Saturday, 28 June 2014

NT Research

In yesterday's post I outlined the eight functional specialties that Lonergan identifies as part of the theological enterprise. In this post I will elaborate upon the first of these--namely, research--with specific reference to New Testament studies. Note that everything that follows will be equally applicable to Hebrew Bible and I would bet also classical studies, but since I am a New Testament scholar I write specifically with that discipline in mind.

Research simply involves gathering and organizing the data relevant for answering one's question. When located within the broader work of theology it prepares the way for scholars working in the next functional specialty, interpretation, which is more or less identical to what New Testament scholars traditionally call "exegesis." When research is thus understood we can immediately grasp that it encompasses the New Testament sub-disciplines known as textual criticism, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, and genre criticism.

That it encompasses textual criticism should require little defense, for the work of textual criticism is precisely to organize what constitutes the "raw" data of New Testament studies, namely the manuscripts in which the New Testament is written. After all, the term "Gospel of Mark," for instance, does not denote a single text but rather it serves as a covering term to reference a set of not-quite-identical yet still-quite-similar texts. Thus texts such as the Nestle-Aland 28 (or the BHS in Hebrew Bible studies) represent not the text of the New Testament but a particular scholarly organization of the relevant data. Such tools as critical apparatuses are designed to aid scholars in quickly identifying potentially relevant diversity in the manuscript tradition. The work of textual criticism also includes the quite important work of dating particular manuscripts, identifying patterns within the manuscript variants, etc. None of this work is interpretation or history proper, in that it neither tells us what the text means or reconstructs specific concrete events, but it all stands as necessary preparatory work without which neither interpretation nor history could proceed.

That source, form, redaction, and genre criticism are research perhaps requires some defense. These are certainly not interpretation in that they are disinterested in the substantial content of the texts (i.e. they are not interested in the question of meaning), but some might well argue that they are history in that they offer to identify the relationship between and the nature of various biblical material. In fact however, whilst the results of these criticisms might well have impact upon the work of history they are not yet history but rather descriptions of literary relationships and literary forms. The judgment that Matthew knew and used the Gospel of Mark and another text called Q does not constitute exegesis and only constitutes history in the most trivial of senses, for history is concerned not primarily with identifying what happened but with why what happened did happen and precisely on in the particular way that it happened. That Matthew used the Gospel of Mark does not tell us what Matthew why Matthew used the Gospel of Mark; only history, building upon the work of interpretation, can tell us that. Likewise, that the Gospel of Matthew represents a genre called Greco-Roman Βιος tells us only about the form of the text; it can have implications for how we interpret the text but it is not yet interpretation proper. So, again, we are at best dealing with the necessary preparatory work without which neither interpretation nor history could proceed.

Many of the great difficulties besetting our discipline stem from the fact that much of what passes for "interpretation" and "history" is in fact simply prep work for actual interpretation and history. Thus we treat the work of research as if it were an end on to itself, without recognizing that by its very nature the work of research represents just the very first steps in the broader work of New Testament studies. Thus we mistake literary relationships for historical relationships. This is never more obvious than we equivocate on the use of the words "Matthew," "Mark," "Luke," and "John," vacillating between using them as references to the respective texts or to the people who wrote the respective texts (what historically has been called the "writer," whether that "writer" denotes a single person or a collective). Sharper clarity on the distinction between literary and historical relationships could only serve to increase the quality of our scholarship.

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