How to Read the New Testament: An Introduction to Linguistic and Historical-Critical Methodology

Article excerpt

How to Read the New Testament: An Introduction to Linguistic and Historical-Critical Methodology. By Wilhelm Egger. Translated by P. Heinegg. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, xxxvi + 232 pp., $29.95.

This translation of the 1986 German original is intended to serve as a guide to scholarly work on NT texts. It attempts to integrate "classic" diachronic methods with newer synchronic methods and proposes a four-step approach: (1) preparatory work, (2) synchronic reading, (ct) diachronic reading and (4) actualization. Preparatory work includes establishing the form of the text (textual criticism), gaining a first orientation to the text and translating the text. Synchronic reading examines the text using semantic analysis, pragmatic analysis and analysis of textual genre. Diachronic reading addresses issues related to source criticism, tradition criticism and redaction criticism. Actualization approaches the text to seek orientation in constructing and coping with life. Egger believes that the particular strength of the method that he proposes is the inclusion of synchronic methods. The result is "a methodological expansion of historical criticism" in which "comprehensive systematic observations of textual phenomena become a deliberate research step" (p. 67).

Egger has undertaken an ambitious task. In effect, he attempts to introduce the reader to twelve scholarly methods in a single book and to integrate those methods into a comprehensive approach to reading NT texts. In the end, he has been more successful in the latter effort than in the former. His overall method proceeds logically and makes good sense. He is to be commended for his emphasis on the phenomena of the text in its final form and for his concern with "actualizing" the text. By including these areas in his method, Egger provides a good balance to the tendency of the historical-critical method to focus on the prehistory of the text while neglecting other important aspects.

The discussion of individual methods, however, is overly brief. The section on semantic analysis will serve as a case study. The discussion of textual semantics (pp. 85-101) is too concise both in its explanation of method and in the examples it uses. Egger points the reader to a series of technical works, but he does not provide enough information for the nonspecialist to follow the discussion. One detailed, carefully explained example would have been more helpful. …