Preston’s Top Picks – Vol. 1

Preston Sprinkle

As you know, I’m an avid reader. It’s part of my job. But it’s also something I love to do. In my free time. Work time. Laying by the pool time. I love to read. 

So, periodically –let’s say, once a month or so–I’m going to talk about some books or authors that I’m currently reading, or ones that I’ve found particularly helpful in the past or present. 

For this first “Preston’s Top Pick” post, I want to highlight a scholar whose work I’ve benefited from greatly. His name is Bruce Winter. Bruce is an Australian New Testament scholar who received his Ph.D. from Macquarie University (Australia) and specializes in the Greco-Roman background of the New Testament, especially Paul.

In all of this works, Bruce demonstrates a mastery of the original sources and brings them to bear on understanding Paul’s letters.

1. Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities

The first book I read by Bruce was Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities. Not only is it an incredibly well-researched and thought provoking book, but it’s one of the most important–yet not often read–works contributing to the question of women in church leadership. I keep reading and re-reading this book as I think through this question in my current research. In short, Bruce argues that many of Paul’s corrections given about women in the church were directed at a specific first-century women’s lib movement, who were indulging in luxury, independence, and sexual freedom.

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2. Divine Honors for the Caesars: The first Christians’ Responses

The second book I read from Bruce was Divine Honours for the Caesars: The first Christians’ Responses, which I drew upon extensively for my recent book Exiles. Bruce examines the evidence for the New Testament’s critique of the first-century imperial cult (the worship of the caesars as divine) and how this shapes our reading of the New Testament. When Christians said “Jesus is Lord,” this meant “Caesar is not.” And Bruce provides much evidence for this claim.

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3. After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change

I’m also currently reading an earlier book by Bruce: After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change, which looks at many issues in 1 Corinthians. His opening chapter on the Roman context of the city of Corinth and his chapter on the notoriously difficult 1 Cor 11:2-16 are particularly enlightening.

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All three of these books are published by Eerdmans Publishers. Bruce’s books are scholarly but also very readable. They’re not “light reading,” for sure. But Bruce is a clear writer, and he’s able to demonstrate a mastery of the original sources and present his findings in an understandable way

If you are wanting to dive deeper into the Greco-Roman context of the New Testament (especially Paul), I highly recommend Bruce Winter’s work! 

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