Raising the Bar

A daring proposal for the future of evangelical New Testament scholarship.

What is the next horizon for evangelical scholarship? Martin Hengel, one of the foremost experts on early Judaism and Christianity, explores one idea in this essay. He is professor emeritus of New Testament and early Judaism at the University of Tubingen, Germany. The most recent of his many books is The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ (Trinity, 2000).

In a time of breathtaking progress in the fields of biophysics and biochemistry, astrophysics, nanotechnology and information technology, the acceleration of our knowledge is a hyperbola striving after infinity. Our ethical consciousness and human responsibility cannot keep abreast of it.

In contrast to this scorching speed of progress, the Bible remains always the same: the canon of the Hebrew Bible has not changed since the Pharisaic rabbis of Jamnia established it in about A.D. 100. Nor has the New Testament canon changed since the 39th Easter letter of Bishop Athanasius from Alexandria, written in A.D. 367. But, one may object, our understanding of the Bible has changed. The answer to that is yes and no.

The Bible's basic spiritual importance for our faith and the Christian church remains unchanged. We have at this time no better answer to the Lord's question ("You do not want to leave too, do you?") than did Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:67-68). Yet it seems that now, more so than in former centuries, we must fight an intellectual battle to ensure with Paul "that the truth of the gospel might continue to be preserved" (Gal. 2:5).

In this battle, we've had many victories. Biblical scholars can be proud of breakthroughs that resulted in an explosion of our New Testament knowledge in the last 100 to 200 years. ...

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