An Examination Of Joseph Bonsirven (1880-1958) And His Contributions To Twentieth Century Biblical Studies -- By: J. Nathan Clayton

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 29:1 (Spring 2008)
Article: An Examination Of Joseph Bonsirven (1880-1958) And His Contributions To Twentieth Century Biblical Studies
Author: J. Nathan Clayton


An Examination Of Joseph Bonsirven (1880-1958) And His Contributions To Twentieth Century Biblical Studies

J. Nathan Clayton*

*J. Nathan Clayton, who was raised on the mission field in France, completed his Old Testament Ph.D. in 2007 at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he is currently teaching Hebrew.

A significant marker in the inception of the disciplines of NT and OT theology can be found in the oft-quoted 1787 lecture by J. P. Gabler, who argued that a descriptive biblical theology was needed as a separate field of study from the theological prescriptions of dogmatic theology.1 And in his recent study of the history of NT theology, Yarbrough contends that a dominant scholarly trajectory exists therein—one that may be traced to Gabler’s formulations and that was set in the broad post-Enlightenment environment of a rising critical and rationalistic study of Scripture and theology.2 In fact, Yarbrough suggests that this prevailing tradition of NT theology may be elucidated following the signposts of “three doyens of the discipline”: Baur (1792-1860), Wrede (1858-1906), and Bultmann (1884-1976)—all scholars whose work embodies a critical heritage that clashes quite severely with classic, pre-critical Christian thought and belief.3

However, Yarbrough argues further that an alternative minority voice to the Baur-Wrede-Bultmann line may still be found,

principally in the works of von Hofmann (1810-1877), Schlatter (1852-1938), Albertz (1882-1956), Goppelt (1911-1973), and Cullman (1902-1998). Murray, for example, argues that Bultmann’s view of salvation history leads to the “dehistoricization” of the event of man’s salvation in Jesus Christ and is thus in “danger of eliminating what is essential to Christian salvation, namely, its concrete embodiment in man’s history.”4 In a sense, it could be argued that Baur engendered the critical study of the NT, Wrede put forth a historical-critical hermeneutical agenda for NT theology—based on the notion that Christianity could no longer be seen as a uniquely ancient religious expression—and as Yarbrough comments, Bultmann fulfilled this critical programme by producing a dominating NT theology “palpably foreign to the New Testament writers themselves but intellectually compelling to Bultmann’s readers then and since.”5 The common thread of this “seemingly dispar...

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