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.



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.”



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.

New Testament scholarship saw a radical shift with the coming of deism. Deism was the birth child of the cosmology of Newton (1642-1727) and the rationalism of the Enlightenment. For the deists God was not some orthodox creed or some authoritarian establishment but just a natural, universal religion.

The works of John Locke (1632-1704) were instrumental in creating the framework for the impact of deism on NT scholarship. Even though Locke himself was not a deist, he formulated the philosophy that was exploited by the deists against NT. Contrary to the notion of innate ideas, as proposed by Descartes (1596-1650), Locke advocated an empirical epistemology. According to this view, there are two kinds of knowledge: external sensation and internal sensation. The mind is a blank slate wherein all knowledge comes in via external sensation. This knowledge is then appropriated and arranged by the reflection of the human mind. What cannot be known by reason is revealed by God through supernatural revelation. This revelation will not contradict reason. To this the deists retorted – if the supernatural revelation does not contradict reason, what’s the use of revelation. After all, the ordered universe and the rational mind was enough. Hence, fulfilled prophecy and supernatural miracles were no longer viable or necessary.

Locke was considered to be a pious Christian but he rejected the doctrine of original sin and was not fully orthodox with regards to the doctrine of the Trinity. He also rejected the idea of propitiatory, substitutionary atonement. He considered faith to be simply an assent to doctrines. Although Locke laid down the famous dictum: “The most certain interpreter of Scripture is Scripture itself, and it alone is infallible,” his views on Scripture were far from orthodox. He held to the opinion that the Scripture has errors. He also argued that human beings did not inherit Adam’s guilt but only his mortality. Other divergent views of Locke were that speaking in tongues in Corinth was actually speaking in Hebrew.

The father of deism was Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648) and the leader of the cause was Charles Blount (1654-1693). Deists claimed that God established a rational order at creation and then stepped away. Leading propagandists were John Toland (1699-1722) and Matthew Tindal (1657-1733). Toland’s basic thesis was that “there is nothing in the gospel contrary to reason, nor above it; and that no Christian doctrine can be properly call’d a mystery.” In other words, when the doctrine of the Gospels is exposed to reason, it is rational and free of any mystery. It is the clergy who have conspired to create the idea of the mysterious. He gave another important thesis: “Nor is there any different rule to be follow’d in the interpretation of Scripture from what is common to all other books.” Although, Toland allowed for miracles, he considered them compatible with reason.

Tindal, however, was sharper in his criticism of the Bible than Toland. He considered reason to be supreme and no scripture to be beyond the reach of reason. He further asked the question – how could anyone be certain of the text of the bible, if it has so many variants. He argued that Jesus simply revived the old religion and called people back to the religion of nature, the religion of reason.

Another deist, Anthony Collins (1676-1729) rejected fulfilled prophecy as legitimate to claim the authenticity of scripture or Christianity. He argued that since the Jewish people had manipulated the Jewish text to prevent the Christians from claiming the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in Jesus, there was no use in trying to advocate fulfilled prophecy as a viable defence. Using allegorical interpretation of prophetic passages does not prove the truth of Christianity.

The charge against miracles was taken up by the deist Thomas Woolston (1669-1733). He tried to make a fool out of the clergy about miracles. Much can be said against Woolston’s approach. One major counterpoint is that if scripture itself lends natural explanations that invalidate miracles, then why didn’t the writers and scribes remove the incriminatory details.

Deism continued to flourish in England in the eighteenth century. Notable mentions include Peter Annet (1693-1769), Thomas Morgan (d. 1743), and Thomas Chubb (1697-1747). Annet called Moses an impostor and pointed out the discrepancies between the Paul of the letters and the Paul of the Acts. So also Morgan who blamed Moses for introducing senseless rituals of the Egyptians in the place of the rational religion of nature of Abraham, Noah, and Enoch. Christ was not the Messiah but a restorer of the natural religion. His attack of the OT is reminiscent of Marcion. He also denied the substitutionary atonement of Christ. Finally, Chubb questioned the authenticity of the Gospels. He rejected the notion that the Gospel writers were supernaturally inspired. To this can be added the doctrine of atonement, original sin, and Trinity.

Even though the deists were not biblical scholars, they raised some very important questions for biblical research. Their attacks were usually marked with sarcasm and ridicule. This did two things: open the door for more moderate attacks and open the door for defense of the scripture and orthodox Christianity. The latter somewhat impeded serious study of scripture. The deists assumed that nothing would be left of Christianity by the end of the eighteenth century but they failed to expect the coming of the Wesleyan revival. Neither did they expect the coming of David Hume (1711-1776) who argued that deism was not skeptical enough. Deism did not survive long in England but was revived in Germany.



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.

Unit 3

The Greek text of the New Testament was first published in Spain in 1514 in a polyglot edition of the University of Complutum (Alcalà). Two years later in 1516, Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) published his edition of the Greek NT. In the years to come, Erasmus’ Greek text gained more prominence than the Complutensian polyglot and, after 1633, became known as the Textus Receptus. Richard Simon (1638-1712) was also an important player in the development of what later became known as Textual Criticism. Simon’s goal was to bring out the necessity of the tradition of the Catholic Church along with the Bible. To prove this thesis, Simon laid undue emphasis on the unreliability of the NT text as seen in the number of variants. In doing so, he unwittingly undermined the scriptures.

About the same time, the Anglican theologian John Mill (1645-1707) embarked on the monumental task of putting together a critical version of the Greek NT. He used the text of Stephen (1550), except for a few places, “whether by accident or design” (per Scrivener), and added a list of the vast number of variants at the bottom of each page. This was a bold step indeed. Mill began the work with a Prolegomena in Latin that laid out valuable information and gave his method in listing the readings. Not everyone was as appreciative of his untiring effort. His work was attacked vehemently by the likes of Daniel Whitby (1638-1725), who represented the old guard against deism. His view could be described as moderate or even progressive for the day with regards to NT scholarship. Nonetheless, he held to a preservationist view of the transmission of the NT text. On the other hand, scholars like Richard Bentley (1662-1742) did come to his rescue. Nonetheless, as Scrivener remarks: “Of the criticism of the New Testament in the hands of John Mill it may be said, that he found the edifice of wood, and left it marble.”

Mill’s work was not without its faults. Bristol notes, “It is true that his collations were not always correct, but the errors were usually in collations made by others rather than in those made by himself. In this early period, at the very beginning of textual criticism of the New Testament, he could not be expected to go far beyond his generation. Therefore, we must not be surprised that he did not make notes of such things as transpositions of words, homoioteleuta, and itacisms.” (Lyle O. Bristol, “New Testament Textual Criticism in the Eighteenth Century,” in Journal of Biblical Literature, 69 no. 2 (June 1950), 103)

Tregelles affirms the problem with the collations from the early days of the discipline and points out that Mill based his use of the versions on the Latin translations of the versions in Walton’s Polyglot. He rightly remarks: “thus, whenever they are inadequate or inexact, he was betrayed into error.” Furthermore, Mill focused heavily on patristic citations but here as well, they were “often less complete.” Metzger further cautions that: “The Fathers are referred to merely by their names, and only occasionally does Mill provide the title of the patristic treatise in which the citation is preserved.”

Although a monumental attempt no doubt, Mill’s work is not the perfect gauge to measure the number of variants. Fox points out that “there are very numerous corrections of errors both typographical and editorial. J.J. Wetstein in his Greek Testament of 1751 estimates that there were 10,000 errors in Mill, and he is probably right.” If Mill’s data were recorded according to today’s standards and progress in the field, it would be much less spectacular.

Another scholar worthy of mention in the field of textual criticism in this period was Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752). He attempted to regain the confidence in the reliability of the NT text. He was the first scholar to classify the NT Greek manuscripts into families. He also formulated the classical precept: “The most difficult reading should be preferred.” Bengel’s Gnonom (a Commentary on the New Testament) served as a model for combining critical studies along with figures of speech and also devotional applications.  A contemporary of Bengel who also deserves to be mentioned was Johann Jakob Wettstein (1657-1740). He too focused on the variants at the bottom of the page, claiming that many of them were the original text.

Such was the beginning of the discipline that became known as textual criticism of the New Testament.



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.

Unit 2

First came the Renaissance (1400s – 1600s) and then came the Reformation (1517 – 1685). The Renaissance paved the way for the NT scholars of the eighteenth century to have the spirit and skills of the humanists. Before that period the scholastics were focused on the supernatural instead of mundane affairs. The humanists dismissed the medieval period as the dark ages and went back to an idealized era of the bright world of ancient Greece and Rome. In studying this period they came across the classical texts and developed the linguistic tools to study them. The Reformation was indebted to the Renaissance in some sense. It laid the foundation for the importance of the Bible. The Renaissance and the Reformation together led to the period of the Enlightenment (1650 – 1800).

Needless to say, a new era had dawned that was opposed to authority, especially ecclesiastical. It was recognized by the Reformers that neither the Church nor the pope had the authority to determine the sense of the Bible. In fact, the Bible itself is the only and final source of authority for the Christians. Consequently, it has to be explained by its own self. Martin Luther (1483-1546) made this clear at the Diet of Worms in 1521, when he said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in council’s alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.”

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) also held similar views. Unlike humanists like Erasmus (1466-1536), who were no doubt very instrumental in studying the text in their historical setting, the Reformers refused to submit their conclusions to ecclesiastical traditions. For example, Luther was not shy in calling into question Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. He even placed them towards the end of the New Testament in contrast to the traditional arrangement. In this way, attention was drawn for the first time regarding differences between the various writings in the NT. The only stopgap against eroding the authority of Scripture was the principle that Scripture has to be explained by Scripture. Hence, it was ultimately affirmed that Scripture could not contradict itself. But this was not to last very long.

Some precursors to the critical study of the Enlightenment came on the scene in the seventeenth century. Notable mentions include Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), John Lightfoot (1602-1675), and Richard Simon (1638-1712). The first, Grotius, held traditional views regarding the canonical books. He also considered the “minor discrepancies” to be proof of the reliability of the Bible as a whole. In his Annotationes in Novum Testamentum he presents a historical interpretation of the NT based on textual, linguistic, and grammatical studies. Overall, he gives attention to philological and historical details and is not afraid to think for himself. The next, Lightfoot, placed much emphasis on the need to interpret the NT from its Jewish roots. He pioneered the use of rabbinic literature to study the historical setting of the NT. Finally, Simon can be called the founder of modern biblical criticism. He was a monk who was neither an academic nor a theologian but a historical critic. He was expelled from his order for some of his critical writings. Simon preferred to be a grammarian than a theologian and preferred to write in the vernacular French and not Latin. Much of Simon’s works were a herald of things to come in the Enlightenment.

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