lunes, 19 de marzo de 2012

The Failure of Form Critical Studies

A Text Needs a Context.--The background of biblical criticism, in general, developed on what can be considered a category mistake on the part of seventeen and eighteen century Bible apprentices. They did not have the theological expertise to process biblical contexts or concepts so they engaged in the task of interpretation based merely on their ability as intelligent Bible readers. For them, contradictions were easy to spot following the thought that any general idea in one passage (love, justice, peace, victory) could find its opposite in another passage (vengeance, destruction, war, or defeat). For many, that naïve operation was enough to disregard what they read, besides rendering a decisive service to mankind by unmasking Christianity and its faulty Bible. In those days, it was not clear what is clear today among Bible interpreters “who know that their exegesis will find appreciation only if it follows the axiom that a particular phrase will be understood starting with its context”.[1] 

Professor Claus Westermann (1909-2002), noted Old Testament scholar at Hidelberg University, expands: “This way of looking and understanding the Old Testament, by contexts and in the course of history, had as a result that it was no longer possible to confront the Old Testament, with the New Testament reduced to a single concept: for example,  the Old Testament speaks of the God of anger and the New of the God of kindness; the Old is the Law and the New is the Gospel; the Old Testament’s salvation is earthly, while in the New Testament’s is about spiritual things. For this reason, neither can generalizations be made using a definition—in itself correct—of the content of both Testaments as ‘promise’ and ‘fulfillment’, respectively, considering that all the Old Testament consists of promise and all the New Testament consists of fulfillment”.[2]

The approaches by which biblical contexts and history have been considered are the battleground of biblical studies. There is a rejection of both biblical affirmations and their history when general categories are contrasted without due attention to their literary context. By the same token, the same is true when “pericopes”, “sayings” or “words”, are selected and atomized without any regard for the historical or literary context, looking not for a message but for a speculative situation of their composition. This sort of operative action overtook practitioners of form criticism. Fortunately, biblical studies have evolved indeed, but the assessment of the epoch’s contributions to theology has been in itself “socially slow”. Professor William R. Farmer, an expert on sources in the Gospels has expressed: “The fact that an idea which is highly questionable is nevertheless widely believed or assented to is not new. What may be new to some is the demonstrable fact that ideas which could be grossly false can gain acceptance and credence in the highest intellectual circles and councils of the modern west under the guise of being the assured result of criticism”.[3]  I am convinced that this is the case of form criticism and its extension, historical criticism.

[1] Claus Westerman, El Antiguo Testamento y Jesucristo, 66
[2] Ibid., 67
[3] William R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis, vii

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