A difficulty that I continue to confront as I study the Bible is: What is the best way to bring together historical critical scholarship with theological and faith-filled perspectives? There is a chasm between the two that relatively few authors dare to explore in a truly rigorous manner. There are study bibles that contain almost exclusively historical-critical commentary (such as the New Oxford Annotated Bible or NOAB) and study bibles that focus on theology and church teaching (like the Didache Bible from Midwest Theological forum). There are also a variety of resources that focus on applying the Bible’s teaching to a daily life of faith.
I’m left in a quandary. It seems essential to understand the historical context of scripture in order to truly grasp its meaning, but so often, historical critical writings take a clinical, verse-by-verse approach that undermines the holistic perspective that the early Christians had about scripture. I can’t help wondering whether leaving theological questions out of consideration has steered historical critical scholars away from something essential. On the other hand, perhaps we who study the Bible are asking too much from historical criticism — hoping that it will solve theological questions that it cannot touch.
Pope Benedict XVI saw the chasm between historical and theological approaches to scripture and tried to bridge the gap in his Jesus of Nazareth series. I have also been very impressed with the study materials in the New Jerusalem Bible, which do a fine job explaining how historical critical theories relate to traditional ideas about who wrote the New Testament letters, for example.
A third resource I’ve been enjoying recently is N. T. Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God series. This is a set of 4 hefty books dealing with a broad range of historical questions on the New Testament. Unlike many historical critical scholars, who delve into a text verse-by-verse and build up an elaborate case for which verses are authentic and which aren’t, N. T. Wright begins with the big picture, sketching the worldview of Jewish people in first century Palestine and working to understand how the figures in the gospel and the New Testament fit into that backdrop. Wright’s approach tends to integrate theology and history by default, because it is always trying to understand how the two fit together. I’ve found this approach extremely helpful for my own study.
I’d be interested to hear if any of you have noticed a similar gap between history and theology when studying the Bible. Have you found study resources that bridge the gap?