Back in 1993, Martin Hengel, a well-published German scholar who focused on the New Testament and Early Judaism, gave a presidential address to the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, which was translated and published in the Bulletin for Biblical Research in 1996 as “Tasks of New Testament Scholarship.” Hengel was a master in his field, well worth reading, and this essay is no exception. Some observations and quotes from this article:
Hengel rightly notes that the primary source material for NT studies is minuscule in relation to other fields of scholarly study. This makes the immense amount of secondary literature even more striking. The astronomical amount of writing that has accrued in the field has been oft-noted. I remember first being apprised of it as I read Gordon Fee’s 1987 NICNT commentary on 1 Corinthians where he noted that “since 1953 [the year the previous NICNT 1 Corinthians commentary had been published] the literature on 1 Corinthians has burgeoned beyond the ability of any one person to master it–especially one whose primary calling is preaching and teaching. A complete bibliography would include over 2,000 items” (x). And that was in 1987! Hengel noted in the present article that a catalog of literature on the Gospel of John from 1920-1965 ran to 3,120 items; a followup bibliography of works from 1966-1985 added 6,300 additional items; and Hengel estimated that “the total altogether since the Second World War may reach 15,000, and as it extends, it is shaped like a parabola.” (69) And that was in 1993!
Corresponding with the volume of studies, specialization has increased. Interestingly, there were no chairs of New Testament in educational institutions prior to 1898, when Adolf Schlatter assumed that position at Tübingen (although he was “also a dogmatician, ethicist, and Judaist” ). In response to this increasing specialization, Hengel advocates a broader field of studies for the NT scholar, particularly the English-speaking one: the OT and Judaism, the ancient church and the Hellenistic-Roman world, patristics (and he would broaden the range of “patristics” to the third century), the history of the canon, gnostic texts, languages other than Greek (Latin, Semitic, modern languages) and secondary literature written in them, the history of exegesis, and more broadly, biblical theology, church history, and systematic theology. He suggests that “every New Testament scholar should seek to find one or more areas of competence outside the New Testament.” (85)
As a passing mention, Hengel notes that Baur, Zahn, and Schlatter all argued for the priority of Matthew (as the ancient church did). Hadn’t realized that.
Hengel believes that the increasing ecumenism in NT studies has been most helpful; indeed, he avers that “this increasingly close [ecumenical] collaboration has stimulated New Testament work [in the SNTS] during the last forty years more than anything else.” (82) Interestingly, Hengel notes that “the confessional differences that had dominated previously have nearly completely disappeared in the methods and results of scriptural interpretation. . . . One can often no longer say on the basis of an author’s exegetical work whether he or she is Protestant or Catholic.” (82)