In the second part of our study, our intention was primarily literary. We endeavoured to examine the various New Testament books and to determine what literary analysis would tell us about them - although, almost inevitably, historical questions kept coming up. The third part will be devoted more specifically to these historical questions; we shall endeavour to find out what the New Testament books have to tell us about Christian origins and early Christian history.
There are, of course, two aspects to early Christian history.
By examining this relation we can then create a picture of early Christianity partly in its environment and partly against its environment. Such an environmental study can be viewed as related to history in general, to the history of ideas, and to the history of religion.
Ideally the first aspect should be studied first, so that we have some idea of what early Christianity was 'in itself' before treating its relations with other phenomena. On the other hand, Christian origins seem to become historically more meaningful when they are treated in relation to their background.
We shall therefore say something about the Graeco-Roman world (Chapter xvii) and Palestine in Graeco-Roman times (Chapter xviii) before turning to the life of Jesus (Chapter xix) and the early Church (Chapter xx).