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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Context of Genre: Narrative, by Craig S. Keener

Early twentieth-century ‘scissors-and-paste’ approaches to Biblical interpretation are now almost universally rejected.

Beyond such a basic consensus, however, source history provided few widely accepted views. Early twentieth-century “scissors-and-paste” approaches (where skeptics chopped up Scripture to their liking) are now almost universally rejected, weakening the value of those commentaries that followed it. We also know that ancient Mediterranean storytellers drew on a wide variety of sources, including oral traditions, so we cannot always identify which report derives from which source.

Some other scholars advanced a method called “form history”; Jesus’ teaching and works were reported in several different literary forms. Some of these distinct forms (such as parables) are clear, but traditional form-historians speculated too much about which forms were used by the church in particular ways, and most of their early speculations have been refuted by later scholars.

There are no spiritual superhumans among us—just men and women who depend on the power of God’s perfect Spirit to give us victory.

Scholars then moved to redaction-history, or editorial history. If Matthew used Mark as a source, why does Matthew edit or adapt Mark the ways that he does? Ancient biographers had complete freedom to rearrange sources and put them in their own words; a simple comparison of Matthew, Mark and Luke will indicate that they do not always follow the same sequence or use the same wording to describe the same event, and such differences are to be expected. When we find consistent patterns in Matthew’s editing, we may learn about Matthew’s emphases and hence what he wanted to communicate to his first audience. Some early redaction historians, however, were too confident of their abilities to reconstruct why some changes were made; later scholars have recognized that some changes were purely stylistic or for space constraints.

While there is some value in each of the above approaches, modern scholars have turned especially in two directions. The first is various forms of literary criticism, a basic component of which is usually reading each book as a whole unit to understand its meaning. The second is the social history approach, which focuses on what we have called “background.” Nearly all biblical scholars today, across the entire range from “conservative” to “liberal,” accept the validity of both these approaches.





Coming in Summer 2005 Issue:

Context of Genre, Part 2

Context of Genre continues with a study of laws in the Bible, Biblical prayer and songs, proverbs, and romance literature.


Editor’s Note: Professor Keener originally designed this course on Hermeneutics for use in Nigeria and not for traditional publication. Desiring to make it available to a wider audience, he has granted permission to publish this course in the Pneuma Review. These lessons will also be made available on the website. Dr. Keener grants permission for others to make use of this material as long as it is offered without cost or obligation and that users acknowledge the source.

Portions of this course follows these recommended works: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (Zondervan). Revelation, NIV Application Commentary by Craig S. Keener (Zondervan, 1999).

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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2005

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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