The Face of New Testament Studies. A Survey of Recent Research
McKnight, Scot and Grant R. Osborne, eds., The Face of New Testament Studies. A Survey of Recent Research. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic; Leicester, UK: Apollos, 2004. 544 pp.
Readers within the field of biblical studies are used to finding, periodically, books that advise them of the "state-of-the-art." For the study of the New Testament (NT), this book happens to be the latest in that genre, and by far the best currently available. If you think, "I wonder what is going on in the field of textual criticism?" Or, "Is there anything new to be said about Greek grammar?" "What about Jesus studies, particularly in light of all the press the 'Jesus Seminar' gets?" "Do we know any more about worlds in which the New Testament events occurred—whether materially, culturally, or socially?" Well, this collection of twenty-two essays answers these and many more questions covering the broad sweep of issues germane to the study of the NT. Many of the authors are widely known by those who read regularly in the field, while others' names might be more obscure. Nevertheless, readers will find a uniformly high level of excellence in the essays. The goal of the book as expressed by the editors is to "provide 'macroscopic' overviews of the field and give students a handle on the most important voices in the discipline" (page 9). The essays seek to provide summaries of the latest research and findings, identify leading proponents and positions, and then provide an analysis of where scholarship currently stands on the important issues, and, when appropriate, where things might be headed in the future. Due to space limitations, I will give a brief description of one-half of the essays and only list the others.
The book divides into four parts, part 1, "Context of the New Testament," being the shortest with two only entries. S. Freyne's article considers the social world of Jesus in Galilee and Judea. We learn about the makeup of the Galilee, the social stratification of its inhabitants, and its economic systems. D. Fiensy considers the Roman Empire and Asia Minor in the second essay. Assessing findings concerning the material culture, he addresses the nature of "the God-fearers," Paul in Ephesus and the Emperor cult there, the Asiarchs (see Acts 19:31), the Roman road system, women leaders, the Galatians—he defends the southern view, and various issues surrounding the book of Revelation (e.g., Domitian was not a mad persecutor of Christians).
Part 2 consists of five essays on the general topic of "New Testament Hermeneutics." E. Schnabel brings readers up to date on the discipline of textual criticism and upcoming critical editions. Readers learn of developments and see how fluid is the entire field. S. Porter offers a brief history and assessment of the state of Greek grammars available today and developments that challenge older ways of understanding. Sadly, he avers, virtually all modern grammars still neglect many of the gains in modern linguistic analysis. Sadder, many older works are still quoted as if they reflect the current state of our knowledge of how Greek functions. G. Clark provides a historical overview of "general hermeneutics" and explains how we have arrived at the current post-modern situation. D. DeSilva surveys the state of social-scientific criticism as practiced within NT studies. He distinguishes "social description," which assesses social and cultural realities, from the use of social-scientific "models" that seek to explain behaviors, structures, and patterns reflected in the NT texts. C. Evans revisits the crucial topic of the use of the Old Testament in the New. He covers Jewish exegesis in antiquity and how the NT writers did or did not employ these tactics. He cites numerous examples across the entire NT. Why was the OT used so extensively? Evans concludes: "because of the conviction that Scripture speaks to every significant situation" (p. 145).
Part 3, "Jesus" contains four essays. S. McKnight seeks to analyze the tendency to "enmesh" Jesus—forever a danger whenever people seek to understand Jesus. Now, of course, the tendency is to modernize Jesus. What methodology enables the scholar to understand Jesus? Where should Jesus be situated: Hellenism or Judaism, and if the latter, what kind of Jew was he? K. Snodgrass assesses where we stand in the interpretation of Jesus' parables, while G. Twelftree considers the miracles in the story of Jesus. Was Jesus a Jewish holy man or a magician? Should accounts of miracles be viewed out as creations of the early church, explained rationally, or allowed to stand as historically likely? Clearly one's presuppositions largely determine the answers to these questions. C. Blomberg focuses on the portrayal of Jesus in John's gospel. He engages in a historical survey of Johannine studies and allows there is still much work to be done.
Finally, Part 4 considers "Earliest Christianity," a series of eleven essays on the state of affairs in studies in the remaining sections of the NT. In sequence, S. Walton discusses the multi-dimensional status of Acts studies; B. Chilton considers James, Jesus' brother; D. Hagner writes on Matthew—whether the gospel reflects Christian Judaism or Jewish Christianity; B. Fish on Paul's life and letters; J. Dunn on Paul's theology; D. Bock on Luke; R. Webb on the Petrine epistles; P. Bolt on Mark's gospel; G. Guthrie on Hebrews' first century context; K. Scholtissek on the Johannine Gospel; and G. Osborne on the Apocalypse. While some of these essays are longer than are others, readers will not be disappointed or wonder if some current issues have been neglected.
Space does limit how much detail each author can include, but a major contribution of the volume is the extensive footnotes and documentation so readers can pursue many issues further from these resources alone. The perspective of most of the writers is conservative if not evangelical, but unlike some of those in the more liberal wing of scholarship who do not read works by evangelicals, these authors cover the waterfront in their attempts to assess the issues.
So, if you wish to know what NT scholars are currently up to; or if you wish to know how we have gotten to the place we now are; or if you want to know who have been and are the key players in the major areas of NT studies; or if you want to know where the trends in NT scholarship are currently going; or if you have to take comprehensive exams and need to have an overview of the entire field of NT studies (!)—this is a good book to read. You may not agree with the trends or some of the conclusions, but you will discover what is the state of affairs in NT research.