New Testament Scholarship And Christian Discipleship

Ben Byerly pointed out an interesting resource. It is the Moule Memorial Lecture given just the other day by Wright about the interaction of scholarship and Christian discipleship. Here is the full transcript. It is most definitely worth your time.


Brett (6/14/2008 10:21 AM)

Somebody help me.

I can't seem to put my finger on it, but I've noticed that some scholars occupy the majority of their time and writings on issues that "precede" or "border" the exegetical analysis of the text and what it can mean. 

Here's an example. Read Douglas Moo and NT Wright on Romans; each wrote a commentary. After reading Moo, you feel like you've finally got an insight into the big picture, and how each piece/verse fits. Read Wright and you more so get an insight into a few major theological doctrines, and some "new" ideas on them,  but you walk away really not getting a good grasp of the text of Romans. 

After reading Moo, you are ready to take each verse to the next level of understanding. After reading Wright, you must go elsewhere if your interest is in understand each verse, each word, and how each of these fits into the overall big picture of who and what the Lord is.

I've re-read my above paragraphs and really don't think I've stated my question very clearly.

Oh well, I'll try to think about this more. But, in the spirit of walking in a garden to get insight, any replies would be welcomed. 

Ragan Ewing (6/15/2008 3:24 PM)

On Moo v. Wright—First of all, much of what you’re sensing is due to the format of the commentaries the two scholars wrote for. Moo’s book is in the NICNT series, which is one of the most thorough verse-by-verse technical series out there. All of the volumes in that one are like that. Wright’s Romans is part of the New Interpreter’s Bible, which is more of a pastoral level overview series than an exegetical tour-de-force. That’s why none of the entries in that series have extended discussion of textual criticism, grammar/syntax, or history of exegesis. It’s just not what that series is for—it’s more of a “forest” project than a “trees” one. If you look at one of Wright’s more scholarly works, such as Climax of the Covenant, or his Christian Origins series, you’ll see more of that kind of complete exposition. Currently, he’s supposed to be working on Philippians for ICC, and that will certainly exposit every facet of the book.

Second, there is a hermeneutical issue here. Much of the previous generation evangelical scholarship has focused on grammatical-historical word-by-word exegesis, which, to some extent is a product of Western modernist approaches to the text. Wright and some of his contemporaries are operating from a more literary approach that places heavier emphasis on context, intertextuality, and overall narrative/rhetorical flow. They’re both valid and necessary disciplines, but as a matter of interpretive priority, I would ask whether I could better grasp what someone looks like from a DNA map or a photo.

Also, sometimes when it seems like someone isn’t talking about the “real issues”, it’s because they aren’t on the same page with us about what the “real issues” are. Wright, in his Romans commentary, isn’t in his view avoiding the more central topics of “earning salvation” or “legalism”, e.g. He actually believes he is coming at it from the angle of what the real issues actually are. Moo, Cranfield, Shreiner, et al, like any other writers, aren’t neutrally approaching the text and objectively addressing the issues that lie nakedly therein. They read it through post-reformation and modern evangelical lenses that define what the key terms, issues, and emphases are. Wright too reads through a grid, but he self-consciously claims to be re-ordering it in light of what he perceives a first-century ex-Pharisee would actually be talking about if he were debating with teachers in his day, rather than 16th century Catholics or 21st century liberals. Now, whether he accomplishes this is of course the charge in question. But the point is, he is not just proposing some “new ideas” on some general theological doctrines. He actually believes these are the main points of the text itself, ideas like Jesus’ lordship as the central tenet of the gospel, New Exodus as the key image of redemptive history, and Jewish/Gentile unity in Christ as the fulfillment of God’s purposes in the Abrahamic Covenant.

I say this as someone who at one time considered Moo’s Romans commentary the most influential book on my shelf for my own thinking. Since then, Wright’s volume might very well take that title. Upon first working through Wright’s views, I didn’t entirely get what the fuss was, and wondered, much like you, why he wasn’t answering the questions I was asking. Once I got what he was saying, I understood that he was arguing my questions were the wrong ones. Now, when I read Moo, the Greek and textual criticism are there (because it’s a technical series), but I often find myself frustrated that he’s missing the whole point of the passage. Wright may be much more succinct (again, it’s a non-technical, shorter format), but in a few sentences he will better explain for me what the heck Paul actually means, and I don’t just have to take his word for it; I can see it more plainly now in the text itself.

Brett (6/16/2008 9:46 AM)


Thank you for this insightful reply. I think my dislike for either/or commentary models (exegetical or literary flow) is where my issue lies. I feel like I got the literary flow by following Moo's DNA approach. Yet, I do like reading Wright's works, but perhaps I just need to adjust my expectations for that style of "commentary." I enjoy reading Wright's ideas on Jesus' lordship, New Exodus, etc., but I guess I prefer reading these topics in a topical or doctrinal kind of book rather than in a commentary on a particular book. Anyway, I had a feeling the problem lied with me :o )