Biblical Methodology

For those interested in methodology (PhD students preparing to write dissertations in any field should take special note), pick up the June issue of JETS (2011).  Eckhard Schnabel has an article on reading the book of Acts: “Fads and Common Sense: Reading Acts in the First Century and Reading Acts Today.” Schnabel focuses his attention on the current methodology employed to understand the NT book of Acts.  Although his focus is on one book, his call for a common sense methodology has implications for all of the books of the Bible.  He writes in his conclusion, “…common sense suggests that the meaning and the significance of biblical texts is analyzed and established with the help of the full arsenal of historical, literary, narrative, rhetorical, and theological questions” (278). (Schnabel defines “method” as a set of questions “which illuminate the text” 277).   While I would lump narrative under “literary,” this common sense methodology understands that each biblical text has an historical context, that the biblical author employed certain literary techniques to make his rhetorical argument to make certain theological arguments.  Any study or reading of a biblical text that leaves out any of these “methods” will not expose the full intent of the biblical author.

Not only is this common sense methodology good for a number of dissertations (and commentaries), it is also most profitable for the church.  While recognizing the need for technical studies that may aim at a specific method, Schnabel suggests, “However, when writing for a wider readership, particularly for the church, the most helpful studies and the most useful commentaries are those which combine all relevant methods…” (277). I always appreciate a scholar who is concerned for the church!

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