A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Phillip J. Long
There have been several series of “chartbooks” in recent memory, notably those edited by H. Wayne House. Many have used House’s Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament (now in a second edition, Zondervan, 2009) or his charts on Systematic Theology: Prolegomena (Kregel, 2006). In his forward to this new edition of Visual Outline Charts of the New Testament by M. Scott Bashoor (SCS Press, 2020), House explains the advantage of charts as bringing together information into a short, organized format that introduces a reader to the basics before they begin working through the subject.
Bashoor draws from his experience in teaching at The Master’s University and 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 print edition was published independently in 2017 (now unavailable). After acquiring the print rights, SCS Press revised the format and color schemes of the volume, but more importantly, introductions for each NT writing have been added making the book truly “revised and expanded.”
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 work’s limitations. First, the outlines are the author’s own, although he has compared his structures 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, and Bashoor simply states his own view of the purpose of the book without offering a range of views typically found in commentaries. Third, he recognizes there are controversial issues in New Testament background. For instance, 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 and to focus readers’ attention on the actual chart(s). Since his purpose is to give a graphic overview of the books of the New Testament, it is not necessary for him to compare his views on debated historical matters to other scholarship.
Throughout the work, Bashoor briefly introduces each NT writing before presenting his chart outlining it. These succinct introductions are no more than a page of text often grouping 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’ 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 at Corinth. Indeed, had more been added, additional smaller charts like these would strengthen the book’s value as a classroom tool.
The charts visually present an outline of the biblical book in aesthetic color schemes, helping fence in differing corpora within the NT. Shades of green are used for Gospels and Acts, blue and grey for Pauline epistles, and auburn for the General Epistles and Revelation, all with black and white interspersed for text. Further, 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 writing. Shorter books fit conveniently on a single page, longer ones, 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 are presented in columns with detailed outlines.
For the Book of Revelation, Bashoor divides the book into four sections based on John seeing something “in the Spirit” (at 1:9; 4:1; 17:1; 21:9). Revelation 1:1–8 and 22:6–21 are presented as an introduction and a conclusion. The author argues that this arrangement explains some of the repetitions in the book. As such, he makes chapters 4:1–8:1 a larger unit rather than separating the seals into their own unit. In addition, Revelation 12–15 is often divided into sub-sections using the phrase “and I saw.” For longer books like Matthew or Revelation, this is a helpful method for visualizing the whole book on each page.
Additionally, Bashoor takes conservative positions on the date and authorship for every book. For instance, 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). Moreover, Paul is the author of all thirteen letters.
As such, the volume includes Philemon with the Pastoral epistles, although it is normally included with Colossians as a Prison Epistle (the chart on page 93 has Philemon as both a Prison Epistle and a “Letter to Leaders”). Further, 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, respectively.
A notable standout feature is that there are four charts in the volume’s 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, however, there is far less of this kind of supplemental material. For example, charts giving a visual guide to the Pauline letters or the Jewish Christian letters at the introduction to those units would have made for a nice addition.
Perhaps, even a single chart comparing the main themes of the four Gospels providing an overview of that block within the volume would be a helpful inclusion. Doubtless, many readers would also enjoy a chart comparing Bashoor’s dates for the composition of the Gospels with other New Testament introductions. Seeing data from several introductions across a wide spectrum would be 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. In any event, these are considerations perhaps for a future edition of VOCNT.
At places the charts do suffer from text in a narrow column resulting in one or two letters on a line (e.g., p. 44 and p. 87). Perhaps turning the chart to landscape would improve the readability. Finally, the copyright page indicates the book is not to be photocopied except for brief quotations in printed reviews. Consequently, a teacher would not be permitted to photocopy pages for use in a classroom or Bible study without the publisher’s consent. Thus, the book, if used in a classroom setting, would generally need to be required as a purchased resource. This is, of course, the standard practice for other chartbooks such as those from Zondervan or Kregel.
Chart books such as VOCNT raises an important caveat about outlining biblical books. Commentaries on Revelation, for instance, 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 he 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 in VOCNT will certainly help teachers, preachers, or Bible readers to navigate the biblical books and decide for themselves if they agree with the placements.
Phillip J. Long, Ph.D.
Professor of Biblical Studies
Grace Christian University
Buy the books
VISUAL OUTLINE CHARTS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT (REVISED AND EXPANDED), by M. Scott Bashoor