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New Testament Theologies

What is New Testament Theology? by Dan O. Via (Guides to Biblical Scholarship New Testament: Fortress Press) Does it rightly deal with the documents of the New Testament or with something outside the text, such as the unfolding of early Christian religion, the events of salvation history, the historical Jesus in particular, or an understanding of human existence?

Is New Testament theology a strictly historical project, a dialectical interaction between historical interpretation and hermeneutical concerns, or solely a hermeneutical program?

This lucidly written volume by prominent New Testament theologian, Dan O. Via, not only describes how New Testament theology has been and is being done, but provides critiques of the major approaches from the past century. Especially important are his discussions of Rudolf Bultmann, Hendrikus Boers, N.T. Wright, and postmodernism. Beyond critique, Via offers his own proposals for doing New Testament Theology. He discusses major developments in European, British, and U.S. scholarship and addresses issues of justice, liberation, and Postmodernity, giving examples of current theological analyses of: The Parable of the Vineyard, Justification by Faith, and Hebrews.

Contents: The Legacy of Hendrikus Boers; The Structuring of New Testament Theology; New Testament Theology: Textual or Extra-Textual? New Testament Theology as a Historical Project; New Testament Theology as Historical and Hermeneutical; New Testament Theology as Hermeneutical: Postmodernism; Reprise: History, Hermeneutics, and Postmodernism; New Testament Theology in Practice: Three Examples

Theology of the New Testament by Georg Strecker, edited and completed by Friedrich W. Horn, translated by M. Eugene Boring (De Gruyter, Westminster John Knox Press) From 1975 on, Georg Strecker had in view two large scholarly publications that he labored to complete by the time of his retirement from the university: "Ethics of the New Testament" and "Theology of the New Testament." A timely completion of these two books was delayed by a variety of obligations and projects, such as his commentaries on the Johannine Letters and the Sermon on the Mount, his publications on the Pseudo-Clementine literature and the compilation of a concordance on these documents he had already begun during his doctoral study.

A severe illness that led to his death prevented the author himself from completing either work. When Georg Strecker learned that the physicians had given him only a few weeks to live, he asked me to bring his "Theology of the New Testament" to completion. The preliminary work on his "Ethics of the New Testament" had not proceeded far enough that its publication would be possible in the foreseeable future.

At this point in time the main sections of the "Theology of the New Testament" were essentially complete in manuscript or dictation on cassettes. Here the guiding principle was that those sections completed by Strecker would receive no essential changes in their content, including those places where I would set the accents differently or would argue in a different manner. To be sure, there was additional work to be done in the footnotes and the bibliographies of secondary literature.


The introductory sentences of that lecture may well be repeated here: "The structure I am presenting is based on the final form of the New Testament texts, and is thus intentionally a theology of the New Testament oriented to redaction criticism. This means that each New Testament writing is evaluated according to its particular theological conception, so that the term 'theology of the New Testament' more precisely means the complex of theologies in the New Testament. Characteristic for a theology of the New Testament in redaction‑critical perspective is the relation of synchrony and diachrony. The theological distinctiveness of the New Testament authors to be arranged synchronically stands against the background of an earlier tradition that is to be seen diachronically, which for its part is stamped by a number of different theological conceptions. The presentation of the theologies of the New Testament authors is thus to be done in such a way that takes account of their reception and interpretation of this earlier tradition."

 Citations from the Bible are taken from the New Revised Standard Version unless the context calls for a different translation to retain the nuance reflected in the author's discussion, in which case I have translated the German or made an independent translation of the Greek text. Other ancient sources are generally cited according to standard English translations. I have sometimes adjusted the citation references accordingly. I have occasionally inserted a translator's note to clarify the meaning when the standard English translation differs from the German text cited by Strecker.


Theology has been assigned the task of illuminating the meaning of the myth that expresses transcendent reality in the language of this world. This is the interpretation already given in the oldest example of the word "theology" in Plato's Dialogue "The Republic," (379 A). Here Plato has his teacher Socrates inquires about the "characteristic features of teaching about God". Accordingly, theology has to do with myths; to it is assigned the task of bringing out the deeper meaning of the stories about the gods. Education in the fine arts can help us to perceive this meaning. Accordingly, theology has the goal of laying bare the structures on which the myth is based, and such a course of investigation‑when it happens in the right educational context ­has a political consequence. In both the Platonic and Aristotelian systems philosophy is the real science that deals with the world and human beings, so that they attribute to theology only a lesser, provisional rank in their systems. Stoicism, on the other hand, places theology in the last place in a series of philosophical disciplines (dialectic, rhetoric, ethics, politics, physics, theology); l on this basis theology can be considered the "crown" of the Stoic system. Since it follows immediately after "physics," it also stands for "metaphysics," which not only names its place in the series following physics, but can also affirm that the theological question addresses that which transcends physics. According to the Stoic understanding theology deals with those unavoidable issues that essentially concern human being as such. Humans know that they are determined by the universal law of the world, physis (nature, that is identical with the divine reason (voib5). The individual human being must shape his or her life in harmony with this divine cosmic reason. Theology speaks of such an orientation to the world, understands human being as a constituent element in the order of the cosmos.

The term "theology" is not found in the New Testament. It occurs for the first time in Christian literature in the writings of the Church Fathers: in the second century in Justin (Dial 56.113(, and then in Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius. Here it has the general meaning "teaching about God" and reflects a Hellenizing of Christian faith that in the post‑apostolic age was smoothing out the differences between early Christian and GreekHellenistic thought. In contrast, in the New Testament there is not yet an intentional rational adjustment to the thought of the ancient world. The New Testament authors do not speak philosophically of God in a distancing manner, just as they are not concerned to present their faith systematically. It is rather the case that each document addresses a concrete situation. This is what Paul does in his letters, rightly described as "occasional writings." In them he tailors the message entrusted to him, the gospel, to his particular churches, and understands such mission as a "power of God" (Rom 1:16/. His goal is not an abstract reflection on the Christian faith, but the dynamic proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

However, the message declared in the New Testament is not presented apart from a systematic structure. As the whole person is claimed by this message, human feelings are included as an element of the reality of faith. But Christian faith, according to New Testament understanding, is not identified solely with a "feeling of dependence," but includes and opens up the understanding. Since all expressions of religious experience imply structures of believing comprehension, even if the authors of the New Testament documents were not necessarily aware of this in particular cases, such cognitive structures were also fundamental to the New Testament's witness of the act of God in Jesus Christ. Such structures are the subject of the following inquiry. In this process it is to be noted that the New Testament authors speak and write as those who have themselves been grasped by this subject matter, and in their testimony want to bring to speech something that is of ultimate concern both to them and their fellow human beings.

It is also the case that the adopting of the customary designation for this presentation does not mean that its goal is to delineate "the" theology of the New Testament, since the theological unity of the New Testament documents suggested by this tern cannot be presupposed. It is rather the case that in the writings of the New Testament we are met with a multiplicity of theological conceptions. These are to be investigated and presented according to their own structures of thought, in relation to their own historical and literary contexts. Especially, the specific affirmations of the New Testament authors, the "redactors" of the traditional materials, are to be highlighted by a diachronic and synchronic correlation of the textual tradition. Accordingly, the goal is not a history of early Christian religion or of early Christian theology, as imagined by the liberal theology of the late nineteenth century. This approach supposed it could draw a historical line from Jesus through the earliest Palestinian church, then the Hellenistic church, then to Paul and the later Christian authors, showing that it was more interested in historical developments than in the theological affirmations of the New Testament tradition.' In contrast to this approach, we intend here to investigate the theological conceptions advocated by the New Testament authors on the basis of the theological (church) traditions they had received.

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