Trends In New Testament Studies

Trends In New Testament Studies


One of the radical trends mentioned is “demythologizing.” Still, the most striking trend of New Testament interpretation today is that which discerns its fundamental unity in the saving message to which it bears witness. The implications of unity are surveyed in their bearing on the Salvation’s Author, Salvation’s Way, and the heirs of Salvation.

Scholars of the new generation are studying the New Testament armed with different agendas, fresh perspectives, and innovative methods. Some form of the new disciplines includes reader-response, narrative or rhetorical criticism, feminist hermeneutics, or liberation perspectives. A fundamental shift has occurred from the later 1960s, with a marked intensification from the 1990s. What happened is a breakdown in confidence in some (not all) quarters in what is known as the historical-critical approach. Gone now is the assumption that studying the New Testament necessarily involves historical-critical methods[1].

Until recently, books on reading or interpreting the New Testament dealt with questions that were, in some measure, historical. Most obviously, the three dominant critical tools in Gospel study this century: source-, form- and redaction- criticism, though applied with varying results and different goals, are all, essentially, historical methods. A recent compilation of ‘strategies for interpreting the New Testament features not only the familiar historical-critical material but also essays on such topics as discourse analysis, genre analysis, narrative criticism, rhetorical criticism, global perspectives, and feminist hermeneutics[2].

The arrival of fresh perspectives is a symptom of a change in the broader culture, a shift in the intellectual climate that has become suspicious of ‘modernity,’ with which historical-critical methods are associated. As Anthony Thiselton coherently states:

A hermeneutic of suspicion now seeks to dethrone all monolithic claims to represent a scientific “value-neutral” stance outside or above history, and it calls for the breakup of such hitherto respected institutional traditions of modernity into a new pluralism that reflects differing community interests. [3]

Thus, the most characteristic feature of post-modernism in Biblical Studies, as in the outside world, is its lack of any characteristic feature. The only kind of one-word designation that could describe the contemporary scene is ‘pluralism.’ The variety of both approaches and topics of New Testament study is staggering. To look at the list of the most recent Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), International Meeting Abstracts, for example, is to see subjects sometimes so distantly related that it is incredible that they manage to be under the same roof. Alongside old favorites like the Synoptic Problem, the Son of Man debate, or the authenticity (or otherwise) of Paul’s epistles, one finds references to topics ranging from gender issues in Corinth to Jesus as a Comedic Hero to the lyrics of Frank Zappa. [4]

The two books that attempted to revive an older notion and drive enormous wedges between Pauline and non-Pauline strands in early Christianity are Michael Goulder’s Tale of Two Missions[5] and Gerd Lüdemann’s Heretics. [6]

Further, the variety is increased by the moving of boundaries traditionally imposed on scholarship by the canon of the New Testament. There is an increased interest in extra-canonical material, generated particularly by increased utilization of texts from Nag Hammadi. These texts have made an impact on scholarship for a while. They were discovered in Egypt in 1945 – but the tendency for a long time was to attempt to fit them into the existing paradigms of New Testament research, finding ways, for example, to make the Gospel of Thomas buttress the problematic ‘Q’ hypothesis. And so provide fresh evidence on the sayings of the historical Jesus. However, there is a greater interest in these writings for their own sake, as texts in their own right, with their history and their ideas. [7]

Overview of Relationship of N.T. and O.T.

New Testament Use of O.T.

I recommend reading the K. Beale. Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012. xviii.  Chapter 4 lists 12 primary ways the N.T. uses the O.T. (pp. 55–93) to indicate:

  1. Direct Fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy
  2. Indirect Fulfillment of Old Testament Typological Prophecy
  3. Affirmation That a Not-Yet-Fulfilled Old Testament Prophecy Will Assuredly Be Fulfilled in the Future
  4. An Analogical or Illustrative Use of the Old Testament
  5. The Symbolic Use of the Old Testament
  6. An Abiding Authority Carried Over from the Old Testament
  7. A Proverbial Use of the Old Testament
  8. A Rhetorical Use of the Old Testament
  9. The Use of an Old Testament Segment as a Blueprint or Prototype for a New Testament Segment
  10. An Alternate Textual Use of the Old Testament
  11. An Assimilated Use of the Old Testament
  12. An Ironic or Inverted Use of the Old Testament

Relationship of O.T. and N.T.

The Old Testament in the New; Credits Craig A. Evans

The O.T. is quoted or alluded to in every New Testament writing, except Philemon and 2 and 3 John[8]. It appears in the N.T. in every conceivable manner. It is quoted with introductory formulas (“it is written”) and without, and it is to paraphrase and allude. Sometimes the allusions comprise no more than a word or two. Other times the N.T. reflects O.T. themes, structures, and theology. The NT writers appeal to the O.T. for apologetic, moral, doctrinal, pedagogical, and liturgical reasons. Only the gospel itself makes a more significant contribution to N.T. thought.

Jewish Exegesis in Late Antiquity:

In late antiquity, Jewish exegesis took many forms. [9]. It was pursued consciously and methodically, sometimes manifesting itself in informal, almost unconscious ways. There was no purely Jewish exegesis. Instead, Jewish exegetes adopted and adapted forms and styles of interpretation of sacred literature practiced throughout the eastern Mediterranean world. [10]. Nevertheless, a distinctive body of materials did emerge in Jewish circles, exemplifying interpretive approaches also found in the writings of N.T.


When the canon of Scripture was viewed as more or less closed, the focus became increasingly textual. One way of interpreting the meaning of the text was to paraphrase it. This form of exegesis appears as targum, the Aramaic paraphrase of Scripture. Through paraphrasing, text and interpretation are combined. Many of the paraphrasing N.T. quotations of the O.T. exemplify this form of Jewish exegesis. And at many points reflect specific targumic traditions (compare Mark 4:12 with Tg. Isa 6:10; Luke 6:36 with Tg.Ps,-J. Lev. 22:28. Or Rom. 10:6-8 with Tg. Neof. Deut. 30:11-14). [12]


Midrash (“Interpretation”: from darash, “to search” (see John 5:39) entails searching the text for clarification beyond the Obvious. About the study of Scripture, a student of Hillel once said, “Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it; and contemplate it and grow gray and old over it and do not stir from it, for you cannot have a better guide than it” (m. ‘Abot 5:22). It reflects the conviction of the midrashist. Scripture is to be searched and contemplated until the answer is found. Hillel followed seven rules (or middoth) for studying Scripture (‘Abot R. Nat. 37; t. Sanh. 7.11). The most significant N.T. study includes qal wahomer (“light and heavy”), where what is true in a less important case certainly will be true in a more important case (see Matt. 7:11, Rom. 5:10), gezera shawah (“rule of equivalence”). Where passages clarify one another if they share common vocabulary (see Rom. 4:7-8; 11:7-10), kelal upherat (“general and specific”). Where a general rule may be deduced from a specific passage and vice versa (see Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14). Jewish exegesis is halakic (i.e., concerned with legal matters, from Halak, (“how to) walk”) and haggadic (i.e., homiletical, from Haggadah, “explantion,” from the verb nagad, “to explain”). The former was chiefly the product of the academics, while the latter was the product of the synagogue, though there was overlap. Midrash sometimes takes the form of a running commentary. One of the best examples in the N.T. is seen in John 6:25-59 (commenting on Exod. 16:4; Ps 78:24; cf. cf. John 6:31[14].


At Qumran, Scripture was viewed as containing mysteries that needed explanation. The “Pesher” was the explanation of the mystery:” the pesher of this (Scripture) concerns the Teacher of Righteousness to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the prophets .”(1QpHab 7:4-5). It was assumed that the text spoke of and to the Qumran community and eschatological events about unfolding. As in NT exegesis (see Mark 12:10-11 {citing Ps. 118:22-23}; 14:27 {citing Zech. 13:7}; Acts 2:17-21 {citing Joel 2:28-32}, pesher exegesis understands specific biblical passages as fulfilled in specific historical events and experiences. [16]


Allegorical Interpretation involves extracting a symbolic meaning from the text. It assumes that a deeper, more sophisticated interpretation is to be found beneath the apparent letter of the passage. The allegorist does not necessarily assume that the text is unhistorical or without literal meaning. And the exegesis is not concerned with this aspect of the biblical text. The best-known first-century allegorist was Philo of Alexandria, whose many books afford a wealth of examples of the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, primarily of the Pentateuch. [18]. Allegorical interpretation is found in Qumran and the rabbis, and there is even some allegory in the N.T. The most conspicuous example is Gal. 4:24-31, where Sarah and Hagar symbolize two covenants. Another example is found in 1 Cor. 10:1-4, where the crossing of the Red sea symbolizes Christian baptism (though this aspect may be typological as well), and the rock symbolizes Christ.


Typology is not so much a method of exegesis as it is a presupposition underlying the Jewish and Christian understandings of Scripture, particularly its historical portions. Typology is based on the belief that the biblical story (of the past) has some bearing on the present. Or, to turn it around, the present is foreshadowed in the biblical story. Unlike allegory, typology is closely tied to history. Even midrashic exegesis reflects this kind of understanding of Scripture. J. L. Kugel has described midrash as reflecting an “obsession with past events and the necessity of having them bear on the present.” [20] He later says that Jewish exegesis wished to make the present “partake of )indeed, be continuous with) that comforting world of biblical history in which events made sense.” [21]

This is typological thinking, and to a certain extent, it underlies pesher and allegorical exegesis. Widespread Jewish eschatological expectation presupposed a typological understanding of Scripture. For example, it was believed that the great wonders of the past would be re-enacted in the messianic age. But typology is not without biblical precedent; it is rooted in the O.T. The great event of the exodus serves as a type for the postexilic return to the land of Israel (Isa. 43:16-17). David is a type of righteous king who would someday rule over restored Israel (Isa. 11: 1-3, 10; Jer. 23: 5-6; Zech. 3:8). Jesus compares the judgment that fell on Sodom with the coming eschatological judgment (Luke 17:28-30), the experience of Lot’s wife with those who lose their life (Luke 17: 32-33), and Elijah with John the Baptist (Mark 9:13). Best known is the comparison of Jonah’s experience with that of Christ’s burial and resurrection (Matt. 12:40; Luke 11:30). Of all the writings in the N.T., Hebrews makes the most extensive use of typology.


To determine how an N.T. writer has understood the O.T. passage being quoted or alluded to, it is necessary to reconstruct as closely as possible the first-century exegetical-theological discussion surrounding the O.T. passage in question. How did early Christians and Jews understand the O.T. passage? To answer this question, every occurrence of the passage should be examined. It involves the study of the ancient versions themselves (M.T., LXX, Targum) and citations of the passage elsewhere in the N.T., O.T., Apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, Qumran, Josephus, Philo, and early rabbinic sources. [22]

Some sources will prove utterly irrelevant; others may significantly clarify the N.T. writer’s exegesis. For example, the citation and interpretation of Ps. 82:6-7 in John 10:34-36 cannot be adequately explained by an appeal to the O.T. context alone. But when the rabbinic interpretation of this psalm is considered (Sipre Deut. $320 {on 32:20}; Num. Rab. 16:24 {on 14:11}), its relevance to the Johannine context becomes clear.

** A few examples from Jesus, the evangelists, Paul, and the author of Hebrews are given by Craig A. Evans, “The Old Testament in the New” in The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research, eds. Scot Mcknight and Grant R. Osborne (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Academy, 2004), 134-145.

There are new research and newly published books that one can look up.



  •   [1] Scholars use many different historical-critical methods, all of which might fall under the general designation historical-critical approach or perspective
  • [2] Joel B. Green, ed., Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1995). This book is the best introduction to many newer methodologies, with exciting essays on some older ones.
  • [3] ‘New Testament Interpretation in Historical Perspective’ in ibid., pp. 10-36 (p. 17).
  • [4] A.
  • [5] Michael Goulder, A Tale of Two Missions (London: SCM, 1994). See my Goulder and the Gospels: An Examination of a New Paradigm (JSNTSup, 133; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), pp. 33-37.
  • [6] Gerd Lüdemann, Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity (ET, London: SCM, 1996). For a recent evaluation, see the review by Frances Young, RRT (1997/1), pp. 27-29
  • [7] For a recent example of this, see Majella Franzmann, Jesus in the Nag Hammadi Writings (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), which groups together and discusses the writings’ constructions of Jesus’ character without necessary reference to canonical Gospel material
  • [8] For principal bibliography, see C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures (New York: Scribner, 1952); B. Lindars, New Testament Apologetic (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961); C. K. Barret, “The Interpretation of the O.T. in the New,” in The Cambridge History of the Bible, ed. P. R. Ackroyd et al., 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963-70), 1:377-411; D. M. Smith, “The Use of the O.T. in the New,” in The Use of the O.T. in the New and Other Essays, ed. J. Efird (Durham: Duke University Press, 1972), 3-65; H. M. Shires, Finding the O.T. in the New (Philadephia: Westminster, 1974); R. N. Longnecker, New Testament Interpretation of Scripture, (London: SPCK, 1980); D. A. Carson and H. G. M. Williamson, eds., It is Written:Scripture Citing Scripture: Essays in Honour of Barnabas Lindars, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); D. H. Juel, Messianic Exegesis: Christological Interpretation of the O.T. in Early Christianity, (Philadephia: Fortress, 1988); E. E. Ellis, The O.T. in Early Christianity, WUNT 54 (Tublingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992); R. Liebers, “Wie geschrieben steht“: Studien Zu einer besonderen Art fruhchristlichen Schriftbezuges (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1993); Scot Mcknight, and Grant R. Osborne eds., “The O.T. in the New,” in The Face of N.T. Studies, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academy, 2004
  • [9] See G. Vermes, “Bible and Milrash: Early OT Exegesis,” in Ackroyd et al., Cambridge History of the Bible, 1:199-231; idem, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism, SPB 4 (Leiden: Brill, 1973); D. Patte, Early Jewish Hermeneutic in Palestine, SBLDS 22 (Missoula, Mont: Scholars Press, 1975); M. Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975); M. J. Mulder, ed, Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading, and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christisnity, CRINT 2.1 (Assen: Van Gorcum: Philadephia: Fortress, 1988); D. Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990); D. Instone Brewer, Techniques and Assumptions in Jewish Exegesis before 70 C.E., TSA (Tubigen: Mohr, Siebeck, 1992); D. Marguerate and A. Curtis, eds., Intertextualites: La Bible en echos, Le Monde de la Bible 40 (Paris: Labor et Fides, 2000).
  • [10] See S. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1962)
  • [11] See J. Bowker, The Targums and Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969); The Aramaic Bible, a multivolume set edited by M. McNamara.
  • [12] See M. McNamara, The New Testament and the Palestinian Targum to the Pentateuch, AnBib 27 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 19660; Targum and Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)
  • [13] See S. Zeitlin, Midrash: A Historical Study,” JQR 44 (1953); 21-36; A. G. Wright, The Literary Genre Midrash (Staten Island: Alba, 1967), R. Le Deaut, “Apropos a Definition of Midrash,” Int 25 (1971): 262-82; R. Bloch, “Midrash,” in Approaches to Ancient Judaism, ed. W. S. Green, BJS 1 (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1978), 29-50; G. G. Porton, “Defining Midrash,” in Study of Ancient Judaism, ed. J. Neusner (New York: Krav, 1981), 55-94; R. T. France and D. Wenham, eds., Studies in Midrash and Historiography, Gospel Perspectives 3 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1983); J. Neusner, What Is Midrash? (Philadelphia Fortress, 1987)
  • [14] P. Borgen, Bread from Heaven: An Exegetical Study of the Concept of Manna in the Gospel of John and the Writings of Philo, NovTsup 10 (Leiden: Brill, 1965), For a survey of examples, seem. Gertner, “Midrashim in the New Testament,” JSS7 (1962): 267-92
  • [15] See J. A. Fitzmyer, “The use of Explicit Old Testament Quotations in Qumran Literature and the New Testament,” NTS 7 (1961): 297-333; M. P. Horgan, Pesharim: Qumran Interpretations of Biblical Books, CBQMS 8 (Washington: Catholic Biblical Association, 1979); G. J. Brooke, Exegesis at Qumran: 4QFlorilegium in Its Jewish Context, JSOTSup 29 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985); D. Dimant, “Pesharim, Qumran,” ABD 5:244-51
  • [16] For a major comparison of pesher with N.T. exegesis, see K. Stendahl, The School of St. Matthew and Its Use of the Old Testament, AsNU 20 (Lund: Copenhagen: Munksgaard; re. ed., Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968
  • [17] See J. Z. Lauterbach, “The Ancient Jewish Allegorists,” JQR 1 (1911): 291-333; G. L. Bruns, “Midrash and Allegory: The Beginnings of Scriptural Interpretation,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. R. Alter and F. Kermode (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 625-46; D. m. Hay, “Defining Allegory in Philo’s Exegetical World,” SBLSP 33 (1994(: 55-68.
  • [18] See S. G. Sowers, The Hermeneutics of Philo and Hebrews (Richmond: John Knox, 1965); J. Moris, “Philo the Jewish Philosopher,” in E. Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C. – A.D., 135), ed. G. Vermes et al., 3 vols. in 4 (Edinburgh: Clark, 1973-87), 3.2: 809-89, esp. 871-88.
  • [19] G. von Rad, “Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament,” in Essays on Old Testament Hermeneutics, ed. C. Westermann (Richmond: John Knox, 1963), 17-39; L. Goppelt, Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982); Patte, Early Jewish Hermeneutic, 156-67.
  • [20] J. L. Kugel, with R. A. Greer, Early Biblical Interpretation, LEC 3 (Philadelphia: Westminister, 1986), 38
  • [21] Ibid., 46
  • [22] These respective bodies of literature are summarized and introduced in C. A. Evans, Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1992). For further discussion of the method, see 1-8.

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