Historical Criticism In The Dock: Recent Developments In Germany -- By: John Piper

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 23:4 (Dec 1980)
Article: Historical Criticism In The Dock: Recent Developments In Germany
Author: John Piper

Historical Criticism In The Dock: Recent
Developments In Germany

John Piper*

In Germany the intensity and fervor of the ongoing debate over the historical-critical method rises and falls with the emergence and disappearance of powerful, articulate spokesmen on one side or the other. In the NT discipline (to which I am restricting myself in this paper) Rudolf Bultmann brought the discussion to a fever pitch in the 1940s and 1950s, especially with his essay entitled “New Testament and Mythology.” At the beginning of the 1980s Peter Stuhlmacher, 48-year-old Lutheran professor of NT at Tübingen, has emerged as the leading figure in the ongoing debate over the value and limits of historical criticism. Since 1971 a stream of essays relating to this problem has come from his pen. The first batch was gathered in 1975 into the volume Schriftauslegung: Auf dem Wege zur biblischen Theologie. One of these five essays was translated by Roy Harrisville and published as Historical Criticism and Theological Interpretation of Scripture (1977). The essays continued after 1975. On the basis of his work in this area Stuhlmacher attained the privilege of writing the sixth Supplement to Neues Testament Deutsch on hermeneutics and the NT. This appeared in 1979 under the title Vom Verstehen des Neuen Testaments: Eine Hermeneutik. Thus here we have the ripest fruit of Stuhlmacher’s reflection and a statement worthy of our consideration on this side of the Atlantic. My main concern here will be with this book.

But before examining Stuhlmacher’s recent thought we should at least note that the critique of historical criticism in Germany is much more widespread than the limited concern with Stuhlmacher might suggest. It comes from at least three directions: conservative evangelicals outside the guild of university professors, Roman Catholic scholars, and what Stuhlmacher calls “positive critics” like himself—namely, the moderate NT scholars in the universities.

The two conservative evangelicals in Germany whose work has received greatest attention are Gerhard Maier, whose 1974 book was translated as The End of the Historical Critical Method, and Gerhard Bergmann, whose little book Alarm um die Bibel by 1974 had gone through five editions (but to my knowledge is not translated). I leave this branch of the German discussion on the periphery of this essay because Maier’s work is familiar in English and I have already offered my assessment of it in JETS 22/1 (March 1979) 79–85.

The Catholic NT scholar Anton Vögtle has written: “It can scarcely be denied in the area of New Testament studies that not only the impulses toward new methods, but also the decisive questions and insights into the New Testam...

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