Le premier contact avec l’Épître aux Hébreux est rebutant. De toute la collection des écrits néo-testamentaires, en effect, cette lettre est, avec l’Apocalypse, la plus éloignée au point de vue littéraire de notre mentalité occidentale et moderne.
L’Épitre aux Hébreux (vol. 1): 1.
The OT is the “bone and marrow” of Hebrews. From beginning to end this book is an expository “sermon” that rests on careful OT interpretation. The pastor quotes the OT, alludes to the OT, summarizes OT passages, recounts events from the lives of OT persons, and often echoes the idiom of the Greek OT.
Unfortunately, theologians today increasingly lack historical knowledge and an interest in history, and above all are too ignorant of the legacy of the past, whether of the Old Testament and Judaism, or of Graeco-Roman antiquity. Since the so-called “scholars” are gradually failing us here, it is doubly important for us as Christians to try to acquire a deeper historical understanding of what took place more than 1900 years ago; without such historical understanding our theological thinking, too, will all too easily become barren.
Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity.
From what I can gather about the late Dr. Hegel, he did not pull any punches when it came to the New Testament and its historical background. I could not agree more with these words, and I could not be more convicted either.
While reading volume three of Baird’s excellent History of New Testament Research, I came across this dialogue between the eminent church historical Adolf von Harnack and Karl Barth:
[Harnack]: “A scientific theological presentation can also inspire and edify, thanks to its object, but the scientific theologian who is bent on inspiration and edification brings strange fire upon his altar, for as there is only one scientific method, so there is also only one scientific task—the pure knowledge of its object.” To this Barth responds, “The concept of revelation is not a scientific concept.”
Barth exposes Harnack’s flawed understanding of revelation as well as the impossibility of knowing all of who God is through purely objective and critical reason. Well done Karl!
Some reviewers have accused me of undue affection for the historical critical method. To that I merely reply, mea culpa. I am well aware, of course, that the use (or abuse) of the critical method has been destructive for some, resulting in depreciation of Scripture and loss of faith. For me the opposite have proved true. It has been the historical critical method that has sustained my faith and deepened my devotion to the New Testament, the book I have spent my life attempting to understand and teach.
History of New Testament Research, vol. 3: 3-4.
In some circles, the historical critical method is demonized and blamed for all sorts of interpretative evils. Sadly, I have witnessed this first hand on a number of occasions. The phrase is thrown around like a curse word, and the last thing you want to be caught doing is playing nice with this method.
I find Baird’s wonderful affirmation the historical critical method to be a breath of fresh air. While it may be true that some people have loss their faith due to this method, it is also true that people have loss their faith using the historical grammatical method and other methods as well. I do not blame the method for these tragic apostasies; rather, there is something else going on—something much deeper—in the heart of one who loses their faith in the Son of God.
Wherever the subject of discussion is God’s revelatory action—and to it belongs creation in a special degree—there, in the Primitive Christian view, the subject of discussion is Christ, the same person whose incarnation can be dated in an ordinary chronological manner.
Oscar Cullmann, Christ and Time, 25.
The theological significance of Deuteronomy can scarcely be overestimated. Inasmuch as this book offers the most systematic presentation of theological truth in the entire Old Testament, we may compare its place to that of Romans in the New Testament. Moreover, since Deuteronomy reviews so much of Israel’s historical experience of God’s grace as recounted in Genesis through Numbers, a comparison with the gospel of John may be even more appropriate. Just as John wrote his gospel after several decades of reflection on the death and resurrection of Jesus, so Moses preached the sermons in Deuteronomy after almost four decades of reflection on the significance of the Exodus and God’s covenant with Israel. Thus, like the gospel of John, the book of Deuteronomy functions as a theological manifesto, calling on Israel to respond to God’s grace with unreserved loyalty and love.
(NIVAC: Deuteronomy, 25)
Earle is a bachelor, not by choice but rather by calling. He would like to have married, but the scholarly pressures that he put upon himself were too demanding and his expectations of any feminine counterpart were too high. Of necessity a potential wife would have to be a woman with an attractive personality, an IQ of 185, and a pliability that would enable her happily to adapt to his way of thinking and to his way of doing things. Needless to say, he never found just such a person.
Gerald F. Hawthorne. History and Exegesis: New Testament Essays in Honor of Dr. E. Earle Ellis for his 80th Birthday, pg. 11.
We pray God to give us his guidance, and that we may have the help of the power of the Lord, for nowhere can we find even the bare footsteps of men who have preceded us in the same path, unless it be those slight indications by which in divers ways they have left to us partial accounts of the times through which they have passed, raising their voices as a man holds up a torch from afar, calling to us from on high as from a distant watch-tower, and telling us how we must walk, and how to guide the course of our work without error or danger.
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History: 1.1.3
I remain convinced, I am intuitively certain, that literary texts, as the products of human beings, creatures whose public and private lives are pervaded by intentions, have the intentions of their authors encoded in them; and if we can often comprehend intentions while conversing with living human beings, we can do the same while reading the sentence on a page. There are, to be sure, great epistemological mysteries here. Nonetheless it is our common experience that, via speech, oral or written, we may gain access, however indirect, to others’ purposes. To deny this is to enter the wilderness of solipsism.
The New Moses: A Matthean Typology, 1-2.
It’s not a mechanical or engineering or scientific formula. You do this and you do this and this and then you have an exegeted passage! I may sound mystical, but there is an art in this thing that can’t be taught or caught by any method. Yes, there must be the data. The languages have to be learned in and out, so much that we begin to think the author’s thoughts after him. Minds marinated in the OT and infused with the Spirit and the power of the resurrected Jesus. No short cuts, just reading and thinking and praying through that passage until we start to see its inner logic, and also its fire!
This is not just a good textbook definition from Varner; this is lived out in his very own preaching, of which I have had the pleasure of sitting under on many occasions. To get an example of this, see the mp3′s from his Sunday school class at Grace Community Church in California.
We thus regard it as legitimate to understand by the baptism of the Holy Ghost, without prejudice to its special meaning and scope, the divine preparation of man for the Christian life in its totality.
Karl Barth. Church Dogmatics, 4:4:31
Recently, I have begun reading through the Acts of the Apostles. I have always desired to work through the Greek text of Acts, and to do so with the help of none other than the late Charles Kinsley (C.K.) Barrett. With this in mind, I am starting a new series on the blog called Keeping it Real with Kingsley. So, from time to time you will see quotes, comments, (dare I say) disagreements, and other tidbits from Barrett’s magisterial 2 vol. ICC commentary on Acts.
To start us off in the right direction, Barrett will give us seven points the introduction of Acts achieves:
The Introduction (vv. 1–14) taken as a whole is in fact a carefully constructed piece (‘ein kunstvolles, vielfältig verflochtenes Sprachgewebe’ (Weiser, 47), which achieves the following aims. (a) It refers the reader to the following volume and indicates the continuity between the two. (b) It draws attention to the work of the Holy Spirit as an essential and characteristic feature of the new volume, a feature which also, through the connection with John the Baptist, strengthens the connection with Lk. (c) It underlines the function of the apostles as witnesses; this is a theme that recurs frequently in the book as a whole. (d) It points out that the church and its witnessing activity are to extend throughout the world. (e) It emphasises that details of the eschatological future, though determined by God, are not made known to men, even the apostles. (f) It nevertheless lays down the eschatological framework within which the Christian story is to unfold: Jesus has been exalted to heaven, borne up thither on a cloud; he will return in the same way. It is between these points that the church lives, and its life is determined by them. (g) The church is a fellowship at whose heart are the named eleven apostles, chosen by Jesus himself; into this new family the earthly, physical family of Jesus is integrated.
Barrett, Acts, vol. 1, 63
Lamenting the theological education of today’s ministers and teachers, Porter asks
Whose fault is it? It is the fault of teachers like me and my fellow theological educators who do not demand enough from our students and our institutions. It is the fault of our students for not demanding more of themselves and of us, their teachers. It is the fault of publishers who continue to value publishing drivel over serious work, and, finally, it is unfortunately the fault of the church for demanding so little of itself, its people, and its ministers.
I do not think I could have said it better if I tried! Christians, we are called to think deeply and hard about the Word of God. Students, do not complain about having to take Greek or Hebrew! You are in class to learn, not get just get a grade.
New Testament theology is a historical discipline. It is not to be confused with either dogmatics or apologetics: for its purpose is neither to provide scriptural authority for modern doctrinal beliefs nor to make those beliefs appear reasonable and defensible to the unconvinced inquirer. Its purpose is descriptive. We may indeed believe that in the New Testament we have a divine revelation valid for all ages. But that revelation was made in historical events, and those who first thought out the significance of those events did so in relation to the circumstances of their time and with a pastoral concern for particular congregations; even their general statements were made with reference to the particular. They never dreamt that what they wrote would, centuries later, be subjected to the microscopic scrutiny of modern biblical scholarship, providing in every unusual phrase and every unexpected assumption a matter for a doctoral dissertation. Nor did they imagine that it might be used as a rule of faith and practice in a world changed beyond their imagining. Yet for that scrutinize is necessary, since we cannot be confident in discerning the relevance of their teaching to our day until by all the resources of historical research we have learnt its relevance to their own.
“New Testament Theology” (pg. 1-2)
This is quite possibly the greatest single definition of what New Testament theology is. On the one hand, it is a historical endeavor that is to be done within its historical milieu. On the other hand, because the New Testament is a body of doctrinal beliefs and practices, it is rightly a “theology.” Caird so beautifully makes this point in his statement above, “We may indeed believe that in the New Testament we have a divine revelation valid for all ages. But that revelation was made in historical events, and those who first thought out the significance of those events did so in relation to the circumstances of their time and with a pastoral concern for particular congregations; even their general statements were made with reference to the particular.”
Today’s QOTD is brought to you by Gareth Cockerill:
First and most fundamentally, God’s word in the incarnate, obedient, now exalted Son fulfills all that God has said. Therefore, the Son stands in complete continuity with and fulfills all previous revelation. Second, the Old Covenant with its priesthood and sacrifices has always been and continues to be a type of foreshadowing of the full sufficiency of Christ as Savior. It was never meant to be an adequate means of salvation in itself. This relationship between old and new is demonstrated both by the descriptions of the old order in the Pentateuch and and by the promises and intimations of fulfillment in Christ found mostly in the psalms, prophets, and related literature. Third, those who live by faith in the word of God constitute the one people of God throughout history. Their goal has always been and continues to be final entrance into God’s eternal “rest.” Thus the examples of both the faithful and the unfaithful along with God’s promises, warnings, and words of encouragement to his people of old retain their validity with increased urgency because of what Christ has done. To be faithful today is to join the faithful of all time.
To that I say amen and amen!
Any man to-day can learn to read the Greek New Testament if he wants to do it. There are schools in plenty within easy reach of all. But if circumstances close one’s path to the school, there are books in plenty and cheap enough for all. No one to-day has to make his own grammar and lexicon of the Greek New Testament or go without a teacher.
From: A. T. Robertson. The Minister and His Greek New Testament. New York: George H. Doran, 1923. (See ch. 9.)
(HT: Rod Decker).
Biblical theology is that discipline which sets forth the message of the books of the Bible in their historical setting. Biblical theology is primarily a descriptive discipline. It is not initially concerned with the final meaning of the teachings of the Bible or their relevance for today. This is the task of systematic theology. Biblical theology has the task of expounding the theology found in the Bible in its own historical setting, and its own terms, categories, and thought forms
George E. Ladd. A Theology of the New Testament (20).