3.0 Interpreting the New Testament documents
Lecture Notes for 3.0.1 - 
Religion 102 /  305 / 314
Last revised: 3/10/05
Contained below is a manuscript summarizing the class lecture(s) covering the above specified range of topics from the List of Topics. For updated information about the class  see the class announcement board. Quite often hyperlinks (underlined) to sources of information etc. will be inserted in the text of the lecture. These should be consulted as possible sources for answering either the Objective Questions (Exam 1 option) or the Take-Home Questions (Exam 3 option). Test questions for all three exam options will be derived in part from these lectures. To display the Greek text contained in this page download and install the free BSTGreek True Type fonts from Bible Study Tools. OT Apocrypha OT Pseudepigrapha NT Apocrypha
3.1.1 The Historical Aspects 3.1.2 The Literary Aspects Historical Criticism Source Criticism Form Criticism Redaction Criticism Social Scientific Exegesis Literary Criticism Narrative Criticism Rhetorical Criticism The Temptation of Jesus
Freed NOSB (Metzger) Harris NOSB3 (Coogan)

         How do we understanding the documents of the New Testament? Isn't it possible just simply to read them and understand what they are talking about? Sometimes in the midst of such different views of Christianity the thought easily comes: What is wrong with Christians? Shouldn't Christianity be easy to understand? If it is based on the writings in the Bible, then why isn't the Bible simple and easy to comprehend?
        This feeling is a very natural one, but it misses some very important points. First, for the Bible to be simple for us to understand it would need to have been written by Americans living at the beginning of the twenty-first century who think the way we do and view life as we do. But Christianity has been around for two thousand years, which means it came out of a very different culture and time than ours. Second, because of this reality the Bible we most of us read is a translation of the documents originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek. Languages always reflect the view of reality and life of the culture in which they exist. Third, thus Bible translation must find ways to comprehend that ancient way of looking at reality that, for example, the first Christian century Koine Greek New Testament reflects. Then Bible translation has to find ways to interpret that perspective into American English expressions that make sense to us, as well as accurately reflect the ideas in the original Greek text of the New Testament. This is no easy task and requires enormous levels of skills and insights by the Bible translator.
        But even the best English translation of the Bible communicates only a small percentage of the ideas present in the original language texts. In order to gain maximum, and more accurate understanding of the ideas in the Bible we must interpret the biblical texts. How? By using correct, helpful procedures that open up the ideas of the biblical texts in richer, more spiritually healthy ways.
        In chapter three we will explore the ways of interpreting the New Testament that have been developed primarily since the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. A wide variety of methods have emerged as a consequence of Martin Luther's emphasis on sola scriptura (the scriptures as the sole foundation for Christian belief and practice). Also, these methods have been shaped by events and trends going on in the surrounding society and culture. Correct understanding of each method is impossible without some awareness of the surrounding society and culture. These aspects will be included as we work our way through an introduction to the various methodologies.
        A word about labels. Most of the interpretative methods have their origin in Europe, not in America. A majority of them began in Germany. Consequently, the commonly used label for each methodology represents a translation of some sort from German into English. This has had mixed results, in large part because the translation process hasn't always been done well or accurately. Most of the English labels will include the word 'criticism' based on the German word Kritik. Real misunderstanding will occur if the English language reader fails to understand that the German word Kritik in this context is closer to the English word 'technical' than it is to the English word 'criticism.' Thus for the English language student, the label Historical Criticism doesn't mean a criticism of the history that may be connected to the Bible; rather, it simply means a technical study of the history connected to the Bible. New Testament critics in this setting are not criticizing the New Testament; instead, they are engaging in serious interpretative study of the New Testament using highly refined technical procedures. To be sure, this can and does mean occasional criticism of some interpretative traditions about the New Testament. Both good and bad interpretative perspectives have emerged over the past two thousand years. But the vast majority of internationally known New Testament scholars with whom I've had the opportunity to work with over the past 30 years both in the United States and especially in Europe are dedicated Christians and active church members.

3.0.1 Non-Canonical Documents
        This is a seemingly strange place to begin a study of interpretative methods, until one realizes that most of these documents, which are not found in a Protestant Bible, represent very ancient interpretative efforts of either the Old Testament or the New Testament. Thus they become informative examples of the interpretative process as it was practiced in the beginning eras of the Christian movement. Our glance at these will emphasize this aspect, rather than attempt an in-depth analysis of these materials.
        The first two sections below, the OT Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, treat documents arising out of Judaism and somewhat related to the Hebrew scriptures. These documents came into existence during the inter-testamental period through the first Christian century. The third section, the NT Apocrypha, refers to documents arising from the second through the fourth centuries of the Christian era. Old Testament Apocrypha
        These writings1 provide the reader with very helpful insights into how the Judaism before and during Jesus' day understood the Pentateuch portion of the OT especially. From these materials we can better understand the nature and content of the dominant Jewish religious perspectives that Jesus and the apostles grew up in and later came to challenge. Also these documents reflect a wide array of literary forms, genre, many of which are found also in the New Testament. For example, the Book of Revelation in the NT follows a literary pattern, the apocalyptic, found in 2 Esdras.
        Christians and Jews over the centuries have held different views regarding these documents (For more detailed discussion, see NOSB, AP, v-viii.). Within the New Testament no writer directly quotes any passage from any of these dozen or so documents. But several NT writers make allusions to materials found in these documents.2  Other writers, like James, draw heavily on concepts and images found in the documents. Compare Jas 1.19 with Sir 5:11.
        After the apostolic era, i.e., the first Christian century, the church fathers began taking divergent views about the value and usefulness of the OT Apocrypha. During the second and third centuries most of the Latin and Greek church father treated these materials the same way as the documents of the Old Testament and frequently cited from them as authoritative sources of divine revelation. However, beginning in the fourth century Greek fathers including Eusebius, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem et al. began to distinguish between these documents and those in the Old Testament. Varying opinions continued to exist in the eastern Orthodox Christian tradition until at the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672 Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom were expressly designated as canonical. In the west, Latin Christianity has tended to hold these documents in higher esteem than in the east. The Protestant Reformation in the 1500s brought major segments of Christianity into making very sharp distinctions between the Old Testament documents as being sacred scripture and the OT Apocrypha as not. Roman Catholic reaction was climaxed by the declaration of the Council of Trent in 1546 pronouncing anathema upon any one who refused to accept the OT Apocrypha as sacred scripture.
        As an example of the way the OT Apocrypha viewed the documents of the OT, especially the Pentateuch, consider the book of Tobit. Begin by reading the introduction to Tobit in the NOSB, AP, 1-2; then, read through the text paying careful attention to the footnoted references to references to OT passages that provide background understanding. The unknown author composed this document in Hebrew or Aramaic around 225 to 175 B.C., very likely in Palestine. Use was made of three well known secular folk takes which were woven into a heroic story about Tobit and was set in Nineveh after the Assyrian invasion of the Northern Kingdom in the 700s. Chapters 1-3 deal mostly with the religious devotion and faithfulness of Tobit to the Torah, chapters 13-14 relate a vision of a new Jerusalem and temple, and the remainder of the story emphasizes daily piety by the faithful Jew, Tobit, living in the Diaspora. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
        In addition to the deutero-canonical documents not included in Protestant versions of the Old Testament, several other ancient Jewish writings came into existence from the time toward the end of the Old Testament era until into the beginning centuries of the common era (For greater detail, see the NOSB, AP, xi-xii). Most of these writings pre-date Christian beginnings and thus provide additional understanding of the developing Jewish religion that Jesus and the apostles encountered during their ministries, as well as contemporary Jewish perspectives to that presented in the New Testament. These writings are called pseudepigraphical writings because the label means 'false writings' in the sense that most of these documents are attributed to heroic figures during the Old Testament era, but these individuals had absolutely nothing to do with the composition of the documents using their name as author. In fact, the documents did not come into existence until hundreds of years after the time of the OT individuals with whom they are associated.
        Yet, this deception about authorship does not diminish their value as sources of insight about formative Judaism in the Second Temple period. The variety of genre, ranging from letter to apocalypse, serves as a background model to similar genre found in the New Testament. The developing belief systems, especially the eschatological aspects of Messianic hope [i.e., the Book of Enoch], expose the reader to the wide array of Jewish religious thought in the world of Jesus.  The Letter of Aristeas contains the legends surrounding the origin of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. Some of these documents were circulated and used in early Christian circles, such as 4 Maccabees, although never considered as authoritative scripture. New Testament Apocrypha
        Along with the Church Fathers, these documents provide important insight into how the teachings of Jesus and the apostles were understood by widely divergent groups of Christians in the centuries immediately after the ministries of Christ and the apostles. The NT apocrypha reflects mostly a gnostic interpretation of Christianity that flourished during the early part of this period, whereas the Church Fathers reflect the understanding of Christianity that became foundational for Roman Catholicism in the west and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Among Protestants these documents are receiving considerable attention in a 'origins of Christianity' emphasis.
        The NT apocryphal documents reflect a wide array of genre beyond what is found in the canonical documents but including those in the canonical NT. Thus, the comparison of texts in both the apocrypha and the canonical NT with the same genre becomes a very helpful point of study in order to better understand the canonical NT text as well as the later view of Christian interpretation. Comparative study of the materials can significantly enhance one's understanding the the canonical documents.
        Several internet gateways contain English translations, along with Greek texts, of these documents:
               Early Christian Writings
               Non-Canonical Literature Homepage
               Bible Resources Sites NT Apocryphal Gospels
        Several documents have become known in the last several centuries that fall into this category. They tend to fall into three groupings: (1) those with a basically narrative format somewhat like the canonical four gospels, (2) the infancy gospels that supposedly tell more details about the pre-public ministry life of Jesus, and (3) the sayings gospels. For English translations of many of these documents, see the Non-Canonical homepage and Jesus of Nazareth in Early Christian Gospels.
        In the first category the following are included: the Gospel of Peter, the Secret Gospel of Mark, the Egerton Gospel, the Oxyrhynchus 840 Gospel, the Gospel Of The Hebrews, the Gospel Of The Ebionites, the Gospel Of The Nazoreans, the Gospel of Barnabas, and the Gospel of Nicodemus (see Acts of Pilate). Among the infancy gospels are the Infancy Gospel of James, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and the Birth of Mary. Included in the sayings gospels, which contain only accounts of what Jesus supposedly taught rather than also what he did, are the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Secret Book of James, the Secret Book of John, the Dialogue of the Savior, the Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel, and Epistula Apostolorum. This third category of gospel genre reflects the heavy influence of the Jewish wisdom literary tradition. Additionally, these documents suggest the essential literary nature of the Q source that Matthew and Luke heavily drew upon in the composition of their gospels, although none of these gospels themselves gained a place in the canon of the New Testament. These are but some of this type of documents arising in post-apostolic Christianity.
        During the period (app. 100- 500 AD) when the authoritative documents that would eventually make up the canonical New Testament were being determined, these gospel documents arose and were used in certain Christian communities as authoritative sources for understanding Christian faith and practice. Gradually, the often times dramatically different view of Christianity found in them led to their rejection by so-called orthodox Christianity. For more details on this see the section on canonization in topic 1.6.
        The article in the Encyclopedia Britannica states the issues well: "As the New Testament canon was gradually given definite shape, these apocryphal books came to be excluded, first from public reading in churches, then from private reading as well. With the development of creeds and of systematic theologies based on the nascent canon, the apocryphal books were neglected and suppressed. Most of them have survived only in fragments, although a few have been found in Greek and Coptic papyri from Egypt. They are valuable to the historian primarily because of the light they cast on popular semi-orthodox beliefs and on Gnostic revisions of Christianity; occasionally, they may contain fairly early traditions about Jesus and his disciples. In the 3rd century, Neoplatonists (followers of the philosopher Plotinus, who advocated a system of levels of  reality) joined Christians in attacking such books as 'spurious,' 'modern,' and 'forged.'
        "The difficulties the New Testament apocryphal books caused at the end of the 2nd century are well illustrated in a letter by Serapion, bishop of Antioch. He stated that he accepts Peter and the other apostles “as Christ” but rejects what is falsely written in their name. When some Christians showed him the Gospel of Peter, he allowed them to read it, but after further investigation he discovered that its teaching about Christ was false, and he had to withdraw his permission.
        "In the early 4th century Eusebius himself found it difficult to create categories for the various books then in circulation or used by earlier authors. He seems to have concluded that the books could be called “acknowledged,” “disputed,” “spurious,” and absolutely rejected. Thus, the Acts of Paul, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Gospel According to the Hebrews were rather well attested, and he called them spurious but disputed. He definitely rejected books used by heretics but not by church writers: the gospels ascribed to Peter, Thomas, and Matthias, and the Acts of Andrew, John, and other apostles. About a century earlier, the North African theologian Tertullian had written about how a presbyter who wrote the Acts of Paul had been deposed.
        "Without reference to the standards of canonicity and orthodoxy gradually being worked out by the churches of the 2nd through 4th centuries, it is evident that many of these books reflect the kinds of rather incoherent Christian thought that church leaders were trying to prune and shape from the 1st century onward. Often such works represented what was later viewed as inadequate orthodoxy because the views presented had become obsolete. All the apocrypha taken together show the variety of expression from which the canon was a critical selection." NT Apocryphal Acts
        In the canonical New Testament one finds the Acts of the Apostles as the lone example of the early history of the Christian movement. Additional writings in this genre intended to supplement and expand the information found in the canonical NT document. These documents include the Acts of Peter, the Acts of John, the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Andrew, the Acts of Thomas, and the Acts of Pilate, which are generally considered as the more important of these documents. For the English translation texts of 25 of these documents see the Non-Canonical homepage. Many of the early church traditions about the activities of the original twelve apostles have their origin in these documents. The historical reliability of the data in these documents is not very great, and thus what is said about the activities of the apostles is seldom to be taken seriously. But, they do serve to help the modern Bible student better understand how these first century Christian leaders were viewed in subsequent centuries.
        Regarding the genre issue for these documents the online Encyclopedia Britannica article states the questions well: "The various acts, close in form and content to the contemporary Hellenistic romances, turned the apostolic drama into melodrama and satisfied the popular taste for stories of travel and adventure, as well as for a kind of asceticism that was generally rejected by Christian leaders: Andrew (including the Acts of Andrew and Matthias Among the Cannibals), Barnabas (a companion of St. Paul), Bartholomew, John (with semi-Gnostic traits), Paul (including the Acts of Paul and Thecla, with a Christian version of the story of Androcles and the lion), Peter—with the apostle's question to the risen Lord, “Lord, where are you going?” (“Domine, quo vadis?”) and Peter's crucifixion upside down, Philip, Thaddaeus (his conversion of a king of Edessa), and Thomas (with the Gnostic “Hymn of the Pearl”)." NT Apocryphal Letters
        This grouping of apocryphal documents typically goes beyond, although including, documents written in an ancient letter format. These include the Teachings of Addeus the Apostle, the Epistle of the Apostles, Community Rule, the Apocryphon of James, the Correspondence of Jesus and Abgar, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, John the Evangelist, the Apocryphon of John , the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathaea, the Epistle to the Laodiceans, the Correspondence of Paul and Seneca, the Prayer of the Apostle Paul, the Letter of Peter to Philip, the Letter of Pontius Pilate to the Roman Emperor, the Report of Pilate to Caesar, the Report of Pilate to Tiberius, the Pistis Sophia, the Avenging of the Saviour, the Three Steles of Seth, and the Book of Thomas the Contender.
        Although not a part of the NT Apocrypha, the letters of the Apostolic Fathers constitute an important source of early second century documents reflecting the subsequent influence in Christian tradition of the letter format especially as developed by the apostle Paul. These include the letters of Polycarp, Clement, Ignatius, and Barnabas. NT Apocryphal Apocalypses
        Among the non-canonical apocalypses are the Apocalypse of Peter (Akhmîm), the Apocalypse of Peter (Gnostic), the Apocalypse of Paul (Visio Pauli), the Apocalypse of Paul (Gnostic), the Book of Thomas (the Contender), the Apocalypse of Thomas,  I, II Apocalypse of James, and the Questions of Bartholomew.
        As set forth in the online Encyclopedia of Britannica article, "other than the Revelation to John, which some early Christian writers rejected, there are apocalypses ascribed to two Jameses, the Virgin Mary, Paul, Peter, Philip, Stephen, and Thomas. Only the Apocalypse of Peter won any significant acceptance and is important for its vivid description of the punishment of the wicked.
        "In addition, it should be noted that there were apocryphal books with titles not so closely related to the New Testament. Among these are: the Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (and its later revisions, such as the Didascalia Apostolorum, or the “Teaching of the Apostles,” and the Apostolic Constitutions), and the Kerygma of Peter, a favourite at Alexandria, as well as various Gnostic works, such as The Dialogue of the Redeemer, Pistis Sophia (“Faith-Wisdom”), and the Sophia Jesu Christi (“Wisdom of Jesus Christ”). From the 5th century there is even a Testamentum Domini (“Testament of the Lord”), an expansion of the 2nd–3rd-century Roman Church leader and theologian Hippolytus' Apostolic Tradition."

3.1. The Historical and Literary Aspects of a Text
        Every written text possesses both historical and literary aspects, whether composed today or two thousand years ago. Biblical interpretation centers on the interpretation of a pericope, a natural unit of text material, of scripture text. Any interpretative approach that can be considered legitimate must respect these aspects and seek to devise methods that take both into account. In the history of biblical interpretation, appreciation of this nature of written texts did not emerge seriously until the Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation. Gradually, over the past four hundred years biblical scholars have come to recognize that they could profit immeasurably by learning from their colleagues working in the fields of history and literature. In western Christianity this appreciation has blossomed in the last half of the twentieth century.
        Every student of the Bible must then become sensitive to these aspects of the biblical text. To be sure, interpretative skills in utilizing the insights of historical and literary methods will vary greatly from the beginner to the seasoned scholar. But, the essential method of interpretation remains the same at what ever skill level the Bible student is working. The objective here is to introduce the beginning to these aspects so that he/she can begin learning how to incorporate them into a program of reading and studying the scripture.
        These aspects can be charted as follows:

Historical Aspects: Literary Aspects:
1. External Aspects 1. External Aspects
2. Internal Aspects 2 Internal Aspects

3.1.1. The Historical Aspects
        One very foundational presupposition needing to be examined is the definition of history.
        From a contemporary perspective the Meriam-Webster online dictionary gives as the first definition: "a chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes." This understanding views history as a depiction of events as that unfold with the passing of time. Thus determining an exact sequence of chronology is important. The establishment of an accurate chronology using legitimate, scientifically based procedures to evaluate the source materials is crucial. The inability to achieve this because of inadequate and/or unreliable sources of information cripples the historian in the goal of writing a history. Another important aspect of this definition: the determination of significant events. The contemporary historian, of necessity, will have to use interpretative judgment in sorting out what is significant and what isn't. Inevitably differences of opinion will surface among historians at this point. A third part of this definition in the parenthesis "(as affecting a nation or institution)" highlights the perspective of history being primarily focused on larger groups of people. History is not primarily the story of an individual; such falls into the literary category of biography, and even then relates only persons viewed as unusually significant to a larger group of people. The final part of the definition, "often including an explanation of their causes," reflects the Enlightenment influence that human events take place in a cause/effect interconnection, and that making sense of a sequence of events -- at the heart of much of modern historical methodology -- can only be accomplished by detecting this causal connection between events. For many modern historians, the basic value and worth of doing history at all is found here. A final observation: implicit in this definition of history is the view that legitimate history is the story of human activity exclusively. Outside divine activity lies beyond the boundaries of legitimate history. Thus religion can only become a part of history as it shapes the actions and attitudes of the humans whose activities become the stuff of history. A theological value judgment about deity and religion is fundamentally wrong and inappropriate as a part of history. History is the story of people; mythology is the story of gods.
        This modern view of history bears virtually no resemblance to the view of history in the ancient world. Several differences are present. First, e.g., in the Greek speaking world there were no historians like in our world. The online Meriam-Webster dictionary points to this in its etymological treatment of the word 'history': "Latin historia, from Greek, inquiry, history, from hist Or, ist Or knowing, learned; akin to Greek eidenai to know."  The ancient Greek terms relating to history point to the fact that history was a subdivision of philosophy. The Greek noun usually translated as 'history', iJstoriva (historia), comes from the Greek verb iJstorevw (historeo) meaning to 'inquire into or about a thing,' with the derivative meaning of giving an account of what one has learned. The basic meanings of the noun iJstoriva itself are 'inquiry,' 'knowledge,' written account of what one has learned.' The meaning 'history' is a very secondary use of the word. A compound verb form iJstoriografevw (historiographeo) means to 'write history.' The personal noun iJstoriovgrafo" (historiographos) means a writer of history in the sense of a chronicler, distinct from the term suggrafeuv" (sungrapheus) which means a writer of contemporary history somewhat like a modern newspaper reporter. The ancient view simply emphasized an inquiry into the past, or the present.
        Why? In general this inquiry was made as a source of insight for the development of a distinct way of viewing life and reality, that is, the development of a filosofiva (philosophia) that provided a basis for living and coping day to day. This philosophy became the mental filter through which daily life experiences would be interpreted; the wise person was the one who could most successfully comprehend daily experience and determine how to best use it for personal advancement. His philosophy played a vital role in correct and beneficial comprehension of these experiences.
        Thus history was merely a tool of philosophy. One very large implication flowed from this. The ancient world had no interest in determining a 'factual history.' Not much concern to distinguish between actual occurrence and legends and myths existed in ancient inquiries into the past. In fact, little need to make such distinctions was present simply because integrating insights from the past into a philosophy for living in the present created no pressure to distinguish between fact and fiction. The past was of value only as it helped one cope with the present; whether or not something actually happened was immaterial to its value for the present. Often legendary material provided greater insight and thus was readily incorporated into the historical account.
        Second, ancient views of history were not confined to a 'horizontal plane' of mere human experience. Ancient history included the activities of the gods as an essential ingredient of history. What we would call 'theological value statements' and thus exclude for legitimate history writing the ancient world considered entirely appropriate and important for a history to be insightful and thus helpful. The intersection of the supernatural and the natural worlds was viewed as a basic ingredient of human experience, and thus a historical assessment of this would be entirely appropriate.
        In light of these very different views of history inevitable tension will surface when treating the historical aspects of an ancient written text. Modern views of history are the Bible student's starting point simply because this is the world we live in and that shapes our ways of thinking. Yet, consideration of the ancient view is also critical so as to not bend us out of shape when methodologies based on modern definitions draw blanks and cannot reach satisfactory levels of certainty. This difference in viewing history will lead to gaps in our understanding. And the gaps should not fester into skepticism and doubt thus undermining what can be learned with confidence. Honest inquiry will lead to some gaps that we must learn to live with. The External History of the Text:
        The external history of the text simply refers to the history of the composition of the text, that is, the historical aspects of bringing the text into existence. These are the typical reporter type questions: Who wrote the text? When was it written? To whom was it written? Where was it written? Why was it written? These issues emerge out of the historical critical method and are the heart of the formal discipline termed New Testament Introduction.
        Methodologically, the most legitimate way of approaching this issue is to develop two distinct author profiles:
        One from the external sources. Outside of the letters of Paul most of the documents of the NT are anonymous, strictly speaking,  in the sense that nothing inside the document itself names the author. For example, none of the four canonical gospels identifies its author by name. The title of each gospel appearing at the beginning of English translations simply paraphrases a Greek title that was added to the copied manuscripts as much as a century after the composition of the document for identification purposes. These titles reflect the dominant early church tradition regarding whom they believed to be responsible for the documents existence. Once this tradition is identified, it needs to be examined from all the available sources inside and outside the New Testament to learn as much as possible about the individual associated with the document, e.g., Mark in association with the second gospel. Sometimes the NT will provide some insight. The easiest way to find this information is to use an online Bible concordance such as http://bible.crosswalk.com. Also important for the external sources based profile is to check the early church traditions. The church fathers are important sources of such information, in particular Origen and Eusebius.
        The other from inside the text document itself. Here the Bible student does a detailed study of the contents of the entire document in which the passage is located. The procedures of literary criticism, in particular narrative criticism in the gospels and Acts, provide the foundational methods for doing the analysis. Such things as the Greek vocabulary and style of writing found in the document tell much about the composer of the document. For example, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts reflect some of the highest literary skills in using the Greek language that can be found in the entire Greek New Testament. This means that the author of these two documents possessed above average skill and training in the Greek language. In addition, particular writing traits emerge for such careful study of the document under consideration. For example, Luke-Acts reflects an unusually great sensitivity to expressing ideas in Greek exactly the same way one finds in the LXX, the Greek translation of the OT. This strongly suggests that the author of Luke-Acts was quite familiar with this Greek translation of the Old Testament to the extent that he expressed himself using its distinctive patterns that would not have been considered natural in regular expression of the same ideas in 'secular' Greek. In addition to the author's use of the Greek language in composing a document, his purpose and literary strategy in setting forth his ideas need to be examined. For examining the literary strategy, the methods of rhetorical criticism provide helpful insight. For those documents that internally name the supposed author, this must be taken into consideration, but not naively accepted. Most of the NT Apocrypha documents do contain named authors but very few scholars would seriously accept these claims, and with good reason.
        For the beginning Bible student with minimal skills in using these literary methods basic help can be gleaned from New Testament introductions, study Bibles, Bible dictionaries and Bible encyclopedias. Some of these sources are available online, but often represent very inferior tools that are quite outdated. A couple of web based New Testament gateways are major sources of finding these kinds of tools: Resource Pages for Biblical Studies and Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway. The tools in the Analysis Paper listing provide the best printed version sources.
        Once the two author profiles are developed they need to be compared to each other. Are they compatible? Do serious tensions exist between them? The greater the compatibility, the more reliable are the early church traditions regarding the composition of the document. But when serious tensions exist between these two profiles, careful scholarship would place less credibility on the early church traditions. One needs to remember: the canonicity of the document isn't at stake here; rather the determination of the human source of the document. Historical exegesis needs to know as much about the origin of the document as can be honestly determined from careful research. This means that theological bias and preconceptions need to be set aside and an honest use of the best available methods for examining these issues should be followed. Anything less that this can't qualify as legitimate scholarship! When was the text written?
        The general time frame of the composition of the document is usually quite helpful for interpreting individual passages inside the document. Of course, the importance varies from document to document inside the New Testament, as well as from passage to passage within a document. For the four canonical gospels in particular redactional criticism provides essential insight into this determination. The assessment of the believing communities as the initial targeted readership helps to explain the distinctive approach often found in an individual gospel document. The insights of form criticism also are valuable in laying a foundation for understanding the time frame of the composition of a document. With the letters in the New Testament determining a time frame for them becomes important with a few rare exceptions such as James. Thus considerable effort should be spent developing a reconstruction of the life and ministry of Paul as a background to interpreting his writings. An historical background to the general letters that includes assessments of the time of writing is important but typically not as important as with Paul.
        The level of importance for the time of writing issue will vary from one passage to another inside a document. When the issues within a passage deal with a specific event in the life of the author such as Paul, knowing when the author wrote about this becomes important, and sometimes crucial for understanding exactly what he is talking about. Several passages within Matthew's gospel become much clearer with the realization of when this material was written after a process of decades long oral transmission.
       Again, the tools for determining these issues include the historical critical commentaries, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, NT introductions and study Bibles. Where was the text written?
        Identifying where a document was written is important in varying degrees depending upon the nature of the document. Usually determining the location of the composition of the document is closely linked to the issue of whom the document was written to. For example, a common redactional critical conclusion regarding the place of composition builds off the statement of Ignatius the bishop of Antioch in Syria ca 110-115 C.E. and sees the gospel composed in this region during the 70s of the first Christian century. Identification of place sometimes plays a significant role in the interpretative process. Paul's letter to the Galatian churches is a case in point. Identifying Corinth as the location of the composition of this letter either toward the end of the second missionary journey or during the third missionary journey necessitates his statement in Gal 1:6 as "so quickly you are turning from the one who called you" as meaning "so quickly after I visited you...", whereas the identification of the location as Antioch at the close of the first missionary journey leads this statement to be understood as "so quickly after your conversion...." Yet for some documents in the New Testament this identification is not of major importance to the interpretation of its contents. Most of the general letters in the NT would be examples of this. By whom was the text written?
        This issue is usually labeled 'authorship' concerns.
        One very big caution needs to be observed here. The Meriam-Webster online dictionary defines author as "one that originates or creates." This idea usually suggests nowadays the picture of a writer setting at a computer typing out the text of a literary work. One person is producing the work from thinking up the ideas to creating the written product that is submitted to someone else for publication. The online Encyclopedia Britannica article adds these insights: "one who is the source of some form of intellectual or creative work; especially, one who composes a book, article, poem, play, or other literary work intended for publication. Usually a distinction is made between an author and others (such as a compiler, an editor, or a translator) who assemble, organize, or manipulate literary materials. Sometimes, however, the title of author is given to one who compiles material (as for publication) in such a way that the finished compilation can be regarded as a relatively original work. The word is ultimately from the Latin auctor, 'authorizer, responsible agent, originator, or maker.'”
        In this contemporary U.S. perspective, then plagiarizing becomes "transitive senses : to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source intransitive senses : to commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source" (online Meriam-Webster dictionary under 'plagiarizing') Thus, identifying the true author is very important because copyright issues are at stake. Also, royalty payments from publishers are involved. The author transfers 'ownership' of his/her ideas in written expression to the publisher who then make money from selling the published expression of them. For someone else to take these ideas and sell them is not only morally wrong but is illegal because it represents theft.
        This way of looking at the issue of authorship is a modern western viewpoint created by the printing press and publishing companies needing to generate income for survival. None of these things existed in the ancient world.  No printing press, no publishing companies, no royalties to authors, no legal tradition defining ownership of 'intellectual property' etc.
        Consequently, the issue of authorship takes on different definitional boundaries in the ancient world. Two aspects of this bear emphasizing for our purposes here. (1) The composition of documents in the ancient world was a far more complicated process than in our world. Most documents, outside of personal letters that tended to be equivalent to about one half page on modern paper( i.e., download into a file document 3 John which is longer than the norm for that time) took weeks and months to compose because of the primitive writing tools available. The task of doing the actual writing was normally turned over to a professional scribe called an amanuensis who had specialized training in taking down oral dictation and then later composing a full document from dictated notes. Paul's letters were composed this way; Tertius is identified in Rom. 16:22 as the one who wrote Romans and Silas is so identified as having written 1 Peter in 1 Pet. 5:12. Thus the term 'author' becomes muddled somewhat in this ancient way of composing documents. (2) Writing under another's name in that world was considered a way to complement the well known person. Pseudonymity was not a bad action in that world. No theft of ideas was involved; no publisher was around to take legal action. And so on. Considerable indication exists that the schools of disciples or the 'communities' associated with a Paul or a John felt a divine mandate to produce materials in the name of their leader as a way to continue his teaching that addressed subsequent needs in the community. While our world views such negatively, the ancient world had the opposite attitude.
        In light of these distinctions between our world and the ancient world, the issue of authorship should be appropriately addressed within the framework of ancient perspectives. To impose modern definitions exclusively on to this issue with documents in the New Testament is to not play fair with those documents as well as to create some impossible-to-answer questions that were of no interest to the ancient world. We have to learn to live with some uncertainty here. Find out as much as can be legitimately determined with confidence and resist the impulse to overstate the data. To whom was the text written?
        This question has different levels of importance as well. For the canonical gospels identifying the communities the gospels were initially speaking to -- by using Redactional Critical procedures -- is very important to detailed understanding of the individual passages.
        This insight plays a critical role in helping to explain the distinctive presentation of an event in Jesus' life by a given gospel writer when that same event is describe in one or two other gospels, e.g., the temptation of Jesus. Apart from research here one is at a loss to explain why Matthew sequences the three examples of temptation differently from Luke. The Jewish messianic emphasis of Matthew guided this sequence, while Luke's temple emphasis in his gospel guided his sequence. Neither was particularly concerned with chronology, rather their theological intent guided the pattern of presentation.
        With the 'real' letters in the Pauline section of the New Testament, this determination of addressees of each letter is very essential to interpreting the passages inside the letters. Reading his letters have often been characterized as like listening to one side of a phone conversation. So much understanding of the party on the 'other end of the phone line' is assumed by the writer that the more one knows about that other party the more sense one can make out of the letter. The importance of this ranges from the most difficult of Paul's letters, 2 Corinthians, to the least significant reader identity letter in Romans. Yet, in each letter in the Pauline corpus the more we can know about the initial readers the better we can understand the contents of the letters.
        With the so-called General Epistles (also called the catholic letters) reader identity tends to be of lesser importance. This is in part because some of these documents are not true letters, namely Hebrews and James. They merely contain segments of ancient letters but basically are in the genre of ancient Jewish homily. Thus these two documents are addressed very broadly to Jewish Christians without specific geographical location. The letters of John have similar broadly defined recipients without geographical identity, as do Jude and 2 Peter. 1 Peter identifies the recipients as located in the northern coastal region along the southern edge of the Black Sea, but still in very broad categories. In spite of these limitations identifying all that is possible about the situation of the initial readers of these letters still plays a helpful role in the interpretative process.
        A foundational tool for this is again the Historical Critical methodology. The formal discipline of New Testament Introduction has concentrated on these issues since the late 1700s in western Christian scholarship. The discoveries of archaeologists and others have helped to vastly expand our knowledge of how the ancient world lived and functioned. This growing reservoir of historical understanding can only enhance the work of the serious Bible student in a quest to understand the New Testament in terms of the world into which it was born and within which it functioned at the beginning. The Internal History of the Text
        Whereas the external history of the text probes issues related to the composition of the text, the internal history explores references to occurrences and movements through time and space that are found within the passage itself. Particularly in narrative type passages the depiction of an event builds on identifying when and where kinds of aspects in order to describe clearly what took place. Very helpful is to spend time studying the geography, culture, and history of the first century world, especially that of Palestine. Some awareness of the basics is essential to Bible interpretation.
        Numerous tools exist that can provide very good insight; one especially helpful volume is Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson. The formal discipline called New Testament Backgrounds or NT History emphasizes study in these areas. All of this is an outgrowth of the emergence of Historical Criticism as an interpretative method. Identifying time and place markers inside the text
        As a contribution to the historical methodology and also to the narrative critical methodology the identification of the locations of and the movements through time and space inside a scripture passage need to be identified. This identification becomes more important typically for narrative passages than for didactic passages, but often plays an important role in both. The historical critical concerns focus on learning when and where this event took place.
        In the temptation of Jesus narrative, for example, all three gospel accounts indicate that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the "wilderness." Where is that located? A study of Bible dictionaries and commentaries will provide the answer, so that the Bible reader has some sense of where this event took place geographically. Walter Harrelson under "Desert" in the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible says that the word Desert in the Bible means " a wilderness area, rather than pure desert, characterized by wild animals, little vegetation, few areas suitable for agriculture, and in general a dearth of water. The area south of Judah, called the NEGEB, and the wilderness of the SINAI peninsula re the chief regions called desert in the Bible. In addition, the Rift Valley below the DEAD SEA, the `ârãbâ, is designated desert or wilderness in several biblical texts." Thus we gain a better understanding of where this temptation experience occurred. From narrative critical concerns we next raise the issue of what the 'desert' may suggest. D.A. Carson in the Expositor's Bible provides insight here: "The 'desert' (cf. on 3:1) is not only the place associated with demonic activity (Isa 13:21; 24:14; Matt 12:43; Rev 18:2; Trench, pp. 7-8) but, in a context abounding with references to Deuteronomy 6-8, the place where Israel experienced her greatest early testings." Thus, identifying the background to the word 'wilderness' begins to help make this passage much more meaningful.
        Also important are the references to time found inside your passage. In this same temptation narrative, Mark indicates that Jesus was being tempted 40 days, while Matthew adds that he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. In his comments on Matthew's version of this event, D.A. Carson notes that the "forty days and nights reflected Israel's forty-year wandering (Deut 8:2). Both Israel's and Jesus' hunger taught a lesson (Deut 8:3); both spent time in the desert preparatory to their respective tasks" (Exp Bible, 112).
        These time and place indications found inside the scripture passage can play a vitally important role in helping make sense out of what happened during the episode. Identifying social customs inside the text
        Often the content of a scripture passage will touch on various types of social interaction, such as relationships within a family, relations between the wealthy and the poor etc. Because our North American culture typically defines these relationships very differently than first century Judaism and/or Greco-Roman culture, the Bible student needs to gain a clear understanding of the parameters of appropriate and inappropriate social interaction in the first Christian century. Otherwise, he/she runs the risk of falsely reading modern U.S. cultural norms back into the New Testament and thus make the mistake of incorrectly interpreting the scripture passage.
        The methodology that provides insights into this aspect of the scripture text is called Social Scientific Exegesis. Earlier labels for this methodology included Sociological Exegesis. Sometimes the label Social Scientific Criticism will be used. Whatever the label, the procedure adapts the modern methodology of sociological analysis to the reading of ancient texts.
        Family relations are a case in point, illustrating the importance of using the insights from this method for more accurate exegesis of scripture passages. In U.S. culture the American family is typically perceived as composed of a husband and a wife possibly with children. This creates two basic sets of relationships: (1) between the husband and the wife, and (2) between the parents and the children. In the average situation, the husband and wife are reasonably close to the same age. They have both voluntarily chosen to marry because they fell in love with one another. Marriage is perceived as the uniting to two individuals in order to create a new and distinct family separate from the families of both the husband and wife. In the ancient family, however, the sets of relationships were more extensive and different. First, and very important, the male held absolute authority in the household. The patriarchal tradition of the dominant rule of the male in the ancient Jewish religious heritage gave the Jewish male full control of the rest of the family members. In the Roman culture this control went further; the ancient tradition of patria potestas extended the Roman man's power to have life and death authority over every family member as long as he lived. Thus there were three sets of relationships: (1) the wife to her husband; (2) the children to their father; and (3) the slaves to their master. The adult male occupied all three roles as husband, father, and master. Marriage was arranged with the couple having little or no say in the selection of their spouse. The fathers or legal guardians made this decision. Typically the woman was married off in her early teens after having reached puberty, while the Jewish male wasn't considered an adult, that is, eligible to marry, until after his thirtieth birthday. Roman culture followed a somewhat similar pattern, although the Roman male might be considered marriageable in his late twenties. Marriage was first and foremost the building of connecting links between two clans or families. This made children absolutely essential since this meant the 'mixing of the blood' of the two families and thus bound them together. The children born into the family were under the absolute control of the father. The aristocratic Roman and sometimes also the Jewish family included any slaves as an essential part of the family. In both Jewish and Roman traditions the obligations in these three sets flowed from the wife/children/slaves to the male head of the family. These obligations were extensive and absolute. The male head of the family had few if any obligations to the members of the family. One must read the New Testament Haustafeln (domestic code) passages against this cultural backdrop, if a correct understanding of these scripture passages in their historical setting is to be gained. Only then can the truly revolutionary nature of the NT positions leveling the plane between husband and wife, as well as the imposition of mammoth responsibilities on the male head of the household, be understood.

3.1.2. The Literary Aspects
        Not only is an ancient text such as scripture produced in a specific historical setting, but ancient writings including scripture contain literary qualities that are an additional essential part of the interpretative process. The online Meriam-Webster dictionary defines 'literature' as "writings in prose or verse; especially : writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest."  The documents of the New Testament fall within the boundaries of this definition and can thus be considered as literature.
        Literary analysis of a written text involves the examination of several characteristics of writing in an effort to more clearly understand how the writer's thoughts are put together in order to create a larger presentation of ideas. Two categories of the aspects of this analysis exist: (1) those that lie outside the passage itself, i.e., the external aspects, and (2) those that are found inside the passage, i.e., the internal aspects. Although these labels aren't commonly used, they do serve as helpful groupings for a study of  the literary qualities. The External Literary Aspects of the Text
        By external is meant literary qualities that lie outside the content of the passage itself, but that the passage depends on for expression of ideas. The most important of these is typically labeled 'literary setting' or 'literary context.' This simply refers to exploring the issue of how the ideas found inside the passage contribute to the larger expression of ideas found in the entire document. That is, how does this passage fit, given its location at a specific place inside the larger document? Also important: the determination of the literary context not only helps the Bible student see how his/her passage contributes to the flow of ideas in the entire biblical document, but just as importantly, this determination helps establish boundaries of legitimate meaning in the translation/interpretation process for the ideas contained inside the passage itself.
        The negative tones associated with Bible 'proof-texting' are derived from a failure to realize this very important part of biblical interpretation. When a verse of scripture is lifted out of its context, brand new meaning not legitimately found in the context is frequently attributed to the words of the scripture verse. By stitching together a number of verses so lifted out of their original context, one can make the Bible 'say' absolutely anything he/she wants it to say. Obviously such methods are false and produce false understanding of the teachings of scripture. Identifying the literary context of the text within the larger document
        What is the literary context of a passage? When one has detected the building blocks of written material, that is the pericopes, which individually constitute an identifiable scripture passage (for example, the temptation of Jesus in Mark 1:12-13), the next question is why does this passage fall where it does in the total content of the scripture document? If the document is mostly made up of narratives, then the location of an individual narrative may have to do with chronology. That is, it took place historically at that point in the central character's life. Such is the case with the Mark 1:12-13. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) the temptation of Jesus is one of the events that took place at the beginning of public ministry by Jesus. Naturally, the gospel writer would place this passage in the part of his story of Jesus describing those preparatory events that launched Jesus' public ministry. But not all the episodes in the gospels fall in such a pattern. This becomes clear from comparing the descriptions of the same event in two or three of these gospels. When Jesus was rejected in his home town of Nazareth is an illustration. In Luke 4:16-30 it is placed at the beginning of the ministry in Galilee, whereas Matthew 13:53-58 and Mark 6:1-6 place it at the end of the time that Jesus spent in Galilee. Quite clearly the concern of the gospel writers is not chronological. One or the other (or perhaps both) are more interested in the point of this rejection by people who knew Jesus. The idea of people rejecting Jesus contributes to what each gospel writer is trying to get across about the beginning or the end of the ministry in Galilee proper. Thus, as D.A. Carson notes regarding Matthew's account, "placing this periocope immediately after the discourse on parables extends the hostility and rejection of the scribes and Pharisees even to Jesus' hometown (cf. Mark 6:1-6)" (Matthew, 335). Often the gospel writers are much more interested in making thematic points by their sequential placement of episodes. Understanding this helps the Bible student to better grasp the point of a passage.
        How can I determine the literary context of a passage? This involves the use of several tools: NT introductions, Bible dictionaries and commentaries. First, find outlines of the entire scripture document in which your passage is found. Then locate where in that outline your passage shows up. By looking at the outline headings you should be able to draw some tentative conclusions about the context. Next, the commentaries on your passage should address the issue of literary context, although not all do a good job of it. The Word Biblical Commentary series tends to be one of the better commentaries at this point.
        Since Redaction Criticism and Rhetorical Criticism can touch on this issue of literary context, one should seek out the commentaries that especially emphasize these methods in their comments on the scripture text. The Internal Literary Aspects of the Text
        The literary issues arising from within the scripture passage deal with at least two significant issues: (1) the determination of a literary form, sometimes called genre, and (2) the determination of the flow of ideas contained inside the passage. Identifying the broad genre of the text
        In regard to literary patterns found within a scripture passage genre can be detected at different levels. Here we will treat the broad issue of genre that relates to the entire scripture book in which your passage is found. In subsequent chapters dealing the the four broad categories of genre below, we will address the sub-genre issues that arise under each broad category.
        Once again the online Meriam-Webster dictionary defines genre as "a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content."  To get something of an idea of the wide diversity of patterns in modern literature go the Stories.com web site containing genre categories for most modern literary composition. More precise are the comments of Ralph Wood in the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible: "Genre is a French term used to designate literary kinds or types; e.g., tragedy, comedy, epic, history, parable, letter, fiction, poetry, gospel, oracle, apocalypse. From the Renaissance through the eighteenth century, the genres were thought to be fixed and timeless categories which describe all literary works regardless of their author or subject matter, their era, or place of composition. The genres were also ranked in a hierarchy, from epic and tragedy at the top, to lyric and comedy at the bottom. But with the rise of such new forms as the novel and the long descriptive poem, and especially as the Romantics perfected the lyric, the old notion of genre-ranking fell into disuse. Genre is now regarded as a useful interpretive device rather than a criterion for determining the worth of a work" (Genre, Concept of, 323).
       Ralph Wood, in this same article, makes the valid observations that: (1) "One needs to understand what formal or technical characteristics the text possesses, what literary conventions it observes." (2) "Genre categories are especially useful when interpreting biblical texts that are essentially narrative in type." (3) "Determining the genre of a text also enables the reader to compare it with similar literary types both within and outside scripture." (4) "To understand the genre of a biblical text, therefore, is to recognize its own suppositions, to enter a life-world other than our own, and thus perhaps to be transformed by the new spiritual order it creates" (Wood, 323-324). Gospel
        One very important point needs to be made at the outset: the word 'gospel' has two different meanings, reflecting the pattern of early Christian use of the Greek word for gospel, euangelion (eujaggevlion). Inside the New Testament documents themselves the word euangelion exclusively refers to the gospel as a system of belief. In subsequent Christian writings the second meaning of euangelion emerges and refers to the written documents such as the Gospel of Mark that describe the life and teachings of Christ. Our study of genre here is concerned only with this second meaning of the word euangelion.
        A very interesting question is posed in the New Oxford Study Bible regarding the gospel genre: What type of literature would a second-century librarian in Alexandria Egypt have assigned a gospel if a manuscript copy had been presented to a library? (NOSB, NT, viii) Would it have been assigned to the ancient laudatory (or encomium) biography? Examples of this type of ancient biography include Xenophon's Agesilaus, Isocrates' Evagoras, Tacitus' Agricola, and Lucian's Life of Demonax. These works attempted to praise the greatness and merit of the person who is the subject of the writing. Or, would it have been assigned to the broader genre category of ancient biography? Perhaps it might have been assigned to the sub-category of biography called aretalogy, which means the "relation of wonderful deeds of a god or hero" (Dictionary of Difficult Words). Could some combination of these genres account for the literary form called 'gospel'?
        Any single one of these genres or any combination of them do not provide a satisfactory answer to the origin of the gospel genre. Some similarities of certain traits in these forms of ancient biography can be detected in the gospel genre, but substantial characteristics exit in the gospels in a repetitive manner that are not found in these ancient biographical genera. The orally transmitted sources of materials used in composing the canonical gospels, the literary relationship among the first three gospels, the so-called synoptic gospels, and other aspects strongly suggest that this literary form in the New Testament represents an essentially new genre created by early Christianity as the most appropriate vehicle for telling the story of Jesus Christ to its world.
        But this view is not universally held by New Testament scholars. As Charles Talbert notes, "since the late 1970s there has been a growing consensus that the canonical Gospels are types of ancient Mediterranean biography, participants in the same large grouping as Philo's Life of Moses and Philostratus's Life of Apollonius of Tyana. If so, then the canonical Gospels can no longer be regarded as literarily unique. Participation in the ancient biographical genre does not, however, undermine the uniqueness of the canonical Gospels' content any more than the participation of Gen 1 in the genre of ancient Near Eastern creation myth detracts from its uniquely Hebraic witness to the Creator" (Genre, Gospel). See Freed, 56, for a helpful summary of these two viewpoints.
        In the NOSB article these important points are validly made regarding the uniqueness of the gospel genre: "The canonical gospels are not romances or folk-tales; they purport to retell actual events. They are not biographies; they concentrate on the public career of Jesus with little or no attention given to his environment, training, and development of character. They are not simply memoirs of a teacher, philosopher, or wise man; the ministry of Jesus embraced not merely word and example but actions. And as regards this action, the gospels do not give a neutral account of what happened; rather they tell of the work of God in the career of Jesus, and they present their story as an offer of salvation for all who will believe. In short, the gospels represent a genre all their own because they present the tradition of Jesus from the viewpoint of faith in him as redeemer. Hence it was the intention of the four evangelists that their gospels be understood not only as narrative, but at the same time and especially as proclamation" (NOSB, NT, viii-ix).
        Also important to remember is that the NT Apocryphal gospels are classified under this genre as well, although they are not a part of the New Testament canon. In terms of literary patterns, they exhibit a much wider array of forms both as a document itself, and through the use of sub-genre. As is described in the Encyclopedia Britannica: "A few papyrus fragments come from gospels not known by name (e.g., Egerton Papyrus 2, Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 840, Strasbourg Papyrus 5–6). There are also the Gospel produced in the 2nd century by Marcion (a “semi-Gnostic” heretic from Asia Minor), who removed what he regarded as interpolations from the Gospel According to Luke; the lost Gnostic Gospel of Perfection; and the Gospel of Truth, published in 1956 and perhaps identical with the book that Irenaeus (c. 185), bishop of Lyon, said was used by the followers of Valentinus, a mid-2nd-century Gnostic teacher. The Gospel of Truth is a mystical–homiletical treatise that is Jewish–Christian and, possibly, Gnostic in origin. In addition, there were gospels ascribed to the Twelve (Apostles) and to individual apostles, including the Protoevangelium of James, with legends about the birth and infancy of Jesus; the lost Gnostic Gospel of Judas (Iscariot); the Gospel of Peter, with a legendary account of the resurrection; the Gospel of Philip, a Valentinian Gnostic treatise; the Gospel of Thomas, published in 1959 and containing “the secret sayings of Jesus” (Greek fragments in Oxyrhynchus papyri 1, 654, and 655); and an “infancy gospel” also ascribed to Thomas. Beyond these lie gospels ascribed to famous women, namely Eve and Mary (Magdalene), or named after the groups that used them: Ebionites (a Jewish Christian sect), Egyptians,  Hebrews, and Nazarenes (an Ebionite sect)."
        Thus in identifying a passage as part of the gospel genre, the Bible student realizes that:  (1) The passage intends to interpret the actions and words of Jesus positively from the theological stance of belief in Him as the divine Savior of all humanity. (2) The passage is not strictly speaking a scientifically based history or biographical portion of the earthly ministry of Jesus, although elements of history and biography are present. (3) The passage contributes to the larger purposes of the gospel writer in painting a religious portrait of Jesus with the distinctive tones understood by the writer himself. Correct interpretation of the passage, then, depends in part on being able to see this full portrait and how the passage fits into this picture. Here the work of Redaction Critical scholars has made invaluable contribution; commentaries specializing in this methodology can provide helpful insight and thus should be consulted. Also the study of the double and triple tradition parallels to the passage are basic to realizing the distinctive tones emphasized by individual gospel writers. History
        The single document in the New Testament generally grouped under this genre is the Acts of the Apostles, although passages throughout the remainder of the New Testament contain historical oriented materials. For an introduction to ancient views of history see the above section 3.1.1. In general the book of Acts follows very closely ancient patterns of history writing, especially in the use of the basic 'building blocks' for presenting a 'philosophia' through history. The two most dominant 'building block' material found in Acts are narratives and speeches. The narrative passages divide into two categories: episodic and summary narratives. Within the various episodes described in Acts, two identifiable sub-genre emerge: miracle narratives and commissioning narratives. In the speeches category, two distinct types of speeches are found: missionary and defense speeches. With the use of these materials the story of Christianity in its first three decades is effectively told.
        When evaluated by the standards for writing history during the first Christian century as set forth by Dionysius of Halicarnassus in his On Literary Composition and especially his On Thycydides, the writer of Acts stands out as an accomplished history writer in the ancient world. The period from AD 30 to 61 is covered, and the two pivotal early leaders of Christianity (Peter during the Jewish Christian phase in chapters 1-12 and Paul during the Gentile mission phase in chapters 13-28) are the focus of the presentation that traces the beginnings of the movement from Jerusalem, the religious center of the world for ancient Judaism, to Rome, the political and military center of the ancient world. This literary genre was later imitated in subsequent Christian writings; see section for details.
        When the Bible student has identified the passage in Acts as belonging to the history genre, several implications of this become apparent: (1) The writer of Acts is not writing history within the framework of modern definitions of history. Thus his use of sources will be different; the building blocks for telling his story will be different; his purpose will not be the same as a modern historian's purpose. (2) The passage represents a portion of the story designed to undergird the writer's philosophia. What point is Luke trying to make in telling the story of Christianity in its first three decades? Again, commentaries using Redactional Critical methods will be important to consult, since these will be more concerned to fit the passage into the larger theological purpose of the entire document. Advanced reading of summaries of Acts in Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, and introductions will help the Bible student better grasp how the passage contributes to the 'big' picture. As the details of the passage are examined, the Bible student should be sensitive to their connection to the writer's theological aims. Letter
        The bulk of the documents in the New Testament fall into this genre category, although a few documents make very limited use of the letter form. The 13 letters of Paul comprise the largest segment, and consistently adhere to the ancient letter format. The 7 documents of the General Epistles are the second segment. Hebrews is tucked in between the pauline corpus and the general epistle section, reflecting ancient uncertainty over what to do with it. In contemporary discussions it is generally listed with the general epistles for the sake of convenience. The order of listing in both sections has nothing to do with time of writing. Instead, the sequence of listing is based solely on the length of the document with the longest first in the list and the shortest being last in the list. This is true for both the pauline corpus and the general epistle section. The single exception to this sequence is where more than one letter is written to the same group or individual, or by the same writer. In these cases, the length of the first letter determines the location of all the letters grouped together; notice 1 and 2 Corinthians below as an illustration of this.

Pauline Corpus General Epistles
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy



1 Peter
2 Peter
1 John
2 John
3 John

        The letters of Paul more closely follow ancient patterns of letter writing, than do the general epistles typically, although 2 and 3 John would be exceptions to this. Two of these documents are Jewish homilies -- Hebrews and James -- and make a very limited use of ancient letter forms, so that one can question whether they should be called letters. The pattern included the following:

The first section (Praescriptio) indicated who the letter was from (Superscriptio), to whom the letter was written (Adscriptio) and a word of greeting (Salutatio). Technically this section was the 'pre-writing' and not an integral part of the letter. Paul expresses the greatest creativity of the letter writers in the New Testament by adding expansion elements in the first two sections (Praescriptio and Proem) beyond the standard elements. These expansion elements typically signal anticipated topics of detailed discussion in the body of the letter. Thus the modern reader does well by identifying these elements and noting their content. The second section (Proem) is a prayer wish from the sender to the recipients of the letter. In the pauline corpus, the first segment of Thanksgiving is always found, and the second segment, a prayer of intercession for the recipients, is frequently found. The content and its arrangement in the body of the letter differs significantly according to the matters being addressed and the nature of the letter. Each writer has his own individual style and approach to treating the matters that necessitated the writing of the letter to begin with. The Conclusio is the most fluid section of ancient letters and could contain a combination of any number of elements. These included: Greetings, Sender Verification, Doxologies, Benediction. For an illustration of the diversity of elements compare the Conclusia in Paul's letters.
        In a world where communication was difficult and oral communication was overwhelmingly the means of interaction, the letter played a very significant role. The composition of the letter was normally by means of the sender dictating the contents in outline fashion to a scribe called an amanuensis who did the actual writing of the letter. Tertius is identified in Rom. 16:22 as the one who wrote Romans and Silas (=Greek for the Latin Silvanus) is so identified as having written 1 Peter in 1 Pet. 5:12. These documents once in final, approved form would then be entrusted to an associate who carried the letter to its designation and orally read the contents to the recipients giving verification of the contents as reflecting the views of the sender. As such, they expressed the authoritative presence of the sender to the recipients, and gave clarification of his views on specified topics. These documents were treasured and copies of them quickly made in order to distribute the sender's views to a broader audience. In fact, the collection of Paul's letters into a single group distributed together was the first part of the New Testament to come into being. This genre became the most imitated form in later Christianity; see section for examples.
        When the passage is identified as belonging to the letter genre, several implications become relevant: (1) The passage is a part of a document produced because a specific historical occasion brought it into being. What was that occasion? How does the passage illuminate the details of that occasion? The identification of this occasion often is crucial to correct interpretation, and especially correct application, of the passage. What was the problem in Thessalonia that caused some members to fear that believers who died would somehow miss out on the second coming of Christ? Paul addresses this problem in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. The more background understanding possible, the more sense one can make of this issue. In application, the Bible student must ask whether the same problem exists among the group he or she is preaching this passage to in our day. The most direct application of the passage occurs only when a parallel situation to the ancient occasion exists today. Otherwise, the current relevance of the passage is diminished and applications with less direct connection must be carefully -- and prayerfully -- sought. This leaves no room whatsoever for dogmatic assertion about the 'meaning' of the passage for today's world. (2) In which section of the letter is the passage found? For example the word 'servant' takes on significantly different meaning if it is in the Superscriptio of a letter, as opposed to the body of the letter. Paul frequently uses the term 'servant' in the titular section of the Superscriptio as a title of authority, in direct contrast to its etymological and historical meaning of slave, the most powerless segment of ancient society. As a title (Paul, servant of Jesus Christ...) in the Superscriptio the term hearkens back to the OT prophets' self-designation of 'servants of the Lord', which stood as foundational to their claim to speak in behalf of God. For Paul, this title was critical to his right to insistence that the readers of the letter do the things he demanded they do in the body of the letter. The Bible student must carefully assess where the passage occurs in the letter. Apocalypse
        This last genre is only found in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament extending to cover the majority of the contents of a document. Within the synoptic gospels a section typically labeled the Little Apocalypse is found in Mark 13 with parallels in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. These three passages contain similar literary forms to most of the book of Revelation. The nature of this material is to 'uncover' (the literal meaning of the biblical term ajpokavliyi" [apokalypsis]) the supernatural working of God in overcoming the forces of evil on a cosmic level. "Apocalyptic revelations are of two kinds: (1) symbolic visions (e.g., Daniel 7-11; Revelation) and (2) otherworldly journeys (parts of 1 Enoch; 2 Enoch; 3 Baruch). In both kinds, there is a heavenly mediator (usually an angel, but sometimes Christ in the Christian apocalypses) who explains what the visionary sees. The otherworldly journeys have a stronger interest in cosmological matters than the visions do. All the apocalypses in the Bible and Apocrypha include symbolic visions. The symbolism is colorful. Gentile nations and institutions are represented as wild beasts, sometimes of composite make-up; for example, a leopard, with feet like a bear's, and a mouth like a lion's mouth (Rev. 13.2). There is also sometimes an interest in numerology, whether in terms of cryptic reference to a person (as the number of the beast; 666, in Rev 13.18) or the duration of persecutions (a time, times, and half a time = three-and-a-half years) in Daniel (7.2-5) and Revelation (12.14)" (NOSB, 362NT). Additionally, this genre makes use of dualism and eschatology, e.g., this present evil age and the age of the Messiah yet to come. Thus, a major theme is concerning God's action in the future to bring about the ultimate triumph of righteousness over evil. A frequently used literary device is that of secret books that are to contain the visions of the person privileged to "see" all the events that are going to take place. He is to write down his visions, but the books are to be hidden until the end-time when they will be disclosed to the wise who can understand them.
        This genre emerged in Jewish writings at least 250 years before the Christian era. Portions of the OT prophets contain apocalyptic sections; for example, Daniel 7-12; Isaiah 24-27; Ezekiel 38-39; Joel 2; Zechariah 9-14. In the OT Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha the apocalyptic books include 2 Esdras 3-14, 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Jubilees, and the Apocalypses of Abraham, of Baruch, and of Elijah. In later Christian writings, apocalypses include those attributed to Peter and Paul, as well as the Shepherd of Hermas (see section for more details on these).
        The book of Revelation contains genre elements other than apocalypse; namely, the letter genre dominates chapters two and three. Also, how are the various apocalyptic segments woven together? As the NOSB3 (page 421) well summarizes: "Although the structure of the book of Revelation is widely debated among scholars, there is general agreement that it involves a series of parallel, interconnected, and yet ever progressions sections. It begins with a prologue (1.1-3), an epistolary salutation (1.4-8) and an inaugural vision (1.9-20), which are followed by messages to each of the seven churches (2.1-3.22). Next (4.1-5.14) we find a vision of God enthroned and of Jesus depicted as a Lamb, who receives the seven sealed scrolls from the hand of God. a series of sevenfold visions commences at 6.1, beginning with the opening of each of the seven seals (6.1-8.5), followed by the sounding of each of seven trumpets (8.6-11.19). The sounding of the seventh trumpet is followed by the vision of the woman, the child, and the dragon (12.1-17), the vision of the two beasts (13.1-18), and a threefold vision of the victory and vindication of the faithful (14.1-20). These are followed by a final sevenfold series, the outpouring of the bowls of divine wrath (16.1-21), 17.1-18.24 presents the vision of the fall of Babylon, followed by the great doxology of 19.1-10 that also looks forward to the eschatological victory (19.11-21), the defeat of Satan (20.1-10), the last judgment (20.11-15), and the vision of the new Jerusalem (21.1-22.5). The book closes with an epilogue (22.6-21)."
        When the passage is identified as apocalyptic genre, several implications become important: (1) How could this passage have given encouragement and comfort to its initial readers within this cosmic framework? This genre typically arose during times of persecution and intense hardship, and was intended to provide reassurance of God's help and support of those who remained faithful to him during their struggles. Any interpretative stance that ignores the basics of historical methodology is suspect from the outset! (2) What late first century situation particularly for Christians is the passage addressing? This is the starting point for correct understanding of the details of the passage. (3) The symbolism that characterizes the graphic word pictures and images of apocalyptic writing must be addressed cautiously and carefully. Literalism here is not only a mistake, but reveals the ignorance of the Bible student dramatically. The honest Bible student will first attempt to find similar images in the apocalyptic literature that precedes the book of Revelation as the first clue to identification. The first century Christian readers drew upon their background understanding in order to interpret these images; the modern reader must attempt to do the same in so far as is possible. (4) How have these images in the passage been interpreted down through the centuries of Christian interpretative history? Awareness of the range of interpretative conclusions will help avoid repeating many of the mistakes others have previously made. Here the Bible student must make wise choices about the use of secondary sources. Within the past decade scholarly interest in the apocalyptic genre has produced a significant number of excellent commentaries on the book of Revelation, which have been liberated from the older enslavement to a presupposed eschatological assumption about the second coming of Jesus. Identifying the rhetorical structure of the text
        The second internal literary aspect of a passage has to do with how the thoughts of the writer within the passage are organized. The identification of both the broad and the sub-genre of the passage frequently suggests patterns of thought structure in broad categories. But, the individuality of each NT writer's style and way of expressing himself give uniqueness to each passage. Identifying this structure is a vital part of correct exegesis of scripture. Within the past few decades the maturing of the Rhetorical Critical methodology has provided increasing help here.
        For the beginning Bible student working only with English translations the procedure is first to read the passage several times in different translations paying close attention to sentence structure and thought flow. Note repeated words and/or synonyms. If the passage contains several verses once should note paragraph divisions across the different translations. Although the ancient Greek texts did not contain paragraphs, modern translators divide the text into these thought sections on the basis of perceived shifts of thought. When the Bible student detects similar break points at the same place in the passage across the various translations, he/she can be more certain that these break points represent genuine shifts of thought that can provide the basis for outlining the passage. Only after this intensive analysis of the scripture passage, should commentaries be consulted. These, however, can provide helpful discussion of the thought structure that may be missed in the translation comparison. One particularly helpful commentary in this regard is the Word Biblical Commentary series. After the notes section on each passage, a discussion of the literary structure of the passage follows and usually is quite insightful.
        For the more advanced Bible student, the tools of discourse analysis and rhetorical criticism are very important aides. One procedure that I developed in this area several decades ago is called Block Diagramming and Semantic Diagramming of the text; see the Supplementary Materials section of Greek 202 for details. These procedures focus on detailed analysis of the Greek text of the passage and lay a foundation for a biblical based sermon of the passage. Insights from Discourse Analysis, Rhetorical Criticism, Structuralism etc. are blended together into a somewhat simplified process for doing in depth analysis of the thought structure of the passage.
        Once the analysis of the thought structure of the passage is completed, the insights from it need to be set forth in the form of an outline of the passage. With the 10 page Analysis Paper assignment in the New Testament survey courses (Religion 102 and 305), this outline becomes the organizing structure for the body of the paper. Just the first level of outline division need be developed for this assignment. For the 35 page exegesis paper assignment in Greek 202 two outlines are developed: an exegetical outline reflecting the understood 'then' meaning of the text, and a shorter expository outline reflecting an assessment of the 'now' meaning of the text. In both assignments, (1) the outline headings should naturally flow out of the sections of scripture text; (2) the descriptive title of the body section of the paper should capture the understood essence of the scripture passage as reflected in the outline headings; (3) the exposition sections under each outline heading should naturally support the outline heading, or put in reverse, the outline heading should summarize the exposition of this section of the text. This exposition section will also contain further details of the structure understanding of the text that have been gathered from the study of the passage. This is reflected in the sample paper for each class: Religion 102/305 and Greek 202.

3.2. Methods of Interpreting Texts since the Reformation and Renaissance
        Within the limits of an undergraduate introductory course to the New Testament, the focus on the history of New Testament interpretation is confined to the so-called modern era. That's not to imply that interpretation of the 27 documents of the NT hadn't taken place prior to the modern era, for certainly these documents had been subjected to close scrutiny for well over a thousand years prior to the Protestant Reformation. However, not many advancements were made in interpretative procedure during that early time period. Overwhelmingly, the approach to interpreting both the OT and the NT that was followed by virtually every church leader and theologian was the allegorizing method. Initially developed by Greeks in the classical era to find ways of recontextualizing Homer's writings some five hundred years previously in order to make them relevant, this method of interpreting ancient texts began to be applied to the OT scriptures first by Jewish interpreters such as Philo of Alexandria. Later, it was applied to the NT scriptures in the developing Christian traditions. At the heart of the procedure was the quest to find 'hidden' meanings in the text that reside below the surface level meaning of the words in their most literal meaning. In Christian interpretative tradition this is sometimes referred to as 'spiritualizing' the scripture text. The bottom line significance of all this was -- and still is -- that this method enables the interpreter to find absolutely any meaning that the interpreter desires and to argue that 'this is what the scripture teaches.' Consequently, over the centuries prior to the Protestant Reformation official Christianity developed its systems of belief quite apart from scriptural principle and through this allegorizing method of interpretation could 'legitimately read this meaning back into the scripture texts to make the case that this belief system was 'founded on the Bible.' The results proved disastrous for the spiritual health and vitality of the Christian movement. So much was this the case, that the efforts of Martin Luther and others in the 1400s and the 1500s to reform the church split Christianity in the western world into Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Growing out of these reform movements was the birth of modern critical methods of Bible interpretation, first developed in Protestant Christian circles and only later incorporated into Roman Catholic approaches to interpreting the NT.
        Also, important to understand are the limits of the modern critical approaches. Critical methods of studying ancient texts exist in many disciplines beyond biblical studies. The focal point of these is the quest to make sense out of these ancient texts in terms of their human composition and attempts to express meaning to the readers these texts were originally addressed. Because the documents of the NT are ancient documents written in a culture vastly different from those of the modern world, they are subject to this 'critical' approach to analysis. One important facet needs emphasizing at this point: these ancient NT documents are usually viewed -- at least by Christians -- as sacred writings. This perspective means that for those viewing the NT this way, there are issues beyond the mere human factors of composition and usage. These writings provide divine revelation as the voice of God that continues to speak to subsequent generations beyond the original readers. Thus the issue of the religious inspiration of these documents becomes a part of the consideration as well. At the heart of this is the connection between the human and the divine side of the composition of these documents. Any legitimate understanding of the concept of inspiration must give proper attention to both the human and the divine aspects. For an exploration of this concept of inspiration in the first 600 years of the Christian movement see my article, "Inspiration," in the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, revised edition, edited by Everett Ferguson (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1997), 1:576-579.
        In this aspect the dividing line between theologian and critical scholar becomes very apparent. The modern critical scholar in biblical studies concerns himself/herself with the human side of the composition of these ancient NT documents. The theologian's task is to take the helpful fruits of the critical scholar's work and to attempt to define the 'voice of God' in the scripture texts for religious experience in today's world. Somewhat anticipating the discussion below on Historical Criticism, one could characterize this as: the critical scholar attempts to determine 'what the scripture text meant' in its original setting in the past, while the theologian attempts to determine 'what the scripture text means' in a contemporary setting. Ideally, the latter grows out of the former. To be certain, one individual may wear both these 'hats' -- the theologian's and the critical scholar's -- but usually this is not the case.
        The third introductory consideration has to do with the history of critical scholarship in the modern era. With its roots in the Protestant Reformation, critical scholarship began in Europe and remained an European dominated movement until well into the twentieth century. In those countries where Protestantism flourished, namely Germany and Great Britain, critical scholarship flourished. And this is especially the case with German critical scholarship which led the movement for most of the modern era. Scholars in the U.S. began to emerge in the late 1800s and became a meaningful part of the movement in the latter part of the twentieth century. At the outset of the twenty-first century, emerging critical scholars are making significant contributions from South America, Africa and the Orient, so that during our century the issues will have increasing global input from Christian scholars around the world. The internet is playing a significant role in helping to shape this through scholarly forums conducted online. However, for the bulk of the modern critical movement the pattern has frequently been: the Germans proposed the new idea, the British scholars first reacted to it, then others like the Americans have joined in the discussion.

3.2.1. The Influence of the Reformation and Renaissance
        The Reformation Click on icon for M-W dictionary. Type in the word 'Reformation.' produced the interpretative principle of sola scriptura. That is, the exclusive foundation for Christian belief and practice is the Bible. For the reformer Martin Luther, this became central to his attacks on the wrongs he sensed in the Roman Catholic Church of his day. Repeatedly he argued in the debates with his Catholics opponents that the church's teachings were not grounded in biblical principle, and that Christianity could only achieve legitimacy and spiritual health in so far as it followed the teachings of Jesus as set forth in the New Testament. Luther's most lasting contribution to the cause of Christ in general has been in renewing interest in studying scripture and seeking to establish it as foundational for every Christian community's faith and practice. Another reformer, John Calvin, ultimately played a more influential role at this point. Calvin's massive commentaries on the books of the Bible, as well as his Institutes of the Christian Religion, have in some way shaped the approach of most of Protestant biblical interpretation for the past four hundred years.
        The Renaissance Click on icon for M-W dictionary. Type in the word 'Renaissance.' has exerted enormous influence on biblical interpretation in western culture and society. Two areas in particular have changed dramatically the way the Bible is understood in western Christianity: (1) the shift in the definition of history from the ancient understanding, and (2) the application of the emerging Scientific Methodology to principles of Bible interpretation.
        As previously described in the above sections, the way history was viewed in the ancient world was severely modified to focus attention on "What really happened in the past?". Particularly in the early stages of the modern era the empirical view of history dominated studies. History became a major interest, and the separation of fact from fiction became a crucial part of historical research into the ancient past. In the ancient world, history was the tool of philosophy and the investigation into the past was prompted by concerns to find insights that served to strengthen one's approach to interpreting life in the present. Whether the past was factual or legendary made little difference; the main interest lay in the lessons that could be learned from this past. Another important shift with the modern definition of history was to limit history to actions of humans in the past. Supra-human activity such as that of God or the gods was excluded from modern scientific based history. The ancient world had no such limitation of understanding; history was readily the story of both the divine and the human.
        The Scientific Methodology that emerged from the Enlightenment dramatically changed western society forever. The procedure of doing research from doubt and questioning has profoundly shaped modern biblical study. Friedrich Nietzsche put it well several centuries ago: "Here the ways of men part: If you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire." Thus critical studies of the New Testament were born out of this stance. The quest for objective Truth using principles of research learned from this developing methodology in the natural sciences became the chief goal of biblical studies beginning with the late 1600s. It continues to exert powerful influence throughout Christian thinking all across the theological spectrum. Most of the theological 'wars' between various Christian communities over the past several centuries have been fought over this issue. The emergence of the Post-Modern era at the end of the twentieth century has brought about a severe de-emphasis upon this quest for so-called 'objective' Truth. The realization continues to grow that this is the pursuit of a fantasy; more realistic is to recognize one's own biases and to strive for relative objectivity. Pure objectivity exists among mortals only in a cemetary!
        One important by-product of this has been the sharp distinction drawn between 'critical studies' and 'theology.' In the U.S. tradition of separation of church and state, this distinction has been highlighted and provided the basis for religious studies programs in state supported colleges and universities all across the U.S. Such programs by legal limits cannot advocate a 'sectarian' view of religious or biblical studies; that is the responsibility of the church related colleges and universities in their religion or theology departments. Thus in the state school one finds a 'religious studies' program, while in the church related school a department of religion or theology exists. Religion can then be legally taught in the state university, but Christianity is investigated along side and on the same basis as other world religions. Such programs are usually attached to the philosophy or social sciences departments.
        An ongoing discussion has emerged over the past several centuries over which approach is either legitimate or the preferred one. Oftentimes a false and very destructive dichotomy between 'critical' and 'theological' has been pushed. This particularly happens in the typical liberal versus conservative religious debates. To sever the connection between these two aspects is ultimately to negate the value and possible benefits of both. For the Christian critical studies of Christianity cannot ultimately become an end within itself; theology that ignores the insights of critical studies becomes shallow and fruitless both intellectually and spiritually. The continuing challenge then is to find an appropriate balance between the two in order to best achieve specific goals of study. Studying Religion in an academic setting
        Students taking a religion course in a state supported community college or university come to the study of the Bible with a certain set of expectations that typically are very different than the vast majority of students enrolled in the same course in a private, church related university. The professors teaching this course in these two very different academic settings work under vastly different guidelines mandated both by federal and state laws, as well as by the administration of the school they work for. This is true in the United States, because of our legal system and tradition of the separation of church and state. In most other countries, the situation would be vastly different than here in the U.S. For example, in most European countries, the state supported universities would also be the church related universities training the ministers for the churches, so that no dual system of universities is necessary.
      Within a U.S church related university setting such as GWU, what is the approach to the academic study of the New Testament in Religion 102 and Religion 305 for G.O.A.L. students? Each university adopts its own official policy that the members of the religion department and adjunct professors who teach this course are expected to follow. Ultimately the board of trustees are the final decision makers on the policy standards for the university. The policy recommendation begin with the department and proceed through the administrative levels until they are refined and recommended and passed by the board of trustees. This is important for students to understand. Also important is that the policies should contribute to the mission statement of the university and be in harmony with it. The university is held accountable at this point every so often by the accrediting agencies such as SACS.
        In light of this, let's return to the original question: what is the approach to the academic study of the New Testament in Religion 102 and Religion 305 for G.O.A.L. students?  To answer that question, one must first examine the catalogue statement, since this constitutes the official statement of policy by Gardner-Webb University on the academic approach to the study of the New Testament at this university. The current catalogue description of Religion 102 and Religion 305 reads as follows (pp.205, 206): "An introduction and survey of the New Testament focusing upon the history, literature and faith that gave rise to Christianity and its contemporary relevance." This course, as one of the two core required courses, contributes to the officially stated objectives of the religion department for these two OT and NT courses (p. 199):

The department seeks to lead each undergraduate student enrolled in the survey courses to demonstrate the ability to:
(1) identify and discuss the significance of the major people, places, events, themes and types of literature of the Old and New Testaments.
(2) trace the historical development of the canons of the Old and New Testaments.
(3) identify, assess, and utilize appropriate resources in biblical interpretation.
(4) utilize the principles of critical analysis in interpreting a passage of Scripture.
These statements were carefully evaluated so as to contribute to the university statement of purpose (p. 7):
Gardner-Webb is a private, coeducational university affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Its purpose is to provide learning of distinction in the liberal arts and in professional studies within a caring community based upon Christian principles and values. Students, faculty and staff are part of a community of learning, and Gardner-Webb seeks to prepare and encourage students to make meaningful contributions to the global community in which we live. To this end, the University strives to develop students intellectually, spiritually, socially and physically. They should be able to think independently and critically, communicate effectively, relate well to persons of diverse backgrounds, understand the natural world, understand the development of civilizations, understand and appreciate aesthetic values, and grow spiritually. To support this development and foster a community dedicated to life-long learning, Gardner-Webb emphasized Christian values, academic freedom with responsibility, free intellectual inquiry and discussion, recognition of the dignity and worth of the individual, and strong faculty-student relationships. While pursuing these values, Gardner-Webb seeks to instill the traits of good citizenship in its students and strives to be a good institutional citizen.
Thus, at GWU an official policy provides specific guidelines for each professor to work within in the teaching of the New Testament survey course. In the administrative evaluation of each professor each year the prof is held accountable for whether or not he or she has followed these guidelines in teaching this course. To be sure, issues like promotion etc. hinge on these evaluations. The university leadership rightfully will not long tolerate a professor who is unwilling to work within specified guidelines. Otherwise, chaos would soon envelope a university and plunge it into destruction. This represents one aspect of the academic study of religion -- the professor's.
         Another aspect of the academic study of religion is the student's. Some observations from quite a number of years in the classroom. (1) One set of students come to a NT survey course out of a background of having grown up in Sunday School and church. Quite often the assumption is that this background has given them an extensive foundational knowledge of the New Testament so that Religion 102 is going to be a snap course requiring little or no effort on their part. When this fantasy is exploded after the first exam, the frustration level shoots through the ceiling. The problem stems mostly from not realizing that in Sunday School and church a devotional study of the Bible was the exclusive approach to treating the scripture in all likelihood. While not entirely bad, such study of scripture is woefully inadequate as the exclusive way of studying the Bible. It should be the 'icing on the cake' after the foundational work of serious exegesis has been done. But very, very few churches train their members to study the Bible this way. Generally, only the seminary trained church staff have training of this nature. And for some reason, that has baffled me for the almost 40 years that I have been in vocational Christian ministry, few ministers seem to consider their laity smart enough to learn how to study the Bible this way. I have found just the opposite to be true.
        Academic study of religion concentrates on the serious exegesis side where even the SS folks typically have hardly any more understanding than those who have never darkened the door of a church. Consequently, the varied religious backgrounds brought into the classroom by a group of students typically doesn't provide any advantage for one particular student over another. Hardly any have studied the New Testament at a serious level beyond the devotional stage, especially as a student is coming from high school into university studies.
        (2) Another set of students come to a Bible survey course with a closed mind. Perhaps their mind is closed because they come from a non-Baptist denomination background and fear that in a Baptist oriented university the religion professors above everyone else is commissioned by the university to make Baptists out of all the students and the required religion courses is where that is supposed to take place. Thus they must resist everything the religion prof says in the classroom in order to remain true to their own religious heritage. If that is your fear, then read the above GWU purpose statement again, and notice how many times the word 'Baptist' appears in comparison to the word 'Christian.' Although GWU is unapologetically Baptist, it is more concerned to be Christian. Given the university stance this direction, this is the approach taken in the teaching of the NT survey courses at GWU. Also, one should note that GWU is a university. If GWU were a Bible Institute, rather than a university, then such proselytizing in the classroom would be more understandable. But such is entirely inappropriate conduct by a professor at a university inside the classroom. The stated university objective is for the student to be able to "think independently and critically." Religion 102 must be taught in a way that contributes to reaching that objective. Thus the goal is genuine education, not indoctrination. If the student comes into Religion 102 at GWU as a Methodist, hopefully she will leave a better Methodist student.
        (3) Another set of students come to a religion class only because they have to. It's required to graduate. Religion ranks at the bottom of their priorities both in life and in subjects for study. The idea of 'academic' study of religion sounds drier than the Sahara Desert! Hopefully, somewhere along the journey this student will make the discovery first of all that serious intellect is required for the study of religion. The idea that religion is only for helpless people who are too dumb to help themselves is a myth perpetuated by arrogant individuals too prideful to admit their need of help. To probe the depths of the meaning of the divine revelation in the pages of the New Testament challenges the brightest minds that live in our world today to their intellectual limits -- ever bit as much as the intellect required to put man in space. Secondly, the hope is that this student will also discover that the study of religion at this level can be one of the more satisfying and rewarding intellectual journeys the human can ever embark on. Each juncture of the trip uncovers some new fascinating insight into life and eternity that enables one to live at a deeper, more fulfilling level and with a growing sense of purpose and direction.
       (4) The final set of students I've noticed over the years are those who come not quite sure what to expect but hoping that the course with help them better understand the New Testament and their Christian faith. They don't have many preconceived notions about what the New Testament is supposed to say; they are open to learning what God is trying to say to them through it. Learning about more technical approaches to Bible study opens up new, exciting possibilities to them that gives encouragement and stimulation to dig deeper into scripture for themselves.

3.2.2. Specific Methods of Exegesis
        In the modern era of interpretation of the Bible, a variety of ways for reading the texts of scripture have emerged. The following attempts to provide an overview of the more dominant approaches that have made an impact on biblical studies. With the impact of the Enlightenment upon Western thought, modern biblical studies could not help but be significantly influenced as well. Add to that the reaction of many scholars to the failures of church leaders to address major social issues existing in both Europe and North America during the eighteen and nineteenth centuries. Alternatives to the proof-texting dogmatism of traditional interpretation that allowed orthodox Christianity to bury it's head in the sand in the midst of these injustices during the Industrial Revolution, for instance, needed to be found to 're-discover' the true Jesus who had spoken out for justice and righteousness centuries before. The voices of anti-religion were bursting out all over the west and the biblical scholarly world was committed to not surrendering the message of social justice to these voices of rising Marxism. Convinced that Jesus was the true voice of justice and righteousness who represented authentic hope for a hurting and wounded world, the community of biblical scholarship engaged itself eagerly in reading the biblical texts to discover this voice anew as a way to assert the legitimacy of the Christian voice in a modern world increasingly suspicious of religion.
        Very important to understand is the reality that these methods of interpretation build off of either the historical or the literary aspects of a written text. Historical Criticism and Literary Criticism represent procedures that are rather pure emphases on either the historical or literary aspects. The other methods will typically incorporate elements of both aspects of the written text, while the procedure for each will be oriented dominantly toward one or the other aspect of the written text. For example, Form Criticism is dominantly literary in its procedure, but especially with the older versions the form critical procedure also incorporates important historical aspects of analysis.
        The English word 'Criticism' is bothersome to many individuals, since at the popular level of meaning it carries strong negative tones. The English word is intended to be understood at its technical level of meaning, rather than at its popular meaning. The difficulty ultimately stems from this English word as clumsy translation of the earlier German term Kritik, which was typically applied to most of these methods in their original development in Europe. In this context, the German term Kritik is more accurately rendered in English as Technical rather than Critical. But the facts of life are that the English terms Critical, Criticism have firmly established themselves as part of the English language labels of most of these procedures. These interpretative methods are not designed to criticize the Bible. Instead, they are simply technical procedures designed to facilitate a much more accurate and clearer understanding of the contents of the Bible. These "Criticisms" are but tools for doing exegesis of biblical texts. Of course, any method in the hands of some interpreters can turn negative into a hostile stance toward scripture. But, this has much more to do with the interpreter than it does with the interpretative method.
        The relationship between these technical methods of interpretation and a personal Christian faith varies from scholar to scholar. Out of my experience of having both worked in the U.S. and in Europe over almost 40 years of pastoral and teaching ministry, I have generally found the European scholars to be more consistently individuals of deep religious faith and also involved in their local congregations than I have observed the American scholars to be. Of course, abundant exceptions to this pattern do exist.
        The connection between technical, academic oriented work with the Bible and personal religious faith tends to follow one of several patterns. (1) From the early days of the modern era of biblical scholarship a stance developed that the scholar does his/her technical scholarship in one area of life, one's career, and that one's personal religious faith lies in another very different area of life, one's religious devotion. And that these two spheres must not be allowed to interact with one another, else one's 'objectivity' as a scientific scholar is compromised. Thus, F.C. Bauer who taught at the University of Tübingen in Germany in the late 1800s raised radical questions about Jesus and the Christian faith as a scholar, but led his family in deep, lengthy family altar daily and himself typically spent two or more hours each day in prayer and meditation as a deeply pious Christian. No contradiction between these two very disparate patterns was seen. This has been a very influential model for many scholars over the past two hundred years.
        (2) Of course, the opposite extreme is to be found as well. Faith is pitted against technical scholarship so that one seemingly has to choose between becoming a competent scholar and losing his/her Christian faith, or hanging on to one's religious faith and then engaging in scholarship only as an apologetic in order to criticize technical scholarship as dangerous to the Christian religion. Among American scholars especially, individuals who have opted for one or the other of these options can be found in sizable quantity. The American tradition of separation of church and state, coupled with the growth of the teaching of religion in state universities in our country, seems to have fostered the acceptance of this option, and many scholars then have chosen the first of these options in order to advance their professional careers. Those who have opted for retention of their faith in the second pattern can be found primarily among professors who teach in ultra-conservative Protestant universities and Bible institutes across the U.S.
        (3) In the past several decades another approach is finding growing acceptance and is becoming much more influential among American scholars to the extent that it has been the dominate option for most of the modern era among European scholars. One can find ways to be among the best technical scholars and at the same time be very religious and committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And these two spheres of one's life can be deeply integrated with each other, unlike the older European model. Both Evangelical scholars and Roman Catholic scholars especially after Vatican Council II have led the way here. To be sure, the issue of Faith and Reason, as it's usually defined, is a tough struggle and each scholar has to come to his or her own way of resolving the tension between the two. But the sage advice of W.T. Conner, who taught theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for several decades in the first half of the twentieth century, remains vitally relevant today: "Even an old cow grazing in the pasture has enough sense to graze around the grassburrs and nettles!" Increasingly, scholars on both sides of the Atlantic are finding ways to pull the two spheres together in a wholesome integration that produces a first class scholar who is also a deeply religious and committed follower of Jesus Christ. The result is a scholarship that does its technical work on a par with any scientist but the resulting scholarly insights contribute to building a deep faith in Christ grounded on solid biblical understanding. Christianity can benefit greatly from the work of these kinds of scholars! Historical Criticism
        Foundational to virtually all modern exegetical approaches to biblical study in the modern era is historical criticism. With the renewed emphasis upon history coming out of the Enlightenment, a new found emphasis upon Christianity as a historical based religion emerged as well. Christianity grows out of Jesus of Nazareth, a historical person who lived and died in a very real part of the world at a definite moment of time. Christianity emerged out of Judaism, also with a historical orientation. The sacred scriptures of both religions, the Old and New Testaments, are documents with historical materials playing very significant roles. Thus an interpretative method giving strong emphasis to historical understanding to texts was a natural consequence. With the development of modern historiography, the application of this to biblical studies was inevitable. For an important summation of this methodology see Robert H. Headrick, "Historical Criticism," PhD Seminar Paper (in Adobe pdf format, requiring the free Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer). History of the Procedure Description of the Procedure Sources for understanding the life of Jesus. Outside the canonical gospels. The reliability of the canonical gospels. Application of the Procedure in Doing the Analysis Paper Source Criticism History of the Procedure The Synoptic Problem The Nature of the Problem Possible Solutions to the Problem The Two Document Hypothesis The Issue of Q The Two Gospel Hypothesis Description of the Procedure Application of the Procedure in Doing the Analysis Paper Form Criticism History of the Procedure Description of the Procedure Application of the Procedure in Doing the Analysis Paper Redaction Criticism History of the Procedure Description of the Procedure Application of the Procedure in Doing the Analysis Paper Social Scientific Exegesis
        A good introduction to this method is John H. Elliott's What Is Social Scientific Criticism? in the Guides to Biblical Scholarship series from Fortress Press. History of the Procedure
        Early in the twentieth century biblical scholars in several circles began to realize the need for reading passages with this social interaction in mind. The so-called Chicago School with scholars like Shirley Case Jackson pioneered studies in this field in the early 1900s. Emphasis on this field waned somewhat during the period of the two world wars while other methods came to the forefront of attention among biblical scholars. But beginning in the 1970s renewed interest in this discipline surfaced both in the U.S. with publications by Wayne Meeks and Richard Horsley along with European scholars such as Gerd Theißen at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Gradually the discipline over the past three decades has evolved into a very significant aspect of reading New Testament texts. Of course, not every scripture text will touch upon social interaction, but a high percentage of them will in some way or another. The methodology termed Social Scientific Exegesis tends to consider social interaction from two angles: (1) a social history underneath the text, and (2) reading the passage through a social interaction grid or filter developed from all relevant data, ancient and modern, that contributes to understanding the nature and parameters of appropriate behavior when individuals interact with one another. Contemporary anthropology contributes to the modern data sources, while archaeology, classics etc. provide sources of data about the ancient world. Within the past decade this discipline is increasingly combined with Rhetorical Criticism for interpreting NT texts. In studying your scripture passage look for commentaries that contain the word 'social' in the title of the commentary or the commentary series; these will emphasize this aspect of biblical interpretation. Description of the Procedure
        One excellent social background series containing several volumes devoted to this perspective is the Library of Early Christianity volumes edited by Wayne Meeks, published by Westminster/John Knox Press. Application of the Procedure in Doing the Analysis Paper Literary Criticism History of the Procedure Description of the Procedure Application of the Procedure in Doing the Analysis Paper Narrative Criticism History of the Procedure Description of the Procedure Application of the Procedure in Doing the Analysis Paper Rhetorical Criticism History of the Procedure Description of the Procedure Application of the Procedure in Doing the Analysis Paper The Temptation of Jesus: An Illustration of Exegesis
        The temptation of Jesus serves as the test case scripture passage to illustrate the application of these principles and insights. A brief exegesis of the Matthean passage will be set forth following the principles of exegesis that grow out of the above material.


1The Old Testament Apocrypha -- a Protestant label -- is known in Catholic and Orthodox Christian circles as the Deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament. For a helpful introduction as well as the NRSV translation of these documents see the middle section of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, one of the required textbooks for the course, or go into the web site Non-Canonical Texts.

For a listing of these under the appropriate groupings see the Christian Classics Ethereal Library under Early Church Fathers. English translation texts of both the Latin and Greek fathers are available for viewing and/or downloading. This is a very helpful site for studying this material.

2"For example, what seem to be literary echoes from the Wisdom of Solomon are present in Paul's Letter to the Romans (compare Rom 1.20-29 with Wis 13.5,8; 14.24,27; and Rom 9.20-23 with Wis 12.12, 20; 15.7) and in his correspondence with the Corinthians (compare 2 Cor 5.1,4 with Wis 9.15)." NOSB, AP, v-vi.


For an explanation of the background of most of these documents see the Analysis of the Canonical and Apocryphal New Testament Scriptures site and the online Wikipedia article on NT Apocrypha; for an English translation of most of these documents see the Noncanonical Homepage.

For more detailed examination of this see Freed, 55-56, and especially the online Catholic Encyclopedia on Gospel and Gospels.

*The study of these terms is based on the classical Greek lexicon by H.G. Liddell and H. Scott, pages 842-843.

D.A. Carson, "Matthew," in vol. 8 of The Expositor's Bible, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 111-112.

Ibid, 112.

Choose the translation, type in the word Mark in the search field and click on Find. Such a search in the NRSV turns up 34 references, but only 8 of them refer to the person John Mark. Study these 8 verses in order to gain understanding about this person.

For more discussion see the NOSB3 discussion at the beginning of the Book of Revelation on pages 420-421 of the NT section. Also, very informative, perhaps better,  is the same article in the earlier edition of the NOSB on pages 362 and 363.


Carson, D.A. "Matthew," in vol. 8 of The Expositor's Bible. Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.

Coogan, Michael D., editor. New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Third Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. (Abbreviated as NOSB3)

Freed, Edwin D. The New Testament: A Critical Introduction. Third Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001. (Abbreviated as Freed)

Harris, Stephen. The New Testament: A Student's Introduction. Third Edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1999. (Abbreviated as Harris)

Harrelson, Walter. Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. s.v. "Desert."

Liddell, Henry G., and Scott, Robert. A Greek-English Lexicon. Rev. Edition. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1973.

Metzger, Bruce M. and Murphy, Roland E., editors. New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. (Abbreviated as NOSB)

Talbert, Charles H.  Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. s.v. "Genre, Gospel."

Wood, Ralph C.  Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. s.v. "Genre, Concept of."

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