Warning: Carson’s description of “the first approach” below may be convicting to some who read this.
The following is from D. A. Carson, “An Introduction to Introductions,” in Linguistics and the New Testament: Critical Junctions (ed. D. A. Carson and Stanley E. Porter; Studies in New Testament Greek 5; Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 168; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 14-17.
Carson recognizes that “the current state of biblical studies . . . has become fragmented,” extending “beyond presuppositions and conclusions to the methods themselves” and reducing BT to NTT to Synoptic Gospel theology to Matthean theology to Q theology to “Q’s couplets in the third Q source.” There are “four responses to this fragmentation.” I’ll not quote the full descriptions of the last three approaches because I’d like to highlight the first in contrast with the fourth. (Carson takes the fourth approach.)
- “The first approach ignores or marginalizes all recent developments. We shall gamely go ahead with commentaries and theologies the way we have always done them. One cannot learn everything; it is simply a waste of time to try to master every new tool or hermeneutical perspective that comes out. Somebody needs to do so, of course, but our job is simply to get on with a serious reading of the text—the normal tracks of responsible scholarship.
“This sounds good, perhaps even pious, but it is a recipe for obsolescence. Such scholarship will reassure traditionalists for a while, but on the long haul they will simply be bypassed.”
- “The second approach focuses on just one method, preferably the most recent.”
- “The third approach is to rejoice in the fragmentation, and to insist that such developments are not only inevitable but delightful, even liberating.”
- “The fourth approach emphasizes the classic disciplines first: the necessary languages, detailed familiarity with the relevant texts, wide reading and reflection, a secondary (but important) grasp of the principal secondary literature. It insists that a concentration on tools, hermeneutical debates, and epistemological shifts without absorbing the primary texts is a distraction that promises more than it can deliver. At the same time, it frankly admits that these ‘distractions’ churn up some useful material. This approach is unhappy to see these genuine advances magnified disproportionately, but it tries to learn from them. It may acknowledge, for instance, that postmodern epistemology has exposed some of the more arrant claims of the assured results of modern biblical science, and convincingly shown how all reading is done, among finite readers, in some limited framework that shapes one’s conclusions, but it nevertheless insists (whether this is a reasoned philosophical response or not) that there is some objective meaning in the texts themselves, and even if we cannot retrieve all of it, or any of it with the certainty of omniscience, we can so spiral in on it that genuine communication, in part if not in whole, is possible. . . .
“The problem with this approach, of course, is the sheer volume of material. A scholar’s life is not long enough to become an expert in every field that butts up against biblical studies. But are there genuine alternatives beyond the four approaches suggested here? We do the best we can, try to learn from the most important lessons from the new disciplines—and remain focused on the text themselves.”