Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Testament Scholarship

Something that concerns me in New Testament studies is the splintering of one large study (the New Testament, or even The Bible) into various little sub-disciplines. This may work for something like a Biologist who just wants to study fungus or something the rest of his life, and has no need to know about zebras. But in Biblical Studies, I think we have be more well-read than our counterparts in other fields. Indeed, I think this is why Aquinas calls Theology the "Queen" of the sciences. I have people ask me all the time, "So, what are you, a systematic guy, Biblical theology, or Biblical studies, or what?" and I have to answer them: "Yes." I'm not a master (or even a novice yet) at any of them, but I realize that they all hold a place within the grand scheme.

How does one understand the New Testament without the Old? How do you separate systematic and Biblical theology when both are important? And a huge one for me: how are so many NT scholars so completely unaware of patristics? Yes, they may use a quote from Ignatius here and there, but I know a great many NT scholars who are in no way well-versed in Church Fathers. This seems vital to me! Historically, you can separate the two, but ideologically you cannot. The history of the ideas of the church is, in my most humble and uneducated opinion, quintessential for understanding Biblical studies. Or, as April Deconick has written about, how do we toss aside important information contained in these Nag Hammadi texts? Yes, I realize they're late and don't provide a great amount of historical information concerning Jesus, but they provide historical information concerning the beliefs of a particular subset of people. Why did they interpret the New Testament in such a way as to arrive at these beliefs? That's valuable, I think.


Immediately after posting this I went to Dr. Deconick's blog and she shares a similar conviction about the matter:

My third point was that most biblical scholars aren't interested in studying the NH documents because they are perceived to be late and therefore of no consequence to Christian Origins. The same is true, I suppose, for ante-Nicene literature in general. Not many biblical scholars take the time to become well-versed in much beyond the apostolic fathers.


Ben @ Dunelm said...

I'm right there with you. I suppose one issue is the lack of time to do everything well. I'm hopefully trying to add another plank in the NT-patristics bridge. However, I feel like I'm a jack of two trades, but a master of neither. At the same time I find it difficult to find any time at all to 2nd Temple Judaism, much less OT.

I've got a few other thoughts rolling around in my head on this, so if you don't mind I may add them up to a post on my blog so they are a little more coherent.

T Michael W Halcomb said...

Perhaps the way we are doing it has some problems, but to me, it seems better than the alternative. I would rather have a group of experts for each subject than a bunch of novives on everything. It would be like the old saying, but in reverse, "Too many Indians and no chiefs." Expertise sets some boundaries, that's why I like it this way.

Could you say more about the patristics as necesarry? I've studied them a great deal but I surely do not share the esteemed interest in them that you do. I might sound ridiculous and uneducated here but just to put the question out there in its simplest form, "Why should I spend so much time on them?" Can you convince me?


Ben Blackwell said...

I'll throw in a brief example, if I may...

I'm studying Paul in light of Patristic exegesis. I've been spending time in Irenaeus lately, whose emphasis is death/life more than guilt/justification. So I started working on a paper on glory (doxa) in Romans, and I've noticed that there are repeated contextual connections between glory and immortality/incorruption (and not just in chapter 8) rather than shining brilliance. It's not necessarily the main emphasis of the term, but having read Irenaeus I asked questions that opened new insights on the nuance of the letter.

I suppose it's the standard response of it lets us see the biblical text through a different worldview. Convincing example? Probably not, but I'm glad I benefited from the interchange.

T Michael W Halcomb said...

ben (and josh), i understand the value in these studies, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying they are unimportant. What I am saying is are they necesarry? That seems to be the tenor and claim of the post.

Brian F. said...

I think the problem too is that seminaries and bible colleges and universities and such typically don't hire PhD's in all around biblical studies - they like specialists - sort of like in the medical field. They want Johannine scholars or Pauline scholars or scholars in the Pentetuch or the Prophets, etc.

Danny Garland Jr. said...

The Fathers are important because they were much closer to the time of Christ and had more access to original documents than we do today. The wisdom of the Fathers is extremely important in guiding our interpretations of the Bible. St. Jerome's commentaries are invaluable for anyone who wants to study Scripture.
Also the Fathers were living in the Faith from the beginnings of the Church. It's important to read the Fathers and recognize that the Apostolic Faith is the same Faith that has always been taught in the Catholic Church!