Many are the sages that have come before us in the study of the New Testament. Here are a few excerpts worthy of consideration from Martin Hengel. He offers us some important thoughts as he peered into the misty future of New Testament scholarship, from the vantage point of 1996, nearly twenty years before this posting.
From Martin Hengel (1996). “Tasks of New Testament Scholarship.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 6: 85-86.
Through a flood of literature that has become impossible to survey and the immense number of hypotheses associated with this, the limited framework of our discipline, concentrated as it is on one little book, threatens to become too constructed and to overwhelm our datum, the New Testament.
Therefore, within this framework that has become too restricted, we must exercise a certain self-restraint and, for its sake, broaden our field of study, into the Old Testament and Judaism, the ancient church and the Hellenistic-Roman world, as also in the area of history of exegesis, and not only within the modern period. Every New Testament scholar should seek to find one or more areas of competence outside the New Testament. In view of what has become the threat of pernicious overspecialization, we may all be permitted as a counterweight to risk a certain amount of ‘dilettantism.’ For all that, the New Testament ought to remain the center our work. Thereby, this will receive new impulses and become more productive.
Moreover, in the interest of truth of the faith that encounters us in the New Testament, it behoves us to guard against overspecialization and to lay down bridges toward a biblical theology, to church and history, and to systematic theology, so that something of the ecumenical unity of theology as a whole may again become apparent in our work. The conversation with Judaism must also be a part of this bridge-building.
Much more than we are conscious, texts newly discovered since the days of the Tübingen school have furthered progress in our discipline and have forced us to correct mistaken judgments. The great library finds from the second half of this century have fundamentally altered the picture of early Christianity. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to such small and large finds in the future and to seek to have them published and made known quickly.
It belongs to the ecumenical task of our discipline to defend the necessity of clear-headed philological-historical criticism over against both fundamentalist retrenchments and fanciful pseudo-criticism. The questions of historical and theological truth, rightly understood, are bound together and may not be rent asunder without injury—fides quaerens intellectum. Together, they are the salt that seasons the work of exegesis.