The New Testament as Literature: Part 2 -- By: John H. Bennetch

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 107:427 (Jul 1950)
Article: The New Testament as Literature: Part 2
Author: John H. Bennetch


The New Testament as Literature:
Part 2

John Henry Bennetch

(Concluded from the April-June Number, 1950)

Literary form. The books of the New Testament appear in three forms common to literature: narration, communication and prediction. Five narrate the historical basis of Christianity, twenty-one embody correspondence between the missionary and his field, and the final work constitutes a prophecy. Accordingly, most of the books are cast in epistolary form, representing an emphasis on things present, conduct in the church and its expansion as a new faith in the world. A look backward to the past and the way that the Christian faith took root, however, takes up more space than the score of letters preserved, although only a few books gather up all this history. Only a single book, and that the last one in the canon, is devoted to things future. This noteworthy volume has some characteristics of an ordinary letter, also.

No elaborate form of literature has entered the New Testament. In one sense, then, the twenty-seven books could not be styled literature for lack of polish. If there be an exception to this general rule it is a matter of one book and only one, the epistle to the Hebrews. There are occasional passages in some books which possess literary value, speaking technically (e.g., 1 Cor 13), but no more than that. Surely it was to be expected that the apostolic canon proceed in simple, artless fashion when its authors were not men of the schools for the most part.

A reason or two can be found perhaps to account for the simplicity of the literary form as indeed God’s choice. First, because He did not want the message obscured by an emphasis on the writer. Christ must have the preeminence in all things, literary as well as every other way. Second, because the Bible is a revelation designed for everyman, the tutored and untutored, the Oriental and the Occidental, every generation of every century. In consequence there needs to

be a fundamental clarity that makes for adaptation to all the race.

One of the chief, if not the greatest of all, problems to arise in studying literary form pertains to the first three Gospels. How are the likenesses and unlikenesses of the three to be accounted for? They manifestly follow a common pattern as well as a common theme. This inquiry, it may be remarked without continuing the matter here, has somehow gone to seed. Men of common sense admit as much after seeing the lengths to which the problem has been taken.

Use of language and idiom. Inspiration has not made necessary a special language for the conveyance of revel...

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