“What if it were True? Why study the New Testament”

In a previous post, I mentioned that there are many good reflections out there about the nature of New Testament studies (articulating in better words what many of us apprehend with less clarity, or less occasion). A new essay in New Testament Studies by Christopher Kavin Rowe fits the bill (even while I did not have it in mind when I wrote that post–it was not yet published). It considers the nature of understanding and the way in which students and scholars interact with and understand the New Testament.

Its occasion is that it is written largely as a response to an article by Stephen L. Young in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion (“‘Let’s Take the Text Seriously’: The Protectionist Doxa of Mainstream New Testament Studies,”) which article names Rowe as one of a number of guilty parties in New Testament interpretation. Young’s article riffs on common themes one will find on internet forums–and in some mainstream critical scholarship–that believing scholarship is pseudo-scholarship, confused and bad, or just confused, only sometimes confused and good (if said scholarship supports the pet social issues of the author). That author claims the real scholarship is done by those like himself who are not given to “protectionist” doxa (thinking).

Rowe contends with arresting clarity–and with some themes common to his other works (World Upside Down, Oxford; One True Life, Yale)–that this is a fantasy position of those who proffer it. It does not at all comport with the nature of understanding. The essay by Rowe is well worth reading and pondering over, and it is open access! I’ve attached it below as a .pdf for convenience. Here’s the abstract:

This article argues for a renewal of the discipline of New Testament studies through a focus on the question of truth. To make the argument, the article first engages a recent essay that is highly critical of mainstream NT scholarship and subsequently works with the thought of Søren Kierkegaard, Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond and Hans-Georg Gadamer to pursue the interpreter’s implications in the NT’s assertions of truth. The article also briefly exegetes five passages from the NT to illustrate the way the NT makes claims that require judgements about truth. Along the way, the article also engages contemporary NT scholars who argue vociferously against ‘theological’ readings of the NT and others who argue for their inherent necessity.

Rowe, “What if it were True?” abstract.

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