE)
4. The Roman Occupation of Judea (63 BCE)
5. The Crucifixion of Jesus (ca. 30 CE)
6. The Writing of the New Testament Texts (ca. 50-ca. 130 CE)
7. The Process of "Closing" the New Testament Canon (397 CE)

So what is this book about? Why should you bother reading it? Reading it because an instructor assigned it to you to read is not a bad reason. But is there any payoff? Good questions.

Here's the short answer: the seven chapters of this book provide an orientation to some important aspects of the early Jesus movement and the New Testament. Reading it will enlighten you about the beginnings of the Christian movement and help your understanding of the New Testament.

Here's the long answer: Seven hundred years. Seven chapters. Seven moments or key dates. Two times seventy (or so) pages. This book does not pretend to be comprehensive. Rather it is transparently selective. Each chapter highlights a particular moment. There are many, many other moments that we could have highlighted. The selected moments are of varying lengths; like a blind date gone bad, one even lasts a couple of hundred years!

What makes each moment special? How were they selected? I take each moment as a focal point for larger cultural dynamics and sociohistorical realities that were in some way significant for followers of Jesus and the New Testament. I use them as entry points, as launching pads, to talk about these significant and larger realities.


"Warren Carter has done a service to biblical studies. It is easy to pass over the period covered by these seven events because it is difficult to find a text that does it justice. No longer will that deficiency hinder study from the death of Alexander to the writing and closing of the New Testament canon. Carter's approach is different and refreshing, and he is in control of a wide range of materials. He not only shows how each event opens up this world but also explains why each event is important for understanding the more familiar materials encountered in New Testament introduction. If this study had been available when I was teaching New Testament, it would have been a must-read for my students. Professors, students, and pastors alike will benefit from this work, which is well conceived, well designed, well researched, and well written."

William R. Herzog II, retired professor of New Testament, Andover Newton Theological School

"Warren Carter is a skilled writer. Organized around seven key events and their effects, this book provides a fresh approach to setting the New Testament and early Christianity in context. Though scholars lack unanimity on some debated matters that introductions must treat, readers will find the book enjoyable, thought provoking, and full of fascinating information and perspectives."

Craig Keener, professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary

"Brilliantly conceived and accessibly written. Carter's seven events serve as doors through which to enter into and explore the cultural complexities of the early church. This book will be an excellent secondary text for courses on New Testament introduction, but it should also find its way into the hands of any reader interested in the sociocultural context of early Christianity."

David A. deSilva, Trustees' Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek, Ashland Theological Seminary

"How did rank-and-file Jesus followers negotiate the complex cultural nettle--a right admixture of Greek, Roman, and Jewish worlds--into which the early Jesus movement was birthed? In this slender yet substantive volume, seasoned scholar and accomplished author Warren Carter turns his learned attention to this fascinating question. From a 'people's history perspective,' Carter explores seven salient events (ranging from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE to the 'closing' of the New Testament canon in 397 CE) that enable student and teacher alike to understand better the social milieu in which nascent Christianity 'lived and moved and had its being.' For those who have been searching for a succinct, authoritative 'New Testament history,' look no further. Take up and read!"

Todd D. Still, William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures, Truett Seminary, Baylor University

The Author

  1. Warren Carter

    Warren Carter

    Warren Carter (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. He is the author of many books, including Matthew: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist;...

    Continue reading about Warren Carter


"This little book carries a big punch for those who wish to better understand the New Testament against its historical and cultural backdrop. The book is written in an eminently readable style, and one suspects that its seven chapters have been delivered as a series of lectures with an emphasis on clear communication and spelling out the relevance of the events described for better understanding the phenomenon of the New Testament. . . . This is an excellent book which should ignite interest in appreciating the relevance of wider historical, cultural, and religious events in shaping the world in which the New Testament was formed, circulated, and ratified as an authoritative collection. Carter leads the reader through more than seven centuries of history with an adroit and light touch. This is an important book to put into the hands of those commencing the study of the New Testament, or for more general readers with an interest in the writings that became the key texts of Christianity."

Paul Foster,

Expository Times

"Carter reorganizes the traditional New Testament introductory text to address contemporary undergraduates and interested educated readers. His format emphasizes the broad social-historical context that makes early Christianity and the literature that became the New Testament understandable. . . . [The book] incorporates a contemporary strand of progressive New Testament scholarship to initiate readers into a historical yet religiously sensitive understanding of the earliest Christianity and the New Testament. . . . Recommended. Lower-lever undergraduates and general readers."

J. W. Wright,


"In this excellent, pleasantly written introduction to what we sometimes call historical 'backgrounds' or 'contexts,' those who teach and preach the NT have received a great gift. Church leaders should know everything in the book and can recommend it without worry to those they serve. It deserves serious consideration from professors who assign textbooks to undergraduates and seminarians. . . . Carter describes events, influential historical figures, and pertinent sources in an informative and energetic style without tilting into overkill. Readers do not lose sight of how the historical developments and corresponding cultural dynamics matter for interpreting the NT. . . . Any manageably-sized introduction to a massive amount of material inevitably invites quibbling about topics that might warrant greater notice. . . . The best way to neutralize criticisms about underdeveloped details is to write compellingly and to enliven curiosity about the biblical material's inextricable relationship to particular, complex cultural currents. Carter has done exactly this; his book will prompt many readers to dig deeper into this history and their Scriptures."

Matthew L. Skinner,


"This is a helpful and practical source of information about key events that have had a profound influence on the social, religious, and political context in which the New Testament writings appeared. . . . Devoting a chapter to each event, Carter provides the essential historical information and then describes the event's broader significance. A final chapter is a kind of synthesis, pointing to characteristic features of the world in which the New Testament was formed. This would be a fine supplement for introductory courses on the New Testament."

Donald Senior, CP,

The Bible Today

"If you really care about understanding the New Testament in its historical context, I'd like to recommend [this book]. . . . Seven Events That Shaped the New Testament World reflects the instincts of an expert teacher. . . . Clearly written and helpfully organized, Carter's book will prove valuable to lots of readers."

Greg Carey,

Huffington Post

"There are many reasons why a nonspecialist would appreciate this book. While many books about the New Testament contain this type of information, the nonspecialist generally does not have access to these. . . . Carter takes this information and presents it in an accessible format. He writes with engaging language that the broad populace would understand. . . . The book also contains twenty-four pictures and timelines to aid understanding and sidebars that address topics in a short but more detailed manner. All in all, it is an attractive format for the lay reader and nonspecialist. . . . Seven Events That Shaped the New Testament World will be a valuable book for those who are teaching New Testament backgrounds and surveys. The book helpfully causes teachers of the Bible to consider what the key points within history are. It also provides critical information for understanding the New Testament that much of the broader populace will not have grasped previously. . . . Its greatest achievement is that it is a concise, well-written, and attractive presentation of New Testament background information."

H. H. Drake Williams III,

Review of Biblical Literature

"Helpful illustrations and sidebars on related topics are scattered through the seven chapters/events. . . . A combination of introductory information, thoughtful reflection, and considered conclusions are blended together in a manner intended to inform, guide, and prompt further study. Carter promises that reading this book will 'enlighten you about the beginnings of the Christian movement and help your understanding of the New Testament,' and he delivers on that promise in each chapter. Carter's writing style is reasonably informal. . . . With this blend of content and tone, reading this book creates the impression of listening to Carter as he guides his students, conversationally, through the intricacies of New Testament studies. . . . He has provided a popular resource that incorporates serious historical reflection with explicit and judicious treatment of primary sources."

Richard Warren Johnson,

Review of Biblical Literature

"A useful and interesting concept for a textbook. Carter gives introductory readers a 'lay of the land' for understanding early Christianity through seven important historical events that shaped that landscape. . . . Carter is an excellent writer. . . . I'd have no hesitation in requiring this book for a NT Backgrounds, Intro to the NT, or Gospels course."

Chris Keith,

The Jesus Blog

"Introductory surveys of the New Testament's historical and cultural contexts must demonstrate why understanding those contexts yields a richer reading of the Bible. Carter's wit and insight help his book succeed brilliantly. He employs seven monumental events and processes as entry points for exploring larger causes and consequences--the wider cultural currents that everyday people negotiated in every aspect of their lives in biblical times."

Matthew L. Skinner,

Christian Century

"Carter is to be commended for a very well-written, engaging, and fresh survey of key events that shaped the NT world. In each chapter, he includes a brief and helpful list of references for further reading. . . . This work will provide thought-provoking reading for anyone interested in the sociocultural context of the early church."

James M. Howard,

Bulletin for Biblical Research

"The subject matter of this work should prove highly useful to the beginning student or interested reader. . . . This will be a helpful resource for lower-level undergraduates in early Christianity and the New Testament."

Robert G. T. Edwards,

Toronto Journal of Theology

"A slim volume, but it is packed with information helpful for pastors, students, and interested laity. . . . Located among the illustrations and text are numerous sidebars that expound on tangential topics, or expand on the discussion of issues only briefly touched on in the main text. . . . Carter does a fine job of imparting historical knowledge, often with a dry wit. . . . This book provides a quick overview of the subject for both undergraduate and seminary students. . . . Carter's Seven Events is a welcomed addition to my library."

Michael Manz,


"The book would serve well as a means of introducing major emphases in a study of the world out of which the New Testament documents emerged. . . . Carter's book is much more than a description of these seven events. He attempts in every case to relate the greater significance of the event to the composition of the NT documents. In this he is quite successful. This book would be an excellent resource for the undergraduate, or even a seminary-level NT survey course. . . . I can foresee using this a text for introducing students to the world in which the NT documents were written. Carter liberally cites from extra-biblical texts and provides an excellent overview of Jewish and Greco-Roman culture and thought pervasive in the first century."

James R. McConnell,

Review and Expositor

"Warren Carter never fails to delight in bringing the context of the ancient world to bear on the shape and telling of Scripture. His latest work does not fail to continue this track, but takes a broader reach and appeal than his previous works. . . . Carter has written for a broader audience and in doing so, is able to serve both the academic and the lay community by giving them a short compendium of contextual structures for understanding the world of the New Testament. . . . Carter's writing style is that of a semi-casual, near formal eloquence that allows the reader to enjoy the words on the page as much as the knowledge gleaned from the fields of letters. He does not chase rabbits down holes, but conserves his space serendipitously so as to present as much as possible in an economic space. This is a must for any classroom--whether educational or congregational."

Joel Watts,

Unsettled Christianity blog

"Carter's integration of various introductory issues makes an attractive presentation. . . . . Seven Events is an accessible book. Carter discusses several topics with straightforward and engaging prose, and in just a little over 150 pages. The presentation allows students to read individual chapters depending on their interest."

Benjamin I. Simpson,

Bibliotheca Sacra

"[This book] will help you understand why the story of the New Testament transpired the way it did and allow you to understand the reasoning behind the actions of the major New Testament characters. And it will allow you to connect the biblical narrative directly to these seven specific larger world events. Without hyperbole, this is the perfect supplementary text to any survey or introductory course on the New Testament whether that course takes place in a high school, college, or church. It is also ideal for the independent student who wishes to have a straightforward, informative text that covers the broader scope of New Testament events. Accompanied by multiple maps, illustrations, and informative vignettes, this is an ideal text for filling in the historical holes often left unanswered in introductory course work."

Matthew Miller,'s Academic Blog

"The book's highlight is its recognition and assertion that the ancient world was multicultural, and that Greek was the dominant culture and language from which the Jesus movement emerged. . . . This book certainly provides important background information and knowledge about these well-known key historical events that shaped the New Testament both for the beginning seminary student and the lay people of the church. The book also includes many illustrations and a subject index that serve as textual aids for readers."

Hughson Ong,

Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism

"Warren Carter has written a unique take on New Testament background studies. Instead of looking exhaustively at the complicated social and historical issues of the ancient world, he picks only seven events that contributed to creating the world in which the New Testament was written. . . . Several black-and-white photos and maps help these events come to life. At just 162 pages, this concise book is ideal for those who want to learn more about the background of the New Testament but don't have the time or energy to wade through a heavy textbook."

Elliot Ritzema,

Bible Study Magazine

"This book is a helpful introduction to the events and currents that shaped and moved the early Jesus movement. . . . Carter does a fine job of putting together an easy to read book. . . . I think the best audience may be someone who wants to delve into the history of early Judaism and Christianity, but who doesn't know where to begin, nor who feels ready to engage a thick, wordy introductory textbook. This book fills the gap between having very little knowledge of these topics and having introductory level knowledge of these topics. If you don't know where to begin then I recommend this book. It will help you!"

Brian LePort,

Near Emmaus blog

"[This book] considers the beginnings of the Christian movement, documents how religious and political factors blended into the New Testament writings, and comes from a leading New Testament scholar who provides a very accessible consideration of events. His style lends to a document that is perfect for scholars and leisure readers alike, adding black and white illustrations throughout and offering plenty of insights into the cultural mix of Greek, Roman, and Jewish experiences. No Christian library should be without this!"

Midwest Book Review