The New Testament and its Modern Interpreters

Written by Eldon Jay Epp and George W. MacRae (eds) Reviewed By Bruce Chilton

The editors have assembled a series of articles of generally high quality which reflect some of the major developments in the study of the NT since around 1945.

The scope of the volume is nothing less than prodigious. In ‘Part One: The World of the New Testament’, there are articles on Greco-Roman religion and philosophy (A.J. Malherbe), Judaism (A.J. Saldarini), and Qumran (J.M. O’Connor). Malherbe’s article might have opened a little less negatively, in assessing the degree of effort scholars expend within his field, had it been written nearer the end than the beginning of the present decade, but it is a fine, programmatic piece, marred only by a tendency to refer to works without description, and then to comment upon them. By contrast, Saldarini’s early terminus ad quem results in a serious distortion of the current state of the discipline, in that no mention is made of the significant new wave of Targumic studies related to the NT, and the approach to the question of dating rabbinic references is itself dated in the old positivism of discounting sources which are later than the NT, despite the fact that earlier material might be contained within them. On the whole, the volume may be said not to engage seriously with the Judaic milieu of the NT, in that there is no article on Hellenistic Judaism. The piece on Qumran is, as might be expected, competent, but the essay itself makes it obvious that the evidence must now be treated as a part of the complex phenomenon of early Judaism, not as a limited inquiry regarding the possible influence of the sectarians upon the NT.

Part Two presents discussions of ‘Methods of New Testament Scholarship’, including textual criticism (Epp), philology (S. Brown), form and redaction criticism (E.V. McKnight), and literary criticism (W.A. Beardslee). Epp’s essay is lucid and stimulating, and presents just the blend of discussion of issues and reference to bibliography which is characteristic of the volume as a whole at its best. Brown’s contribution is a nice surprise: in the midst of a book concentrated on the state of the discipline, it offers a highly individual and reflective consideration of what it means to study the speech of the NT. ‘Form and Redaction Criticism’ is more typical of the project, in presenting a wide survey of the fields. Beardslee contributes an equally competent survey, but also issues an exciting challenge: to craft an interpretative stance which is equal to the task of providing a theory of meaning.

Part Three informatively discusses ‘The Literature of the New Testament’, and presents discrete chapters on canon (H.Y. Gamble), the Synoptics (H.C. Kee), John (D.M. Smith), Luke and Acts (C.H. Talbert), Paul (V.P. Furnish), Hebrews (P.E. Hughes), James, 1, 2 Peter and Jude (B. A. Pearson), Revelation (E.S. Fiorenza), the ‘Apocrypha’ of the NT (R.M. Wilson), and the Apostolic Fathers (W.R. Schoedel). If there are no surprises in this Part, that is probably because there should not be any, but it is good (and somewhat innovative) to see the last two articles under the category of the literature of the NT.

The last Part treats of ‘Jesus and Christology’ (J. Reumann) and ‘New Testament Theology’ (R.H. Fuller). Both provide a suitable coda, in that they sound the leitmotif of the debt to Bultmann which is heard repeatedly from essay to essay. Perhaps because that is the case, they miss a major development which characterizes the present environment as theologically post-Bultmannian: where Bultmann located the decision of faith where the kerygma differed from Judaism, Jesus and his movement are now seen as describable only within the terms of reference of early Judaism. In that sense, the volume may be said to close with the same weakness with which it opens.

My criticism is only intended to point out that, although the volume usefully surveys the field delineated, there is a movement afoot which is left out, a movement which would both describe Jesus more critically and shift the centre from which a theology based upon the NT would proceed. Epp himself remarks upon the lack of articles on the social world of the NT and feminist interpretation (p. xxv), but both perspectives, particularly the first, do in fact find expression from time to time. Lastly, it might be mentioned that—for a volume which occasionally reads as a bibliography of bibliographies—there are some odd omissions. The index of authors has no mention of W.S. Campbell, C.A. Evans, R.B. Hays, D. Lull, B.B. Scott, W.R. Telford, A.C. Thiselton, and C.M. Tuckett, although all of them have contributed signally to topics which are treated. In addition, some scholars who are mentioned are only referred to for subsidiary contributions, so that R. Bauckham is not mentioned for 2 Peter and Jude, the present writer is not mentioned for the kingdom of God or the Isaiah Targum, P.H. Davids is not mentioned for his commentary on James, and H. Schürmann is not mentioned for redaction criticism. Of course, it was not the intent of the volume to be exhaustive, but at least some of those omissions will be regarded as surprising. Readers who already are at home in the world of analysing the NT will nonetheless find that the volume is an interesting tool of study, and a testament to the vitality of our discipline.

Bruce Chilton

Bard College, New York