OUTLINE OF NT STUDIES – UNIT 5
The following is my outline of the critical study of the New Testament based upon the following works: Werner Georg Kümmel The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems, William Baird, History of New Testament Research 3 volumes, Stephen Neill and Tom Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament 1861-1986, and Scott McKnight and Grant Osborne, The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research.
In the early eighteenth century Lutheran and Reformed countries, Protestant orthodoxy was dominant. In line with Luther’s stance against the Catholic Tridentine doctrine that scripture stands on the same footing as tradition, the Protestant scholars also reaffirmed sola scriptura. Instead of being an impediment to NT research, scholasticism opened the door to research in linguistics, text-criticism, and theological investigation.
The Pietist felt that Protestant Scholasticism had emptied the biblical message of its vitality. Contrary to the Protestant concern only with doctrine, the Pietist focused more on the Bible as the way of life. This was very appealing to a world that had come through the “Thirty Years’ War” (1618–1648).
The Father of German Pietism was Philip Jakob Spener (1635-1705). He was more a pastor than a systematic theologian. He rejected the Calvinist view of predestination but held to the Reformed view of the Eucharist. In his major work Pia Desideria he suggested certain steps towards reform – serious attention to the study of the Bible; more participation in the life of the church; more focus on application than just doctrine; education of the clergy; and more stress on preaching. Even though Spener’s approach had a sense of anti-intellectualism, he placed much emphasis on the study of scripture. Furthermore, Spener placed much emphasis on the idea of the “new birth.” Contrary to the Protestant scholastic dogmatics, he advocated biblical theology, with the aid of the Holy Spirit.
Another important figure in the Pietist movement was August Hermann Franke (1663-1727). In his 1693 work on Biblical Interpretation he gave his goal of interpretation as separating the husk from the kernel or the letter and the spirit. This does not mean that the letter was unimportant but that the letter was important to understand the spirit. The place to begin is not with the classics or grammars but with the NT itself. At the heart of the biblical message is Jesus Christ.
Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752) was a very important scholar in the Pietist movement. Compared to the other Pietists, he was a moderate. He was known as the father of Swabian Pietism. He published a harmony of the gospels. In the field of NT research he published his famous work known as Gnonom (pointer). It is so titled to “point out or indicate, the full force of words and sentences, in the New Testament.” His most important principle was that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” Even though Bengel was a great exegete, he still had some fanciful views. He was troubled by the fact of 30,000 variants in the text of the NT, as noted in Bishop Fell’s text. The more he studied the text, the more he was convinced regarding the integrity of the text. Wesley was impacted much by Bengel’s works.
John Wesley (1703-1791) was a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. He became the founder of the Methodist denomination. Prior to that, he was greatly influenced by the Moravians. Reading Luther’s introduction to his commentary on the Book of Romans saved him. Wesley’s theology was centered on soteriology. He was mainly concerned with the question – “What must I do to be saved?” He was opposed to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination as well as the view that humans could save themselves by their own effort. In Wesley’s thought 3 things were important for life and faith – Scripture, reason, and experience. He was also very well trained in patristic sources. According to some estimates, 75% of his sermons contained references to NT Greek. He also translated the NT (1200 differences from the King James Version). Overall, he depended on four major scholars: Bengel, Phillip Doddridge, John Guyse, and John Heylyn. He quotes heavily from Bengel, sometimes verbatim.
The major problem with Pietist thought was the notion that religious experience was crucial for valid interpretation. It held to the belief that only those who have the Spirit can properly interpret the Bible. In this attitude of spiritual imperialism, Pietism claims that any born-again believer could come up with normative exegesis. Baird makes an incisive remark, “Paradoxically, the Biblicism of the Pietists protected them from subjectivity, and their subjectivity delivered them from orthodox Biblicism.”