Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Three tips for studying the New Testament (for beginners)

Not necessarily the most important nor in order of importance:
  1. Purchase a couple of NT Introduction books and make sure that they represent two different perspectives. For example, you could try the Carson & Moo volume, An Introduction to the New testament (conservative evangelical - inerrancy, Peter wrote 2 Peter-or-our-faith-is-in-vain sort). But if you get that one also purchase David deSilva's volume of the same title (moderate evangelical - wouldn't want to cause offence sort) or even try Raymond E. Brown's equally imaginatively titled book, An Introduction to the New testament (foaming mouthed Catholic with a liberal bent sort).
  2. This will sound trite but is more important than anything else that could be said here: read the New Testament! An old German NT scholar, Adolf Schlatter, used to say that people tend to miss what is right in front of their eyes (the NT!). It is best to start there before darting to commentaries, word studies, pseudepigraphal parallels etc. Prayerfully read the NT of course, but don't just get hung up in holy meditation on your favourite verse. Also read thinkfully! I believe God loves it when we seek to love him with all our minds.
  3. Start to learn the habit of enjoying NT related books that are more informed about matters of exegesis, historical background, hermeneutical subtelty etc. Have a look at catalogues of such publishinghouses as, e.g., T & T Clark, Eerdmans, Hendrickson, IVP Academic, Paternoster, SPCK, Baylor, WJK, etc.

So many more points could be added. But what other tips would you offer (for beginners)?


At 5/07/2009 12:04 AM, Anonymous The Dude said...

If possible, find someone wiser than you - not just a book - to read the NT with!

At 5/07/2009 2:18 AM, Anonymous Bob MacDonald said...

At our study of Luke - the annunciation - on Monday, in a small group, I commented that I had forgotten that the NT was in the Bible. For a NT intro - I do recommend reading the OT too. (And how to read the OT - that's worth a post)

At 5/07/2009 5:47 AM, Anonymous Michael Barber said...

Best advice I ever got:

"Don't simply demonize sinners in Scripture. If there's a sin you find in the Bible that you can't see yourself committing, you haven't understood it properly yet" (Dr. Scott Hahn).

Pope Benedict recently addressed this issue and highlighted three criteria for reading Sacred Scripture highlighted by Vatican II and repeated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 112-115). I think all Christians would agree to these even if they would interpret them somewhat differently. Here's how the Catechism puts them:

1. Be especially attentive "to the content and unity of the whole Scripture". Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God's plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.

The phrase "heart of Christ" can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.
[In other words, see Bob MacDonald's point above!]

2. Read the Scripture within "the living Tradition of the whole Church". According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (". . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church").

[Dale Allison frequently points out that if you come up with a totally original reading of a biblical text there may be a good reason no else has thought of it: it's wrong.]

3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith. By "analogy of faith" we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

At 5/07/2009 12:02 PM, Anonymous Nick said...

Know the context and a little bit of NT history! It's amazing how many of the so called contradictions in the Bible disappear with a bit of context!

Also look at the mess that has been caused when people forget the jewishness of the Bible!

At 5/07/2009 12:47 PM, Anonymous Terry Wright said...

I can't offer any guidance or advice, as I'm still reeling from the implication that Peter may not have written 2 Peter! Screw the resurrection - now my faith really is in vain!

At 5/07/2009 4:07 PM, Anonymous dan said...

I would say this:

Recover the alterity of the texts! Do not assume that you know what the NT means. In fact, assume the opposite.

At 5/07/2009 9:34 PM, Anonymous the white whale said...

I think some of the best advice I've received (and might have been helpful much earlier on!) was to pursue questions I had about the text. Often my professed faith in the perspicuity of scripture (which is a good thing, don't get me wrong) lead me to assume that the problems and questions I found were simply my problem for 'not listening' or what have you.

Just encouraging folks to slow down and follow up the questions they have is a great step. My wife once whispered rather honestly to me (in the midst of someone reading Scripture in our Church), "sometimes Jesus doesn't seem to be that good a listener". In many of the Church contexts I've been in that statement would be outright rejected as false rather than drawn into a fruitful discussion. It seems that allowing beginners to ask and pursue these questions is a great and important part of actual learning.

At 5/09/2009 3:05 PM, Anonymous Pastor Bob Leroe said...

I'd add--get a Study Bible in a modern translation. The average church-goer isn't likely to begin compiling a basic Bible reference library, but a study edition's a good way to start. Why make Bible reading a chore?

At 5/09/2009 8:47 PM, Anonymous Scott said...

something I used to tell my (American) undergraduates: regularly read and compare three or four English translations. When you spot a translation difference you cannot account for, consult a good exegetical commentary. It should tell you whether the problem is exegeitcal, textual, or theological (or some combination)....

At 5/09/2009 10:57 PM, Anonymous Brian said...

Just spending time reading the Bible can do wonders for us in more ways than one.

At 5/10/2009 3:21 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Great comments people, and helpful. Thanks.

Michael, great to hear from you. I was recently senta review copy of Scott Hahn's Spirit & Life, and this - as my first glance suggests - makes similar points.

Dan, really like that. I think this is the problem I have with so-called dynamic translations. They make the text sound too familiar.

Great thoughts, guys. I'll have to collate these together.

At 10/23/2009 12:57 PM, Anonymous V. J. said...

I recently finished my Master of Theological Studies degree at the TTS in Madurai . My concentration was in Biblical studies and more specifically, The Relationship between New Testament and Old Testament. My areas of interest include Intertexuality, the synoptic gospels (especially Matthew), Use of old in the New.( prophesy fulfilment Quotations.) I hope to continue my research at the PhD level beginning in January 2010.


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