The New Testament and the People of God

The New Testament and the People of God

The New Testament and the People of God

The New Testament and the People of God

Excerpt

For some years I tried to write two books side by side: one about Paul and his theology, the other about Jesus within his historical context. It gradually dawned on me that the two belonged together more closely than I had realized. Both were concerned with the historical description of events and beliefs in the first century. Both emphasized a particular way of understanding the relevant texts and events. Both required a pre-understanding of first-century Judaism. Both demanded concluding theological and practical reflections. So it was that I found myself driven to think of a two-volume work on Jesus and Paul.

But the material, and the nature of the arguments I wished to advance about it, would not let me leave it at that. One of the vital questions that has to be asked as part of the search for Jesus has to do with the gospels as they stand, and the enormous problems raised there could hardly be dealt with in a single chapter somewhere within an already over-long book. Having given in, and admitted to myself that I was thus planning three volumes, it was only a short step to the realization that I was actually thinking of five: one each for Jesus, Paul, and the gospels, and an introduction (the present volume) and conclusion in which the various things that would otherwise have to be said at the beginning and end of each of the other three books could be gathered together. The result is a project which, though still focused centrally on Jesus and Paul, is also inevitably about the New Testament as a whole.

One reason for allowing the material to expand in this way is the frustrating brevity of so many one-volume, or even two-volume, 'New Testament theologies' in the present century. To compress the discussion of the parables, or of justification, into two or three pages is actually not much use either to the ordinary reader or to the advancement of scholarship. At best, all one can hope to do by that method is to set a few bells ringing and see if any listeners want to go away and work out what they might mean. I hope to do a little more than that, and actually to address substantial issues, and engage in debate with opposing views, at certain key points.

At the opposite extreme from the brief overall survey is the fragmentation which exists in so much of the discipline, whereby people spend entire professional careers specializing in one sub-area, and never try to draw together the . . .

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