Directions in New Testament Methods

By Martin C. Albl; Paul R. Eddy et al. | Go to book overview

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE SOCIAL SCIENTIFIC APPROACH TO SCRIPTURE

TOM LONG AND MELVIN VANCE

The sociological approach to Scripture involves the use of the theories and methods of social science to understand the writings of the Bible and the social reality out of which they arose. It is a recent movement of American origin, whose "launching" is linked to a decision of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature in 1973 to found a study group concerned with "the social world of early Christianity." The authors of the New Testament were not speculative thinkers, but participants in communities involved with issues of internal social organization. As leaders of their communities, they had to respond to the social and economic issues of their times, at least as these made an impact on the church. During this century, social sciences, such as sociology, anthropology, social history, and economic history, have developed a plethora of new theories, methods, and insights which may be useful for understanding the social world of early Christianity ( Herzog, 760-61).

One of these bodies of theory, developed by the sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, is "Sociology of Knowledge." This theory holds that human beings are constantly using ideas to construct and maintain their "social world." The relationships of a "social world" are reinforced by patterns of thought which shape and uphold the institutions by which a community functions. This theory provided the starting point for Wayne Meeks' pioneering application of social criticism, "The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism" ( Meeks, 44- 72).

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