OUTLINE OF NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES – UNIT 7
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.
The scientific study of the New Testament was the work of the “neologians,” who were influenced by the historical critical works of two very important German scholars.
The first one was Johann Salomo Semler (1725 – 1791). He tried to avoid the “pitfalls” of orthodoxy, Pietism, and extreme rationalism. Instead, he proposed a new way wherein he could have an unrestricted use of criticism without compromising the faith. He advocated distinguishing faith and theology. The former, he argued, was a matter of religion and hence outside the bounds of criticism. The latter was not part of religion and, hence, open to ruthless critical research. In doing so, he was trying to protect faith but ended up doing more damage. He also focused on the canon, specifically, rejecting the orthodox view. Again, he tried to distinguish between the Bible and the word of God. Here too, in Semler’s view, the biblical canon could be freely debated while the word of God remained outside the realm of criticism.
Semler, in attempting to safeguard faith, opened the door to a dangerous bifurcation. His influence on eighteenth century biblical scholarship and later biblical studies cannot be overstated. One can notice the germ of neo-orthodoxy much before it’s time.
The second scholar to make a great impact in the field of New Testament studies was Johann David Michaelis (1717 – 1791). He was more conservative in his views than Semler. He believed in fulfilled prophecies and miracles and even agreed that the resurrected Christ was the “cornerstone of Christianity.” Nonetheless, he did not consider the Gospels to be infallible. In his monumental Introduction to the New Testament, he also dealt with text criticism. He believed that the early text could be classified in four early recensions: Western, Alexandrine, Edessene, and Byzantine.
In many ways his work appeared to be conservative but in the view of many it weakened the foundation of Christianity. In trying to bridge the gap between faith and reason, he destroyed the bridge itself.
Both Semler and Michaelis achieved quite different results than what they anticipated.