Jesus in the Gospel of John

The Gospel of John begins with a prologue (1:1-18) introducing Jesus as the λογος (logos), meaning the “Word.”  The concept of λογος (logos) used as a designation or as “the independent, personified ‘Word’ (of God)” (Bauer et al. 480) is derived from Jewish Wisdom literature and has parallels in Hellenistic literature (Guthrie 326). The Gospel of John connects the idea of λογος (logos) with the personification of Wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures and then describes Jesus in a similar way demonstrating that he “is the true manifestation of the Wisdom of God” (Pate et al. 164).

The Gospel of John emphasizes the λογος (logos) concept in order to describe Jesus’ relationship with the Father. John 1:1 starts with “In the beginning…” which alludes to Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created….” This describes the  pre-creation state where God created everything with his divine words, and so when the full statement of John 1:1 is read as “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” it is describing the pre-existing λογος (logos) and clearly stating the deity of the λογος (logos) while remaining distinguished from God─the Father (i.e. the Word was with God) (Guthrie 327). This Divine λογος (logos) becomes Jesus who is God─the Son and who continues in an eternal relationship the Father.

Furthermore, the Gospel of John emphasizes the λογος (logos) concept in order to explain Jesus’ relationship with humans. John 1:14 states, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (NIV). This shows that in the incarnate Word, God has returned to his people and pitched his tent among them which alludes back to Exodus 33 where God tabernacled with the Israelites; therefore, as the Israelites witnessed the glory of the Lord fill the tabernacle, the people saw the glory of the incarnate Word─Jesus (Pate et al. 167).

Closely related to the emphasis on the λογος (logos) in the Gospel of John is the emphasis on Jesus’ miracles and on the messianic titles given to him by people which point to Jesus’ divinity. Furthermore, Jesus’ use of “I AM” statements connects the Hebrew covenant name for God (Exod 3:4) with himself, and then he calls God his Father which meant that he was equal with God.

Another emphasis about Jesus that is unique to the Gospel of John is the portrayal of Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29 cf. 1:36). Thus, he is likened to a sacrificial lamb of the Jewish Passover that was killed in order to atone for the sins of the people. This sacrifice of a lamb was performed by the high priest who was interceding on behalf of the people and representing them before God. The concept of Jesus as the Lamb of God, the reference to the Jewish Passover throughout the book (see 2:13; 6:4; 11:55, 12:1), and the passion narrative of Jesus express the wonder of the Gospel─ “that God himself provides the offering which humankind itself cannot provide” (Marshall 434).


Works Cited

Bauer, Walter et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.  Chicago, IL : University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Theology. Inter-Varsity Press, 1990.

Marshall, I.H. “Lamb of God.” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, et al. Inter-Varsity Press, 2003, pp. 432-434.

Pate, C. Marvin et al. The Story of Israel: a Biblical Theology. Inter-Varsity Press, 2004.

Audiences of the Synoptic Gospels

The Gospel of Matthew has traditionally been viewed as a form of Jewish Christianity. Due to the Jewish-Christian character of the book, Jewish readers appear to be the original audience of the Gospel of Matthew. During the early stages of the Christian church, there was tension and conflict between Christians and Jews which led Jewish-Christians to separate with the Jewish synagogues. The Jewish-Christians faced the challenge of defending their faith before those in the Jewish tradition who criticized them for leaving the faith of Israel. They were part of something new that included the Gentiles, and so their task was to use the Hebrew Scriptures in order to explain the Christ fulfilled continuity of their new faith and the meaning of the inclusion of the Gentiles (Hagner 262).

Christian tradition has pointed to a Gentile Christian audience for the Gospel of Mark. Many have suggested that the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome which is connected to the view that John Mark recorded the preaching of Peter for those who heard him in Rome; therefore, Roman Christians are viewed as the specific audience. The internal evidence of a Gentile audience consists of Mark’s translation of Aramaic expressions, his explanation of Jewish rituals and customs and his cessation details of elements of the Mosaic Law (see Mark 7:1-23; 12:32-34) (Carson et al. 99).

The primary recipient of the Gospel of Luke is revealed in the opening dedication to “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3). Theophilus most likely was a real person and may have been a close friend of Luke. Luke’s use of the adjective “most excellent” may imply that Theophilus was a person of rank. The title was normally reserved for Roman political officials; therefore, he may have been a wealthy individual who had the ability to financially support Luke in the investigation and writing of his account. Furthermore, the Greek style of the preface and the strong Hellenistic Greek throughout reveals that the writing was primarily intended for a gentile audience. The name Theophilus means “lover of God,” and so some have argued that Luke is using symbolism, meaning that he is dedicating his account to godly people throughout the world. This assertion is thought provoking and deserves consideration especially in view of the immense amount of information and emphasis on salvation of those outside Israel (Carson et al. 117-118).   


Works Cited

Carson, Donald A., et al. An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan, 1992.

Hagner, D.A. “Matthew.” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by T. Desmond Alexander, and Brian S. Rosner, Inter-Varsity Press, 2000, pp. 262-267.

Synoptic Problem

As scholars have viewed and studied Matthew, Mark and Luke together, they have arrived at a consensus that based on the similarities and nuances between these three gospels, they are dependant on one another at a literary level. In view of this literary relationship, the Synoptic Problem has emerged. Mark Goodacre defines the Synoptic Problem as “the study of the similarities and differences of the Synoptic Gospels in an attempt to explain their literary relationship” (16). The Synoptic Problem endeavors to account for the similarities and differences between the Synoptic Gospels primarily through the discipline of source criticism. The written stage in the development of the Gospels is the focus of source criticism, and thus it examines the Gospels in order to discover possible written sources that underlie them. The assumption is that written accounts of the life of Jesus were present at the time each Synoptic Gospel was written, so the goal is to discover the written sources that the writers may have used in compiling their gospels and the priority in which they may have used them (Carson et al. 26).  

Throughout the years, many solutions to the Synoptic Problem have been offered, but three have received the majority of the support. Firstly, the Augustinian Hypothesis based on Augustine’s view that Matthew wrote first, then Mark wrote borrowing from Matthew, and then Luke wrote borrowing from Matthew and Mark. This view suggests that the canonical order is the chronological order. While this was the common view for the bulk of church history, it has not received much support by modern source critics (Carson et al. 31).

Secondly, the “Two-Gospel” Hypothesis, proposed by J.J. Griesbach, suggests that Matthew wrote first, then Luke wrote using Matthew, and then Mark wrote using and conflating both Matthew and Luke creating an abridged Gospel. This hypothesis was ground breaking during the eighteenth century and at times has seen a resurgence in popularity during the modern era, but it has been mostly eclipsed by the following solution (Carson et al. 31).

Thirdly, the “Two-Source” Hypothesis (often expanded to the “Four-Source” Hypothesis) proposes that Mark wrote first, then Matthew and Luke wrote independently of one another while using Mark and another written source which scholars call “Q,” or the material common in Matthew and Luke but is not found in Mark (Two-Sources). This has been expanded to Four-Sources with the inclusion of a “M” source (peculiar Matthew material) and a “L” source (peculiar Luke material). In other words, Mark still wrote first and Matthew and Luke used Mark, “Q” and other source material that only appears in their respective gospels. While the “Two-Source” Hypothesis (including the “Four-Source” Hypothesis) is not without difficulties, it is widely held as the best solution to the Synoptic Problem (Carson et al. 31).


Works Cited

Carson, Donald A., et al. An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan, 1992.

Goodacre, Mark. The Synoptic Problem: a Way through the Maze. T & T Clark International, 2007.

Synoptic Gospels

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Matthew

As individuals study the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), they may notice that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke resemble one another, whereas  the Gospel of John does not share their resemblance. The resemblance of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke led a late eighteenth century German biblical scholar named J.J. Griesbach to refer to them as the Synoptic Gospels. The term synoptic is derived from the greek word συνόψις (synopsis) meaning “seeing together” (Carson et al. 19). Thus, the Synoptic Gospels are often closely examined in relation to one another.

Scot McKnight explains the similarities of the Synoptic Gospels with three phenomena─wording, content and order. First, the phenomena of wording refers to the similarity of words used by each writer when describing events (76). A brief comparative example is Matt 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17 from the Synopsis of the Four Gospels edited by Kurt Aland (pg. 217). For the sake of length limitations,  the following is a comparison of one quote from Jesus with similar wording underlined.

Matt v.14 … Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (RSV)

Mark vv.14-15 … Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (RSV)

Luke vv.16-15 … “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (RSV)

mark
Mark

Second, the phenomenon of content describes the similarity of events and sayings recorded by each writer (76). McKnight states that “approximately 90 percent of Mark is found in Matthew and approximately 50 percent of Mark is found in Luke. Furthermore, approximately 235 verses, mostly sayings of Jesus, are common to Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark” (76).

Third, the phenomenon of order reveals that at least two of the writers agree on the order of events in the life of Jesus. In other words, there are times when Matthew, Mark and Luke agree on the order of events (ex. Matt 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43b-45), and at other times there is agreement between Mark and Luke (ex. Mark 9:38-41; Luke 9:49-50) or between Mark and Matthew (ex. Mark 9:42-50; Matt 18:6-9) (76).  

In addition to the three phenomena detailed above, the similarities among the Synoptic Gospels extends to parenthetical material or explanatory statements added by the writer (Blomberg 98). These parenthetical comments include “let the reader understand” (Mark 13:14; Matt 24:15), “he then said to the paralytic” (Mark 2:10; Matt 9:6; Luke 5:24) and “For he had said…” (Mark 5:8; Luke 8:29) (Stein 785). Furthermore, there are similarities in Biblical quotations used in the Synoptic Gospels. Robert Stein writes,

At times we find the exact same form of an OT quotation. This would not be unusual if that form was identical either with the Hebrew OT or the Greek translation of the OT known as the Septuagint, but when we find an identical quotation of the OT which is different from both the Hebrew OT and the Greek OT, this similarity requires some sort of explanation (cf. Mark 1:2 par. Matt 3:3 and Luke 3:4; Mark 7:7 par. Matt 15:9) (785).

luke
Luke

In view of all these similarities, it is important to point out that the material is nuanced; thus, scholars have categorized the synoptic pericopae (events, sayings, stories). The pericopae found in all three Synoptic Gospels are referred to as The Triple Tradition. Within this category Mark is often viewed as the common denominator (middle term) in that there is “some agreement with Matthew and Mark against Luke, some agreement with Mark and Luke against Matthew, but less agreement with Matthew and Luke against Mark” (Goodacre 37). The Double Tradition (or ‘Q’ material) refers to the pericopae that is found in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark. The unique features of this category is that Matthew and Luke agree in wording in most passages, but overall the order of the material differs between the two (Goodacre 42).  The Single Tradition refers to the pericopae that only appears in Matthew (‘Special Matthew’ or ‘M’ material) or Luke (‘Special Luke’ or ‘L’ material) (Goodacre 42-47). These nuances within the Synoptic Gospels lead to what many have called the “Synoptic Problem,” which will be covered in the next post.


Works Cited

Aland, Kurt. Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Completely Revised on the Basis of the Greek Text of the Nestle-Aland 26th Edition and Greek New Testament 3rd Edition: the Text Is the Second Edition of the Revised Standard Version. United Bible Societies, 1985.

Blomberg, Craig. Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, 2nd edition. Broadman & Holman Publishing, 2009.

Carson, Donald A., et al. An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan, 1992.

Goodacre, Mark. The Synoptic Problem: a Way through the Maze. T & T Clark International, 2007.

McKnight, Scott. “Source Criticism.” Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues, edited by David Alan Black and David S. Dockery, Broadman & Holman Publishing, 2001, pp. 74-105.

Stein, R.H. “Synoptic Problem.” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, et al. Inter-Varsity Press, 2003, pp. 784-792.

Ancient Jewish Interpretation and NT Interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures

During the first century A.D. Jewish interpreters of the Hebrew scriptures used the interpretive method of rewriting scriptural texts. In order to make the texts relevant for contemporary Jewish communities, interpreters and scribes would conflate, harmonize, modify or add to the base texts. The process consisted of random adjustments of the text to the formulation of a new written work.[1] Similar to the method of rewriting scriptural texts is the method of testimonia in which Hebrew texts are combined together  “thematically for apologetic, liturgical, and catechetical purposes.”[2]

The New Testament writers appear to use Jewish rewritten scriptural texts or testimonia texts at times while quoting Hebrew scriptures. For example, Mark 1:1-3 attributes the quote to Isaiah but the words are an amalgamation from Exodus 23:20; Malachi 3:1; and Isaiah 40:3. Another example in Matt 27:9-10 in which the quote is attributed to Jeremiah but the words are a conflation of Zech 11:12-13 and Jer 32:6-9.[3] While the New Testament writers do not use the method of rewriting scriptural texts in the same way as contemporary Jewish interpreters or scribes, they do revise narratives (e.g. Acts 7:2-34)[4] and use the method of testimonia (e.g. Rom 3:10-18; 15:9-12)[5] through the lens of the life and ministry of Jesus and as a means to better inform the church.[6]

Jewish interpreters also used a method called pesher which is described as a “citation plus comment”[7] technique meaning that a scripture was quoted and then a commentary was given focused on an interpretive formulation.[8] The aim of this method was to make known a solution to the God communicated mysteries and to show how texts fit in with the whole of sacred scripture.[9] Pesher says, “This is that,”[10] and so there was an emphasis on contemporizing prophecies and on claiming their fulfillment during the present time or at a time in the near future.[11]

NT writers use similar techniques to that of pesher by claiming that events in the life and ministry of Jesus fulfilled prophecies (e.g. Matt 1:22-23; 2:15, 17-18, 23; 12: 17-21; 13:14-15)[12] and that events by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17) actualized earlier prophetic utterances (Joel 2:28f).[13]

Philo’s allegorical method of interpretation was influential to Jewish interpretive traditions. Lidija Novakovic writes, “For Philo, Scripture has a twofold meaning, the literal and the allegorical, but only the latter reveals the true sense of the sacred texts, which is hidden below the surface.”[14] This emphasis in allegory was developed from the philosophy of Plato who taught that behind the physical appearance of things was a more true reality. Thus, when applied to literature, there is a deeper truth and meaning beyond the literal reading of the words.[15]

The NT writers do not interpret the Hebrew scriptures according the rules of Philo’s allegorical methods, but they do at times interpret them allegorically (e.g. Gal 4:22-31). Scholars have argued for Philo’s influence upon the epistle of Hebrews, the Gospel of John and the epistles of Paul. “However, the best conclusion is that no NT writing reflects direct dependence on Philo, and that observed similarities reflect instead the general milieu of Hellenistic ideas that pervaded the first-century Mediterranean world.”[16]

The interpretive method of midrash was most common among first century Jewish interpreters and its primary focus was to search out knowledge “through logical inferences, analogies, combinations of different passages, and the like.”[17] Midrash followed exegetical rules which began with seven and later expanded to thirty-two.[18] Midrash sought to explain the deeper meaning of a text for application and pastoral purposes. From this perspective, the text can be “interrogated to answer all kinds of religious questions.”[19]

The NT gospel accounts reflect midrashic principles and characteristics but are not considered midrashim.[20] The book of Acts and some of Paul’s epistles appear to use midrashic scriptural arguments (e.g. Acts 2:25-36; 13:32-37; Gal 3:8-14; 1 Cor 10:1-5; 2 Cor 3:6-16); however, much like the gospels many scholars argue that such midrashic similarities do not equate to midrash as in the distinctively Jewish interpretive method. Furthermore, they argue that while Paul was very familiar with rabbinic exegesis, midrash does not characterize or explain Pauline exegesis.[21]

Excursus on Matthew’s use of Pesher

In Matthew 2:15, 17-18 and 13:14-15, I think Matthew is taking the original passages and applying prophetic meaning to them beyond the original passages contextual meaning. Essentially, Matthew is adding other prophetic contexts to the original passages. Thus, Matthew is using pesher by claiming that the original passages were fulfilled in the passages original context, but they were also contemporary prophecies which found their fulfillment during the time of Jesus. While this is not a sound hermeneutic technique, God used Matthew’s practice of a common hermeneutic technique of the time and blessed it for his own inspiration purposes.


[1] Lidija Novakovic, “The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation,” in The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social and Historical Contexts eds. Joel Green and Lee Martin McDonald (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 91.[2] Kyle Snodgrass, “The Use of the Old Testament in the New,” in Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues eds. David Alan Black and David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 220.[3] Snodgrass, “The Use of the Old Testament in the New,” 220.[4] Novakovic, “The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation,” 97.[5] Snodgrass, “The Use of the Old Testament in the New,” 220.[6] Novakovic, “The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation,” 97.[7] Novakovic, “The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation,” 92.[8] Novakovic, “The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation,” 92.[9] Snodgrass, “The Use of the Old Testament in the New,” 218.[10] Snodgrass, “The Use of the Old Testament in the New,” 218.[11] William Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Third ed. (Nashville: TN:, Baker Academic, 2017), 73.[12] Novakovic, “The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation,” 97.[13] Snodgrass, “The Use of the Old Testament in the New,” 218.[14] Novakovic, “The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation,” 93.[15] William Klein et al., Introduction, 70-71.[16] D.A. Hagner, “Philo” in New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic, eds. Martin Davie et al., Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016.[17] Novakovic, “The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation,” 94. [18] Snodgrass, “The Use of the Old Testament in the New,” 219.[19] Novakovic, “The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation,” 95.[20] C.A. Evans, “Midrash: 4. The Gospels and Midrash” in DJG[21] M. Silva, “Old Testament in Paul: 3:3 Rabbinic Exegesis” in DPL

The Bible and Science

The Bible is the greatest love story ever written. It is the metanarrative (drama) of redemption which culminates in the life and ministry of Jesus. Kyle Greenwood writes, “The Bible’s primary function is to demonstrate how God has worked in history for the redemption of humanity, ultimately pointing to the one who brings about that redemption.”[1] Thus, the Bible is not a science textbook. If this is the case, then why does science get such a prestigious seat at the metaphysical epistemological discussion table? If the Bible’s main focus is on the redemption of the human soul and on a metaphysical resurrection, and physical science cannot speak to such metaphysical concepts, then why do some elevate science in such a way that it needs to align with scripture? Narrative theologians would not make such an assertion in the other direction. They would not presume that the drama of redemption and science need to align at every point. Scientific propositions do not objectively prove the truth of the narrative and the narrative does not purpose to objectively prove scientific truth claims. For Christians, God’s illocution and perlocution as portrayed in the locution is sufficient. Thus, science should be put in its proper place and theology should dethrone herself as the “queen of the sciences.”

Greenwood quotes from Augustine,

Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these [scientific] topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn….If they [critics] find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?[2]

Augustine argues for the use of science as an appropriate apologetic, which it certainly should be used when necessary. Greenwood writes, “Let us appeal to Augustine, who models for us an appropriate tension between the authority of Scripture and authenticity of scientific investigation.”[3] However, some questions need to be asked of Augustine’s comment concerning critics; Will the alignment with science really prove or disprove the metaphysical (i.e. resurrection, eternal life, heaven)? If a redemption narrative conflicts with physical science does that really mean that the narrative’s metaphysical claims are false? Do the scientific defeaters of the critics really defeat the metaphysical defeaters of the redemption dramatists?

In view of Augustine’s statement, one can see scholasticism and the enlightenment and its application to biblical studies on the horizon. This is the endeavor to scientifically prove biblical objective truth claims. This is the modernism approach which postulates that scientific methods and principles form objective meaning and truth. In other words, science, and its application to the Bible, is viewed as the universal authority in epistemology and truth.[4] This type of scientific method continues in many Christian circles today and contributes to the high positioning of science within theological discourse. However, postmodernism challenges such methods and rejects the stories that science uses to legitimize universal knowledge, truth and authority and rather prefers narratives of knowledge that are situated with individuals and communities. From the postmodern view, modernity has failed in its rational and enlightenment pursuits and has become implausible in its ability to contribute to philosophical and theological discourse.[5] Postmodernism has shown us the shortcomings of modernism’s emphasis on science, and thus we should acknowledge these limitations and resist from elevating science to an equal level of that of the scriptures.

For those who strive to align the scriptures with science, Greenwood explains that one way is by the divine accommodation theory. This theory proposes that God accommodated to his people by communicating with them in terms and by means based on their knowledge, understanding and experience within the ANE context. Greenwood compares this to parents speaking to their children in a way that is appropriate to the setting and in a way that they can understand.[6] While this is an interesting and perhaps a promising theory for some in the Bible and science discussion, I can not advocate for this position. Divine accommodation is an accommodation to science because it continues to approach the discussion with a modern mindset which demands that there be harmony between scripture and science in order to present objective universal knowledge and truth. Furthermore, divine accommodation begs the question, Do we need a divine accommodation theory with the end as some suggest we need with the beginning? The science of thermodynamics suggests that the heat death of the universe is very plausible, but the scriptures speak of an in-breaking of a future eternal kingdom. It is inconsistent for a Christian to attempt to harmonize scripture and science regarding scripture’s narration of a cosmological event and not scripture’s narration of eschatological event. Scripture and science do not need to align in eschatology nor do they need to align in cosmology; thus, the divine accommodation theory can be placed aside.

In conclusion, Christians should adopt some the the concepts of postmodernism and its emphasis on narratives by emphasizing the divine script’s presentation of the Theo-drama, God’s metanarrative of redemption. Greenwood writes, “Scripture is authoritative not because it answers all of life’s questions or resolves all the mysteries of science. Rather Scripture is authoritative because it testifies on behalf of Jesus (Jn 5:39-40), the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” (Mt 28:18).”[7] The scriptures are one continuous redemptive story that leads to the life and ministry of Jesus. This is the Theo-drama that has been performed (lived out, testified to) by Christians throughout history, and we continue to perform this drama of redemption before the onlooking scientific audience.


[1] Kyle Greenwood, Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible Between the Ancient World and Modern Science (IVP Academic, 2015), EPUB edition ch. 7: Conclusion.[2] Greenwood, Scripture, EPUB edition ch. 8: The Authority of Scripture and Science quoting St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, ed. J. Quasten, W. J. Burghardt and T.C. Lawler, ACW 41 (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 1:42-43. [3] Greenwood, Scripture, EPUB edition ch. 8: The Authority of Scripture and Science. [4] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Theology and the Condition of Postmodernity: a report on the knowledge of God” in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology,ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Cambridge Companions to Religion (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 8-10. [5] Vanhoozer, “Theology,” 9-10. [6]Greenwood, Scripture, EPUB edition ch. 7: Divine Accommodation.[7] Greenwood, Scripture, EPUB edition ch. 7: Conclusion.

Comparative Studies and Biblical Interpretation

There are those who argue that comparative studies leads to the admittance of historical information that can be misconstrued in such a way as to muddy the interpretative process. Critical scholars and postmodern deconstructionist use comparative evidence as a means to de-canonize or deconstruct the biblical text. Postmodern deconstructionist argue that historical texts are always interacting with one another and eventually they either undermine one another or one text is deconstructed by the other. For example, the flood stories in Gilgamesh Epic and in Genesis are put under the deconstructive lens, and the result is that they undermine themselves, and a worldwide flood becomes a mythical event. Deconstructionism touches the New Testament when the Gospel of Thomas and the traditional synoptic gospels are compared and the outcome, for the deconstructionist, results in a deconstructed Jesus that would be unnoticeable to his early followers. Thus, some confessional scholars resist the “slippery slope” of comparative studies. [1]

I agree with the assessment that comparative studies can often cause more problems than solutions when it comes to understanding the biblical text. Critical scholars may misrepresent historical evidence or present incomplete historical evidence. They may not acknowledge their presuppositions, and so the outcomes of their historical investigation will reflect their preunderstandings. However, we should not throw the comparative studies baby out with the bath water, but rather we need to change our approach.

We should recognize the limitations of modernism and the de-dramatizing of the Bible. The modern mindset emphasizes scientific investigation through the use of biblical criticism and historical methods, but this modern endeavor has failed at delivering on its promises of universal truth, reason and knowledge. Yet many biblical scholars continue to use the same modern approach and are surprised when comparative studies turns and bites them.

I argue that we should engage in comparative studies, but while doing so, we should move beyond the modern ethos and accept some of the tenets of postmodernism. We should embrace postmodernism’s focus on individual and community narratives, but with the perspective that, as Christians, our individual and community stories are contextualized in God’s metanarrative. Christians should argue for God’s metanarrative of salvation and redemption of humanity through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. God has ultimately revealed his good news story through language in the form of Holy writ, and so when we engage in comparative studies, we should proceed with a theo-drama perspective. The comparative data should not be used to scientifically or historically boost one’s position over another in order to arrive at objective knowledge, but rather it should be viewed as the theatrical background stuff that bolsters our understanding and our experience of the theo-drama.  


[1] John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Cultural, Social and Historical Contexts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 36.