My favorite books to open up the world of the New Testament

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a New Testament scholar, with an expertise in Pauline Theology, who has spent my working life trying to make New Testament scholarship more accessible for non-experts. After studying at Oxford University, I taught in two theological colleges before taking a few years to be a freelance writer lecturer. I am a lay theologian and have worked with most dioceses of the Church of England but now am a Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral where I oversee Theology, Learning, and Art in the life of the Cathedral. I hope you enjoy reading these books that have had such a big impact on me and my thinking.


I wrote...

Phoebe: A Story

By Paula Gooder,

Book cover of Phoebe: A Story

What is my book about?

Sometime around 56 AD, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome. He entrusted this letter to Phoebe, whom he describes as the deacon of the church at Cenchreae and a patron of many. But who was this remarkable woman? Biblical scholar and popular author and speaker Paula Gooder imagines Phoebe's story―who she was, the life she lived, and her first-century faith―and in doing so opens up Paul's world, giving a sense of the cultural and historical pressures that shaped his thinking and the faith of the early church. After the narrative, Gooder includes an extensive notes section with comments on the historical context, biographical details, cultural practices, and more. Rigorously researched, this is a book for anyone who wants to engage more deeply and imaginatively with Paul's theology.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Shadow of the Galilean: The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form

Paula Gooder Why did I love this book?

This is a book that captured my imagination about thirty years ago. It uses New Testament scholarship to reconstruct and imagine what it might have been like to live in Judah and Galilee at the time of Jesus but never to have met him in person—hence the title the Shadow of the Galilean. It was the first book I’d come across that used scholarship to imagine what it was actually like to live then. I’ve been thinking about that book ever since and it was what inspired me to write my book.

By Gerd Theissen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shadow of the Galilean as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1987 by Fortress Press, this 20th anniversary edition of this classic bestseller includes a new Afterword from the author. Here, in narrative form, is an account of the activity of Jesus of Nazareth, scrupulously constructed so that it does not undercut the insights of New Testament scholarship. What makes it different from other such attempts is that Jesus never actually appears. What we find everywhere is his shadow, his effect.

Such an approach avoids the usual pitfalls of the genre and lends this story attributed to a fictitious narrator an attraction, freshness, and power all its own.…


Book cover of Priscilla: The Life of an Early Christian

Paula Gooder Why did I love this book?

In his story about Priscilla, Witherington was doing something very similar to what I was trying to do in my book and imagining what Priscilla, the wife of Aquila (who was often cited in both the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters) might have thought about her life as a Christian in the early Church. Witherington uses his vast knowledge of the world of the 1st century to bring Priscilla’s story to life.

By Ben Witherington III,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Priscilla as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Who was Priscilla? Readers of the Bible may know her as the wife of Aquila, Paul's coworker, or someone who explained baptism to Apollos. Biblical references to Priscilla spark questions: Why is she mentioned before her husband? Does the mention of her instruction of Apollos mean that women taught in the church? What is her story? Ben Witherington addresses these questions and more. In this work of historical fiction, Priscilla looks back on her long life and remembers the ways she has participated in the early church. Her journey has taken her to Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome, and she's partnered…


Book cover of The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World

Paula Gooder Why did I love this book?

The Lost Letters of Pergamum imagines an exchange of letters between Luke, the evangelist, and a fictional character Antipas. Longenecker imagines Antipas to be a Roman civic leader who has come across Luke’s writings and wants to ask him more about what he has written. The book consists of fictional letters between Luke and Antipas in which matters of faith and life in the first century are explored. Eventually a gladiatorial contest in Pergamum forces Antipas to make some hard choices. As with the other books I have chosen this book brings the world of the first century to life and sheds light on some of the key issues that would have affected Christians in that period.

By Bruce W. Longenecker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lost Letters of Pergamum as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Fascinating Glimpse into the World of the New Testament

Transported two thousand years into the past, readers are introduced to Antipas, a Roman civic leader who has encountered the writings of the biblical author Luke. Luke's history sparks Antipas's interest, and they begin corresponding. While the account is fictional, the author is a highly respected New Testament scholar who weaves reliable historical information into a fascinating story, offering a fresh, engaging, and creative way to learn about the New Testament world. The first edition has been widely used in the classroom (over 30,000 copies sold). This updated edition, now…


Book cover of The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity

Paula Gooder Why did I love this book?

One way of opening up the world of the New Testament is through fictional accounts of life in the period; the other way is by doing a deep dive into some of the academic debates that have explored issues from this period. This is an accessible but fascinating book that explores the life, culture, and background of the New Testament and provides a vast array of interesting nuggets that will enhance your reading of the New Testament. This book opens up our imaginations by providing the information we need to imagine the world for ourselves.

By James S. Jeffers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What was life like for first-century Christians? Imagine a modest-sized Roman home of a well-to-do Christian household wedged into a thickly settled quarter of Corinth. In the lingering light of a summer evening, men, women and children, merchants, working poor and slaves, a mix of races and backgrounds have assembled in the dimly lit main room are are spilling into the central courtyard. This odd assortment of gathered believers--some thirty in number--are attentive as the newly arrived and travel-weary emissary from Paul reads from the papyrus scroll he has brought from their apostolic mentor. But if you were to be…


Book cover of The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians

Paula Gooder Why did I love this book?

I am recommending this book because of its breadth and depth. At 960 pages long it covers a wide range of many different topics but part II is particularly helpful but it explores the history, literature, and ideas of the first century—both Jewish and Graeco-Romanif you want an in-depth study to open up the New Testament world, this is what you need. It isn’t short but it is accessible and well worth reading for anyone who is serious about getting into the world of the New Testament. 

By N. T. Wright, Michael F. Bird,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The New Testament in Its World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This workbook accompanies The New Testament in Its World by N. T. Wright and Michael F. Bird. Following the textbook's structure, it offers assessment questions, exercises, and activities designed to support the students' learning experience. Reinforcing the teaching in the textbook, this workbook will not only help to enhance their understanding of the New Testament books as historical, literary, and social phenomena located in the world of early Christianity, but also guide them to think like a first-century believer while reading the text responsibly for today.


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American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

Book cover of American Flygirl

Susan Tate Ankeny Author Of The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Susan Tate Ankeny left a career in teaching to write the story of her father’s escape from Nazi-occupied France. In 2011, after being led on his path through France by the same Resistance fighters who guided him in 1944, she felt inspired to tell the story of these brave French patriots, especially the 17-year-old- girl who risked her own life to save her father’s. Susan is a member of the 8th Air Force Historical Society, the Air Force Escape and Evasion Society, and the Association des Sauveteurs d’Aviateurs Alliés. 

Susan's book list on women during WW2

What is my book about?

The first and only full-length biography of Hazel Ying Lee, an unrecognized pioneer and unsung World War II hero who fought for a country that actively discriminated against her gender, race, and ambition.

This unique hidden figure defied countless stereotypes to become the first Asian American woman in United States history to earn a pilot's license, and the first female Asian American pilot to fly for the military.

Her achievements, passionate drive, and resistance in the face of oppression as a daughter of Chinese immigrants and a female aviator changed the course of history. Now the remarkable story of a fearless underdog finally surfaces to inspire anyone to reach toward the sky.

American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

What is this book about?

One of WWII’s most uniquely hidden figures, Hazel Ying Lee was the first Asian American woman to earn a pilot’s license, join the WASPs, and fly for the United States military amid widespread anti-Asian sentiment and policies.

Her singular story of patriotism, barrier breaking, and fearless sacrifice is told for the first time in full for readers of The Women with Silver Wings by Katherine Sharp Landdeck, A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, The Last Boat Out of Shanghai by Helen Zia, Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown and all Asian American, women’s and WWII history books.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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