Croteau, David A. Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic 2015. 272 pp., $14.99.
Let’s be honest—reading the Bible is difficult. Regardless of the translation, language and syntax can be clunky or unclear. Mining the truth out of a passage can feel like more work than it’s worth. Responsibly applying the text to one’s own life and lives of others is often daunting. It doesn’t help that there are numerous commentaries that disagree—not surprisingly—about some of the biggest questions Scripture raises.
It’s also apparent to anyone who’s paying attention that biblical illiteracy is an epidemic. Pastors aren’t always trained well and as a result can sometimes short-change their flock. Church members regularly struggle to work through the most basic of passages on their own. Most television preachers serially enhance the confusion by saying next to nothing about the meatiest of biblical issues. And many non-Christians knowingly or unknowingly spread falsehoods about what the Bible teaches.
While there is no perfect hermeneutic or airtight answer to every question, responsible Christians should and do care about answering these questions. This is why David Croteau wrote Urban Legends of the New Testament. According to Croteau, there are three issues behind New Testament urban legends: 1) reading Scripture outside of its literary context; 2) inability to grasp the Greek text; and 3) ignorance of historical and cultural background of a passage. With these weaknesses in mind, he tackles questions ranging from Jesus’s age, to questions about Hell, to the role of works in salvation, to whether a church can hire a divorced pastor.
Croteau shows himself to be a capable New Testament scholar, carefully handling biblical languages, theology, historical data, and literary and cultural contexts. Each chapter is laid out generally the same way, and the flow of his arguments leads to lucid conclusions. He identifies the reason why the urban legend exists, and he roots out the core problem. His deductions, regardless of whether the reader agrees with them, are justifiable and explained properly.
The most obvious weakness in the book is the lack of thorough interaction with alternate conclusions. Many of the urban legends he cites have several plausible answers, and it would’ve helped the reader to know why they’re not the most accurate response. Adding a little as a paragraph of alternative conclusions would have not only better educated the reader—it would have enhanced Croteau’s argument.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
As mentioned above, biblical illiteracy is a problem today, for a variety of reasons. The pastor has a responsibility to help cure this disease. While this book offers succinct answers to forty questions, it might offer pastors something more—a roadmap to helping others navigate myths from truths.
Croteau’s method in each chapter consists of several steps, including how to work through the items one must consider in order to reach a justifiable conclusion. Pastors can use this model in sermon preparation and personal discipleship as a guide to helping their congregations think through even rudimentary biblical exegesis and interpretation. After all, the pastor is no doubt the primary person through whom the majority of the congregation receives its interpretive cues.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Urban Legends of the New Testament is helpful for pastors seeking a quick guide on difficult texts and/or a blueprint for working through textual confusion, or for any Christian looking for an accessible resource for personal study. It is not “essential” simply because there are other more thorough tools available to pastors and laymen.