Ben Witherington, III, with Darlene Hyatt. . Eerdmans, $18 (283pp) ISBN 978-0-8028-2765-4

Witherington (The Brother of Jesus ), a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, teams up with Asbury student Hyatt to introduce the New Testament to laypeople without sucking the life out of it, covering origin, plot and main characters. The first section is a thorough, lively discourse on the cultural background of the writing and compiling of the Testament. The second section delivers insights on entire books and individual passages, from the grand themes of Paul to the similarities among various episodes in the life of Peter. Readers used to taking scripture a few verses at a time may find that such observations inspire new appreciation for the New Testament as a whole. But lay readers might trip on the stumbling block of the book's scholarly bent; discussions of academic issues—such as the literary relationship among Matthew, Mark and Luke, or John's indebtedness to Wisdom literature—risk losing all but the most dedicated. Conservative evangelical readers should also know that the book casts doubt on Peter's authorship of 1 Peter and Paul's writing of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. Nevertheless, the depth and big-picture perspective of Witherington's work will succeed in bringing serious Bible students a fresh appreciation for the New Testament story. (May)