Canonical Criticism: A Review From A Conservative -- By: John N. Oswalt

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 30:3 (Sep 1987)
Article: Canonical Criticism: A Review From A Conservative
Author: John N. Oswalt


Canonical Criticism: A Review From A Conservative

John N. Oswalt*

*John Oswalt is professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

It is no secret that OT studies are in a considerable state of disarray today. All the old verities have floated away, and it is as though we were in the days of the judges—that is, everyone does what is right in his own eyes. Although it is still often necessary for a scholar who wishes the esteem of his peers to espouse the scholarly orthodoxy of J. E, D and P. once he has done so any strange mutation of that dogma seems to be perfectly acceptable. The result is that we have a plethora of criticisms being practiced today. There is source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, and tradition criticism, to name a few. Each of these has its own arcane methodology, and each yields astonishingly different results when practiced by different people

As stated above, the upshot of all of this is a discipline that is adrift. This is not all bad, of course. In a day when all move in lockstep, those who differ from the norm are effectively shut out. The only alternatives are “in” and “out.” This latter was the experience of many of our evangelical scholarly forbears. They were forced to the fringes of the learned debates by the monolithic commitment of OT scholarship to the Wellhausenian position. Today the walls are largely fallen, and as a result we evangelicals have a new opportunity to speak and be heard in the discipline as a whole. This is not to say that we have suddenly become respectable. There still lurks in the minds of our compatriots the conviction that a recent dean of Duke Divinity School voiced when asked if he expected to appoint an evangelical to his faculty. His answer was that he could not do so with integrity since evangelicalism is an intellectually dishonest position. While not all would be so forthright, it is still true that our points of view on Scripture and revelation are sources of profound uneasiness to many in the scholarly community. As a result, we may expect that respectability will always have the price tag of compromise on these points attached to it. The challenge before us will be to make our contributions in such a way that we can be heard without at the same time surrendering that which makes us who we are. Scylla and Charybdis loom on either side, and respectability sings a deadly siren song.

As we consider where and how to make our contributions we must recognize that amidst the general chaos in the field there are still some very important points of agreement. One of these that has particular relevance for this paper is the agreement that the Bible’s reports of the history of the Israelite people, a...

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