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NT Study Methods

2009.05.24

KAROLI GASPAR REFORMED UNIVERSITY

PHD PROGRAMME IN NEW TESTAMENT

 

 

 

 

 

 

MODULE:

NEW TESTAMENT HERMENEUTICAL METHODS

 

 

 

SUPERVISOR: Peter Balla, PhD, dr. habil.

 

STUDENT: Laszlo Gallusz, PhD student

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Submitted: March 2008

 

Revised: 05 March, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS

 

 

TEXTUAL CRITICISM..... ..................................................................................................................3

 

GENRE ANALYSIS.............................................................................................................................4

 

SOURCE CRITICISM..........................................................................................................................5

 

FORM CRITICISM...............................................................................................................................6

 

REDACTION CRITICISM...................................................................................................................7

 

TRADITION CRITICISM.....................................................................................................................7

 

DISCOURSE ANALYSIS....................................................................................................................8

 

RHETORICAL CRITICISM.................................................................................................................9

 

NARRATIVE CRITICISM.................................................................................................................10

 

LITERARY CRITICISM.....................................................................................................................11

 

IDEOLOGICAL CRITICISM.............................................................................................................12

 

SOCIAL-SCIENTIFIC CRITICISM...................................................................................................13

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY................................................................................................................................15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

METHODS IN NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES

In the last century and a half we witnessed the accumulation of interpretative methodologies in biblical studies. By the traditional „higher criticism”, that is preceded in exegetical task by the textual criticism (known as „lower criticism”), new modes of criticism and interpretation have emerged, most notably the various rhetorical, literary, ideological and sociological methodologies employed to illuminate the NT texts.[1] This work will introduce in nutshell the traditional and newer approaches focusing on their goals, presuppositions, methods, and key practitioners.

 

TEXTUAL CRITICISM

- It is a foundational discipline of NT studies, because it determines the wording of the biblical text. It tries to analyse the available evidence in order to understand the transmission history of the text and to determine the most authentic reading. Its broader goals include the display of the variety of opinions and convictions that enlivened the life of the Church throughout its early history. Therefore, it has been recognized that the textual critic is a necessary partner with the exegete, church historian, and theologian in the enterprise of interpreting Scripture.

● Why is textual criticism needed? It arises out of the need for a reasonably reliable text as the basis for interpretation: we cannot begin to explore what the text means until we know what is says. At present we have over 5360 manuscripts of all or part of the NT in Greek with hundreds of thousands variants – there are more variants among the manuscripts than there are words in the NT. The vast majority of the differences in our manuscripts are insignificant, irrelevant and easy to explain.

- The NT textual critics have sorted the manuscripts into three main groups: Alexandrian (most reliable), Western and Byzantine.

- Newly discovered manuscripts are numbered at the institute for NT Textual Research in Münster, Germany, which was founded by Kurt Aland.

● The methods – Since all the available manuscripts contain mistakes, the decision on the wording must be made case-by-case. The process of making this decision is sometimes called „eclectic” method (gr. εκλεγω = „choose”) that uses external and internal evidences.

- The basic principles of the criticism in the terms of questions are the following:

ü      How many witnesses support each reading?

ü      Which reading is supported by the most ancient manuscripts?

ü      How geographically diverse is the attestation for each reading?

ü      What is the „quality” of the supportive witness?

ü      Which „groups” of witness support the variant readings?

ü      Which variant can be best seen as the basis for the change that caused the other variants?

Relationship of the textual criticism and exegesis: The textual criticism becomes a full partner in the interpretative task, because it offers some of the earliest and best data for the theological interpretation of Scripture. It is the first step in the exegetical process. On the other hand textual criticism needs exegesis, because the decisions frequently need to be made taking into account larger issues of conformity of a variant to the writing’s ideological context or the author’s distinctive style or theology.

● The most important contemporary practitioners of the discipline: Kurt and Barbara Aland, Metzger, Hort, Ehrman, Parker, Kilpatrick, Elliott.

 

 

GENRE ANALYSIS

● Basic definition of genre: Genres are the conventional and repeatable patterns of oral and written speech, which facilitate interaction among people in specific social situations. Decisive to this basic definition are 3 aspects: patternedness, social setting and rhetorical impact. The rhetorical impact of using a specific genre depends on both the way it is employed and the kind of social setting in which it is used.

● Role of the genre analysis and current debates on its relationship to the interpretation: Osborne points out that the current debate centres on whether the genre is descriptive or prescriptive. Does it provide rules for interpreting a work or merely describes what some works have in common? If it is only descriptive, it cannot function as a category for understanding a literary creation. He sees solution to the debate in the recognition that genre contains 3 dimensions: it classifies a literary work, is part of the process of coming to understanding (epistemology), and develops a literary world into which one enters (ontology). In this way genre not only classifies the form but also allows one to experience the world and to connect in a new way with existence.

- There are those who hold the genre of a work a determining factor for the interpretation (know the genre and know the meaning), but that does not reflect a responsible employment of genre criticism. Hirsch provides us with a balanced position stating that it is by the identification of the intrinsic genre – the overall structure and characteristics of a book – that we will go a long way towards understanding the book. That means that the idea of genre is not one that is drawn from outside the text, but rather something that is drawn from reading the work itself.

● Process that provides guidance for identification and analysis of genre forms:

1.      Recognition of general types of literature in the NT.

2.      Analysis of the interplay between narrative and speech in the biblical books.

3.      Recognition of the NT’s rich and varied repertoire of genres.

4.      Identification of the structural features of specific genres.

● The most important contemporary practitioners of the discipline: Although genre has been a subject of discussion from the days of Plato, Aristotle and Horace, all the contemporary research in this discipline is indebted much to works of form critics Dibelius, Bultmann and Taylor. Comprehensive treatments of NT genres: Aune, Bailey and Vander Broek. In Germany: Klaus Berger, Gerd Theissen. Numerous works are written that focus on particular genre or literary form.

 

 

SOURCE CRITICISM

● Definition and the goals of the source criticism: It is the process of bringing to light the earlier resources available to an author. It usually deals with the uncovering of the written documents lying behind a given text, a biblical book or several books and tends to be concerned with literary relationship. Yet, it does not exclude the study of unwritten or oral resources that could affect the composition of a biblical text.

● Source criticism is not theologically neutral:

ü      It presupposes such a view of Scripture that allows for differences in presentation and even outright contradictions between passages.

ü      It argues that „contradictions” and diverse styles imply different authors for the different sources lying behind the received forms of biblical text.

ü      It is not neutral toward the traditional views about the authorship of biblical books.

- The most well-known topics of the source critics are the question of the sources of the Pentateuch, single authorship of some prophetic books (e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many Minor Prophets). In NT: the synoptic problem, differences in style and theology within Pauline corpus etc. Therefore, it is no wonder that it has been strongly criticized by conservative scholars such as Eta Linnemann and Gerhard Maier.

● The relation of source-, form- and redaction criticism.  These criticisms have quite distinct history, but they are closely related. Form criticism emerged shortly after WW I as a corrective of the supposed one-sidedness of source criticism, while redaction criticism emerged shortly after WW II as a similar corrective of form criticism.

 

 

FORM CRITICISM

● The aims of the form criticism: It recognizes that source material may have been in written form, but that it was not necessarily so. It aims therefore to separate out the distinct units of material that the compilers of the sources selected, to establish the earliest forms of those units (the earliest form will be the purest form), to classify them on the basis of „family likeness”, and, by the exercise of informed imagination, to posit for each a setting and a purpose in the life of a community.

● Basic axioms of the discipline:

ü      The Synoptic Gospels are „popular” or „folk” literature rather than literary works in the classical sense. The evangelists were not historians, but receivers and transmitters of traditions cherished by Christian community.

ü      Between the time of Jesus’ ministry and the writing of the Gospels there was a period when the sayings of Jesus and stories about him were communicated orally – the church continued to set great store by oral tradition until the 2nd century.

ü      During this oral period the traditions about Jesus circulated as independent units, although some joining of the materials had taken place before the writing of biblical books.

ü      During the oral stage these „units of tradition” assumed particular forms according to the function they performed in the Christian community. The use of specific forms points sharply to a specific Sitz im Leben.

● The various forms: In the attempt to classify the pericopae according to their form, Dibelius worked with the following categories: paradigms, passion narrative, tales („Novellen”), legends, myths, exhortations. The work of form critics has been influenced by this basic classification of Dibelius, but some scholars suggested other variations also.

● The first systematic practitioners of the discipline: 3 German scholars → Schmidt, Dibelius and Bultmann who were the disciples of Gunkel. Somewhat different form of form criticism (more optimistic about the historical reliability of the materials) was practiced in British scholarship by Vincent Taylor. Gerd Theissen has written an important Preface to a new edition of Bultmann’s main form critical work on the Gospels. Theissen has further developed the discipline of form criticism also in a number of articles.

 

 

REDACTION CRITICISM

● Aims of the discipline: Redaction criticism looks at the biblical books as complete documents and sees the evangelists as individual theologians, who have done creative editorial works in their use of the sources in the composition. By looking carefully at the individual comments of the evangelists, their editorial links and summaries, and generally at the selection, modification and expansion of the material they use, it tries to discover how each writer understood and interpreted the tradition he received.

The methodology employed: The redaction critics are trying in their work to separate tradition (inherited from their sources) from redaction (the changes made by biblical authors). This is accomplished by looking for several possible changes:

ü      One may identify what has been added to the tradition.

ü      One may study the transitions, introductions and conclusions to ascertain how the author arranges the pericopae.

ü      One may observe changes in the arrangement of the material.

ü      One may recognize changes in the setting or placement of a story.

ü      One may identify changes in the words used.

ü      One may discover how two traditions are combined in a single episode.

ü      One may see how the evangelist provides explanations for readers.

ü      One may find changes in order to avoid misunderstanding.

● The most important practitioners of the discipline: Redaction criticism came to the fore after World War II and is associated on the first place with 3 German scholars: Bornkamm, Conzelmann and Marxsen. The focus of their study was the synoptic gospels. The following scholars started using the discipline in the study of the 4th gospel: Martyn, Lindars and Nicol.

 

 

TRADITION CRITICISM

● Definition and the goals of the source criticism: Tradition history seeks to analyse biblical literature in terms of the process by which biblical traditions passed from stage to stage into their final form, especially how they passed from oral tradition to written form. It is a sister discipline of form criticism - associated with Gunkel, who used the results of source and form criticism to develop the history of tradition interpretation. Form criticism and tradition criticism thus overlap, though the former is narrower in focus.

● Tradition criticism or tradition history? Many NT scholars think that in NT studies the term tradition criticism should be better abandoned and replaced by the term „tradition history”, interpreted in the sense of an on-going process of development in the form and/or meaning of concepts or words or sayings or blocks of material. The pattern, the limits and the range of such a development may vary.

● The most important practitioners of the discipline: Tradition criticism was developed by Gunkel. It is connected with secular folklore studies, especially Axel Olrik’s analysis of Scandinavian folklore and the „laws” which he established concerning the nature of such folklore. The stories in the Bible were then analysed on the basis of these „laws”.

 

 

DISCOURSE ANALYSIS

● Definition and aims of the discipline: Discourse analysis (less frequently referred to as textlinguistics) is a quite young discipline. It is a sub-discipline of modern linguistics that seeks to understand the relationships between language, discourse and situational context in human communication. It is an interdisciplinary approach to language and human communicative behaviour, because it draws upon insights of linguistics, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, communication theory, social psychology and artificial intelligence.

- Discourse analysis is often divided into 2 subfields:

ü      Text-linguistics → examines cohesion and argument development.

ü      Pragmatics → interaction between speech and unarticulated shared presuppositions in a discourse.

- One can also think of discourse analysis as:

ü      Socio-linguistics → studies the use of language in human interaction and the achievement of social objectives.

ü      Psycho-linguistics → focus of which is the cognitive and affective reception of communication.

● 3 basic assumptions of the discourse analysis:

1.      Communication is social and it occurs at a level that transcends words, clauses or even sentences. Therefore, words, clauses and even paragraphs in texts should not be interpreted apart from that discourse situation. Also it is important to note that the social nature of communication includes the relations of power on which utterances depend and draw.

2.      Language-in-use is always embedded in the culture. Human beings have the power to make sense out of whatever is presented to them (meaning-making).

- The most distinguished „doctrine” of the discourse analysis i that there is need for the examination of language at a level beyond the sentence. This goes against the long-lived taboo in linguistics that grammar is confined to the boundary of the sentence.

● The most important contemporary practitioners of the discipline in biblical studies: Beardslee, Cotterell and Turner, Louw, Reed etc.

 

 

RHETORICAL CRITICISM

● Definition and goals of the discipline: Rhetorical criticism is concerned with how the arrangement of the components of argumentation works towards proof or persuasion. It is concerned with rhetoric of persuasion → how the textual components work together to persuade the reader to adopt particular theses presented within the text and act rightly.

- Rhetorical criticism acknowledges that a text has many parts, but assumes an internal textual connectedness or integration. It assumes that biblical texts can be understood in terms of a holistic overarching purpose – persuasion or telling a meaningful story.

● Method of rhetorical criticism: There is no consensus among the practitioners of the discipline over a single overarching methodology that can be found in the current practice of the discipline. However, the majority of scholars tended to adopt Kennedy’s scheme that build on the presupposition that the NT was written and read in the context of Greco-Roman rhetoric. He adopts a 5-step approach:

1.      Determine the rhetorical unit to be analysed.

2.      Define the rhetorical situation – the complex of persons, events, and relations that precipitated the verbal response.

3.      Determine the species of rhetoric and rhetorical problem or stasis.

4.      Analyse the invention (argument by ethos, pathos, logos), arrangement and style of the discourse.

5.      Evaluate the rhetorical effectiveness of the rhetorical response in addressing the rhetorical situation.

● The most important contemporary practitioners of the discipline in biblical studies: Rhetorical criticism has been applied to the NT since the church fathers who, trained in rhetoric, reading the biblical texts analysed the persuasive style of the NT. The revival of the discipline occurred in the late XX. century. Muilenburg, Wilder and Judge were important practitioners of the discipline, but Betz’s work on Galatians provided a significant early influence, although his conclusions have been challenged. Kennedy’s method was already mentioned, but Wuellner was also significant, because he moved away from rhetoric as the application of Greco-Roman categories to the NT.

 

 

NARRATIVE CRITICISM

● Definition and goals of the discipline: Narrative criticism focuses on stories in biblical literature and attempts to read them with insights drawn from the secular field of modern literary criticism. The goal is to determine the effects that the stories are expected to have on their audience. Narrative criticism treats the biblical stories as mirrors that invite audience participation in the creation of meaning. For the narrative critic, texts shape the way readers understand themselves and their own present circumstances.

● Some basic principles: Narrative criticism practiced in NT studies is an eclectic discipline that borrows from number of areas including rhetorical criticism, structuralism and reader-response criticism. It is still undergoing developments, but the following widely accepted principles can be identified:

ü      IMPLIED AUTHOR – the perspective from which the work appears to have been written. It must be reconstructed on the basis of what they find in the narrative.

ü      IMPLIED READER – one who actualizes the potential for meaning in a text, who responds to it in ways consistent with the expectations that we may ascribe to its implied author. This concept limits the subjectivity of the critic by distinguishing between their own responses and those that the text appears to invite.

ü      NORMATIVE PROCESS OF READING – Narrative is to be read sequentially and completely with all its parts being related to the work as a whole. It demands that texts be interpreted from faith perspective that readers are assumed to hold.

● The method: In practice narrative criticism is a complex process that includes the analysis of the following elements: (1) ordering the events, (2) duration and frequency of events, (3) causal links, (4) conflict, (5) characters, (6) characterization, (7) empathy, (8) point of view, (9) settings, (10) symbolism, (11) irony, (12) intertextuality and (13) structural patterns.

-Narrative criticism should be understood as one key among several that are available to biblical interpreters. It is able to open some doors and provide certain kind of insights (one dimension), but it has its limitations and it will not answer all the questions asked about the meaning of the biblical material. The studying of the text by other methods is also needed.

● The most important contemporary practitioners of the discipline: Narrative criticism is not a new practice, but what is new is the effort to apply modern „secular” literary-critical theories of narrative to the biblical literature. In 1970s there errupted a major interest in that direction and the key pioneering works were done by Kingsbury, Culpepper and Tannehill.

 

 

LITERARY CRITICISM

● Definition and goals of the discipline: Literary criticism approaches the Bible as literature and it analyses the texts in terms of their literary qualities. While such analysis is the scholarly domain of literary specialists, the discipline has been over last four decades applied to NT studies. It is largely a-historical in theoretical or methodological orientation - it does not usually ask or answer the historical questions and therefore it has been perceived as „threatening” by those scholars who practice more the traditional methods of exegesis.

- The basic appeal of the methodologies of literary criticism is to seek access to the centre of meaning in the experience of reading. Surely, the search for meaning has its proper place, especially since the traditional historical criticism has not typically had the search for the significance of the text and has at times even denied the possibility of finding a text that could be understood. However, locating meaning into the reader opens door for uncontrollable subjectivity.

Methods of the literary criticism: The 3 most important methodologies of literary criticism that are in use in NT studies will be introduced briefly here:

ü      POST-STRUCTURALISM and DECONSTRUCTION. It is based on the work of several philosopher as Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, de Man etc. The most prolific NT post-structuralist is S.D. Moore. The method is inventive, it does not settle for methodical procedures and it is looking for where the philosophy of the text breaks down – where the system that ostensibly hold the text together can be shown to be unstable. In essence, the deconstructive project offers new texts in place of the old. This is accomplished through the use of complicated wordplays, innuendoes, interlinguistic etymologies and outright re-writing of the text.

ü      FORMALISM. It began as a response to the historicism that had dominated literary studies up until that point and in biblical studies it was practiced by those scholars who were frustrated with the unanswered questions of historical criticism. It asserts that the text is sufficient in and of itself for the process of interpretation, therefore the goal of interpreter is to understand the text itself without pointing to historical facts. Classical work of this approach is that of Rhoads and Michie, Mark as Story (a unique work, because it is co-authored by both a NT scholar and „secular” literary critic).

ü      READER-ORIENTED CRITICISM. Its basic emphasis is on the reader who creates the meaning of the text. In its most radical form it asserts that without the reader there is no text – once out of the author’s hands, the text is totally dependent on its readers. The text has no life or meaning unless they are brought upon it by a reader. On the other hand, the more moderate practitioners of the discipline deny that the reader is everything and they hold that the text is nevertheless important. Darr and Culpepper are perhaps the two best examples of practitioners of this approach in NT studies.

 

 

IDEOLOGICAL CRITICISM

● Definition and goals of the discipline: Ideological criticism is the task of uncovering the hidden ideologies at work in social practices, structures and biblical texts. It is often said that every ideology serves the interests of certain people and groups while marginalizing others. Unmasking the dynamics of such power-relations and oppressions is central to the work of the ideological critic. According to the words of Tina Pippin: „Liberation criticism arises in response to the oppressive systems of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classicism, colonialism and christo-fascism”. It calls into question the authority of the biblical canon and the notion of Scripture (it tries to get rid of “toxic texts”), but also seeks to critique those who interpreted it.

● Main issues and hermeneutic approach: The theoretical base for ideological criticisms comes from the class analysis of Karl Marx and its interpretative methods build on the Marxist literary critical approach. The key terms of ideological criticism are history, meaning, truth and reality, and the idea is to subvert the traditional notions of these terms. It asks the following questions: Whose history, meaning, truth and view of reality is being represented? Interpretation is considered a political act that has multiple effects and therefore searching for cracks in the dominant structure is of fundamental importance.

- The hermeneutical key to the reading of the NT is provided by the voices of the marginalized or the oppressed. The critics will employ a hermeneutic of suspicion, seeking to find whose interests are served by the text. On one hand they confront the “oppressive texts” or texts that have an oppressive history of interpretation, but on the other hand they use reconstructive strategies in their liberatory readings.

● The variety of ideological criticism: Ideological criticism is a quite diverse reading strategy that emphasizes the wealth of reading possibilities and liberation. Its main voices come from the liberation theologies (Latin America, Asia and Africa), which all seek to take the experience of the oppressed group they represent as the critical principle for hermeneutics. Its basic approaches include black, feminist, postcolonial and queer readings of the biblical texts.

● Leading scholars:

    LIBERATION THEOLOGY: Gutierrez, Boff, Altmann

    FEMINIST THEOLOGY: Schüssler-Fiorenza, Pippin, Beverley

    QUEER THEOLOGY: Althaus-Reid, Stone, Goss

 

 

SOCIAL-SCIENTIFIC CRITICISM

● Definition and presupposition of the discipline: Social-scientific criticism analyses the social and cultural dimensions of the text and of its environmental context through the utilization of the perspectives, theory, models and research of the social sciences. It is part of the overall task of interpreting the NT texts in the context of the 1st century Mediterranean world. Its presupposition is that validity in interpretation of texts from the past like the Bible involves disciplined attention both to the intentions of the original author and to the meaning of the text in its original historical setting.

● The questions of social-scientific criticism:  The discipline asks questions of a different kind than historical criticism and it claims that asking the “new questions” reveals some aspects of the text left hidden by traditional methods. These are concerned not so much with diachronic aspects as with synchronic aspects, the typical social patterns and taken-for-granted cultural conditions and conceptions most likely to have characterized the biblical world and influenced the biblical writers. H. Kee has grouped these questions in 7 categories:

1.      Boundary markers and their role in the definition and preservation of individual and social identity.

2.      Authority and the interpretation and regulation of power in social relations, not least in the ordering and discipline of the human body.

3.      Status and role – including the ways these are played out in relation to wealth, education, age, gender, race and class.

4.      Ritual as an aspect of the symbolic construction of meaning through time, especially in relation to moments of crisis or change.

5.      Texts and other media of communication and their production and social effects.

6.      Group functions, including the function of conflict and how the group deals with experiences of cognitive dissonance.

7.      The symbolic universe and the social construction of reality, including a society’s understanding and representation of history and of the relation between worlds divine and human.

● The most important practitioners of the discipline: From 1970s onward, social-scientific criticism has had a significant impact on biblical interpretation claiming to have potential to revitalize the interpretation of the Scripture. The most important contributors were Elliott, Gager, Theissen, Malina, Meeks, Barton etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Leicester & Illinois: InterVarsity, 1987).

 

Davidson, Richard. „Biblical Interpretation” in Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology. SDA Commentary Reference Series vol. 12. Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2000.

 

DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Context, Method and Ministry Formation. Illinois: InterVarsity & Leicester: Apollos, 2004.

 

Green, Joel B. (ed.). Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans & Carlisle: Paternoster, 1995.

 

Linnemann, Eta. Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990.

 

Marshall, Howard I. (ed.). New Testament Interpretation. Carlisle: Paternoster, 1997.

 

Porter, Stanley E. (ed.), A Handbook to the Exegesis of the New Testament. Boston & Leiden: Brill, 2002.

 

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. (ed.). Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker & London: SPCK, 2005.



[1] I share the concern of B.W. Pearson who holds that one of the largest problems in NT literary exegesis is a current „methodological confusion” that „often leads to confused, mislabelled exegetical results” (Brook W.R. Pearson, „New Testament Literary Criticism” in A Handbook to the Exegesis of the New Testament, ed. Stanley Porter. Boston & Leiden: Brill, 2002).

 

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