Setting the Record Straight: Robert W. Yarbrough’s Reassessment of the Discipline of New Testament Theology -- By: Frank Thielman

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 17:2 (NA 2007)
Article: Setting the Record Straight: Robert W. Yarbrough’s Reassessment of the Discipline of New Testament Theology
Author: Frank Thielman


Setting the Record Straight:
Robert W. Yarbrough’s Reassessment of the
Discipline of New Testament Theology

Frank Thielman

Samford University, Birmingham, AL

The Salvation Historical Fallacy? Reassessing the History of New Testament Theology. By Robert W. Yarbrough. History of Biblical Interpretation 2. Leiden: Deo, 2004.

In 2004, the very year that Robert Yarbrough’s book appeared, Wayne Meeks gave his presidential address to the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas on the question, “Why Study the New Testament?”1 This address provides a counterpoint to Dr. Yarbrough’s book and demonstrates the timeliness of his argument.

Dr. Meeks candidly admitted that the answer to this question was not at all obvious anymore. When the Society was founded in 1947, it had a substantial audience of primarily Protestant theologians, who were, in turn, training pastors that preached each Sunday. These pastors thought they were supposed to connect their preaching with the Bible, and therefore exegesis mattered to them. New Testament scholars of that era knew who they were and what they were doing: they were historians and exegetes, and their job was to teach the scholars who trained pastors. The Society had a method (the historical-critical method), a text (the NT), and an audience (the churches).2

Now, explains Meeks, the world has changed. The historical-critical method has been called into serious question because of its close ties to “post-Kantian” epistemology and the Cartesian notion that “the disembodied rational self” is “the arbiter of truth.” This method, it turns out, had an ideology of its own, and this ideology was unable to cope with, for example, the horrors of the Holocaust.3

The viability of exegesis as a discipline has also been called into question. Textual criticism cannot even deliver to us an “original text” that a single group

of readers had in their hands. The text we think we have, moreover, turns out to have a multiplicity of meanings, depending on who is reading it.4

The audience of the Society, moreover, has shrunk dramatically as Europe has become more secular. Even in America, where many people still attend church, most of those who attend either ignore or despise the kind of work that the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas does.5

For NT scholars to move forward in t...

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