Although published in 1998, Mark Allan Powell’s Fortress Introduction to the Gospels stands the test of time.
It is a slim book, 138 pages, but Powell includes an amazing amount of material in this short introduction. The lucid brevity of the book will cause it to continue to be a great textbook and introduction. Powell stays away from speculations and for the most part Gospel scholarship fads. He simplifies things by presenting the narrative and emphases of each Gospel. This only comes after years of teaching and synthesis.
Powell himself is a literary critic, and therefore the bulk of the material is on the distinctive themes of each gospel. Unlike most other introductions, I was happy to see descriptions of the Gospels come first, and then at the end of the chapter he goes over the when, why, and who of the Gospel. Each chapter on the four Gospels is divided into three sections:
- Historical Context
- Major Themes
But Powell is also able to cover in the introduction the world of the Gospels, the genre, the stages of transmission, historical Jesus issues, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, the preservation of manuscripts, some translation theory material, and reception.
Maybe the best part of the book are some of the charts he provides. I imagine he created these for classroom lectures and they are valuable resources.
This is a great little introduction that I will be recommending to everyone. Below I have pasted some examples of the charts he uses.
I have his expanded book published by Baker Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey but I have not been able to piece through it to compare the two.