Saturday, February 23, 2008

Biblical Theology and Christian Origins

I'm currently working on my Tyndale Lecture which will be about Biblical Theology and Christian Origins. At the moment we are privileged to have three major-massive-macro bigger-than-Ben-Hur New Testament Theology + New Testament History projects currently in production by N.T. Wright (Christian Origins and the Question of God), James. D. G. Dunn (Christianity in the Making), and Martin Hengel (Geschichte des frühen Christentums). To this we might also add the plethora of German Neuen Testament Theologie or Theologie des Urchristentums by H. Hubner, K. Berger, F. Hahn, J. Gnilka, P. Stuhlmacher and others.

The task of placing New Testament Theology in its historical co-ordinates is hardly new and it goes back as far as Anton Lutterbeck in his volume: Die neutestamentlichen Lehrbegriffe: oder, Untersuchungen über das Zeitalter der Religionswende, die Vorstufen des Christenthums und die erste Gestaltung desselben: ein Handbuch für älteste Dogmengeschichte und systematische Exegese des neuen Testamentes (Mainz: Florian Kupferberg, 1852). The question of how to integrate the theological message of the New Testament into the religious history of antiquity (or vice-versa) without being purely descriptive or rewriting history to suit a certain theology is perhaps the defining issue in New Testament Theology.

Also, what is the difference between "A Theology of the New Testament" and a "Theology of Early Christianity"? Is it that a "Theology of Early Christianity" is broader than the NT canon, although we should ask exactly what Christian sources do we have from the first century apart from the NT? The Didache and 1 Clement (probably), Gospel of Thomas (probably second century), Q (did it exist and isn't it absorbed into Matthew and Luke anyway)? Big subjects.


Eric Rowe said...
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Eric Rowe said...

"what is the difference between "A Theology of the New Testament" and a "Theology of Early Christianity"?"

First, I think we could probably all agree that there is no such thing as a single theology of all of early Christianity. Where the disputes around this issue come in is whether that same thing can be said about the New Testament. For those of us who say, yes, the New Testament is more than just a later collection of arbitrarily lucky books from early Christianity, and, yes, this corpus does orient around a core uniting theology, then that is the difference.

I would guess that the people who see no difference between the theologies of early Christianity and the theologies they see embedded in what we call the New Testament are those who believe that recognition of canonical boundaries deserves no place in historical study of documents, and, therefore, also believe there is really no such thing as a New Testament theology.

Dr. D said...

It is important to not lose the flavor of the timeline - where you put "early Christianity" into the mix, has everything to do with where you separate out the "God Speak" of the New Testament.
Personal Opinion here - there might be a difference prior to the Council at Nicea?

Phil Sumpter said...

I would have thought that the question of the nature of the relationship of the two testaments would be vital here.

Theophilus Punk (PLStepp) said...

"What is the difference between "A Theology of the New Testament" and a "Theology of Early Christianity"?"

I've always seen the difference as object; is the theologian observing the NT text itself, or a reconstruction of something behind / alongside the text?

David said...

i found this interview of Wright fascinating