Form Criticism, Recent Developments in Genre Theory, and the Evangelical -- By: Tremper Longman III

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 47:1 (Spring 1985)
Article: Form Criticism, Recent Developments in Genre Theory, and the Evangelical
Author: Tremper Longman III

Form Criticism, Recent Developments in Genre Theory,
and the Evangelical*

Tremper Longman III

Attitudes toward form criticism are undergoing some significant changes in both liberal and evangelical circles. Critics are becoming increasingly wary of form criticism as developed by Gunkel and others1 and are seeking change either in an emphasis on other critical disciplines, particularly rhetorical,2 or by refining form criticism.3 In general, the

feeling is growing that Gunkel’s method too rigidly defines genres, identifies exemplars, and derives benefits. Evangelicals, on the other hand, are slowly coming to a cautious appreciation and more explicit use of form criticism.4 There are still some evangelicals who on the basis of an identification of form criticism with a critical, negative application of this method would say along with one scholar in the late sixties:

…it is obvious that a consistent, thorough-going form criticism will have no appeal to those who desire to recognize the inspiration of the Scriptures and the historical continuity between the Lord Jesus and the early church. And let all “conservatives” who are inclined to adopt some form critical terminology and viewpoints be apprised of the basic nature of that to which they are accommodating themselves.5

Nevertheless, many evangelicals believe that form criticism has worth: “If form criticism is properly handled, the results can shed light on the Scriptures, although the values depend on the kind of literature being considered.”6

A real difference of viewpoint is represented in these two quotations and the present opinions on the matter are likely even further apart than they illustrate.7 The thesis of this paper is that the move toward a positive and constructive form criticism as a hermeneutical tool is a proper one and that

* A shorter version of this article was delivered as a paper at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in December 1982.

evangelicals should continue to formulate and apply such a method which is shorn of the negative presuppositions of the method as applied by critics. This paper further contends that some recent developments in genre theory will aid in such a constructive approach.

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