Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Interpretation of the New Testament

I'm in the closing pages of Bishop Stephen Neill's seminal work, updated by Tom Wright. IMHO this book should be required reading at some point in a seminary education. It is a historical survey of NT Interpretation from 1861 to 1986 (I suppose you can see that from the pic!). For someone brought up within a somewhat parochial, non-conformist evangelicalism in which the Puritans seemed to be the last word (I was reading the Puritans in my late teens!), and for which it seemed any biblical criticism was an unholy, modernist exercise undertaken by dodgy Germans, reading this book has been a stimulating part of my on-going theological education.

You meet Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort near the beginning as they tackle the reliability of the NT texts, you go on to look at the impact of archaeology - Ancient Near East finds, the Nag Hammadi documents and of course the Qumran documents; the interplay between philosophy, history and philology as the three fields in which the successful theologian must be able to operate; you are taken into the discussions on the significance of Hellenism and Second Temple Judaism, the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Schweitzer and the second and third quests), the relio-historical school (Bultmann et al). You read discussion of the issues of diversity in Gentile churches, Early Catholicism and Gnosticism. Perhaps most refreshing for me is that the positive and negative positions in the thought of the theologians is evaluated fairly and openly. Even in Liberal theology there are lessons to be learned. As Denis Hickey (not the rugby player) says
Anyone interested in Jesus will want to know not only his story, but how we have come to read (or misread) that story.
I hope to post a few quotes from the book over the next few days.