A Milestone in the History of New Testament Research: A Review Essay -- By: Robert W. Yarbrough

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 46:2 (Jun 2003)
Article: A Milestone in the History of New Testament Research: A Review Essay
Author: Robert W. Yarbrough


A Milestone in the History of New Testament Research: A Review Essay

Robert W. Yarbrough

[Robert Yarbrough is associate professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2065 Half Day Road, Deerfield, IL 60015.]

This review of William Baird’s major new publication1 will offer two major suggestions. First, Baird has produced a lengthy (565 pages) and important work that deserves to take its place alongside, and in some ways above, other celebrated treatments of the persons, issues, and periods he examines. This is a milestone in the study of the history of the discipline, for reasons to be noted in the analysis below. (And at only $40 list in hardback, it is a bargain.)

Second, Baird makes progress in giving confessional scholars (as opposed to the figures openly critical of historic Christian teaching who dominate the volume) credit for contributing to learning. Here however, like many others in the guild, he is on a learning curve: neither Kümmel’s nor Neill’s respective histories of NT scholarship does enough to preserve accurately the memory of scholars in this period (or other periods) who did not fall into line with movements like rationalism, the Tübingen school, liberalism, and the history-of-religions school, all of which jettisoned key elements of historic Christianity in the interest of current trends in thought and in that sense abandoned the Christian faith (despite the frequent insistence that they were simply making it palatable for a new generation). I will observe repeatedly below that while Baird has solid knowledge, he lacks enthusiasm for the “conservative” voice in scholarship. Despite his valiant and often successful effort to be fair, in Baird’s narrative this voice too frequently comes off as dull, polemical, reactionary, and an impediment to the more exciting “critical” directions that dominate the history as Baird depicts it. This does not jeopardize the usefulness of the book, but it does give it a slant which some readers will find unfortunate. For while no historical treatment can be ideal from every standpoint, this one could have been more satisfactory in its treatment of scholars who had the courage, conviction, and resourcefulness to think critically against prevailing trends which have proven with time to be seriously deficient.

This is the second of a projected three-volume series. The first appeared in 1992 and was subtitled From Deism to Tübingen. The third will be called From Biblical Theology to Pluralism. Volume two took ten years to produce,

which sounds like a long time until one scrutinizes the vast reaches of literatu...

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