Biblical criticism is a philosophical approach to understanding the Bible that encompasses a large number of methodological approaches and perspectives. It aims to avoid dogma and bias while reconstructing history according to contemporary understanding. The characteristics of its methods include, first and foremost, a central concern with finding and applying a neutral, non-sectarian, reasoned judgment for studying the Bible. Secondly, biblical criticism uses the reconstructing of history and the text's literary characteristics to identify and solve the Bible's internal inconsistencies. It does this by using the grammar, structure, development, and relationship of language to address textual issues such as literary genré, context, meaning, authorship, and origins. Biblical criticism is concerned with identifying and reconstructing the historical events that underlie the biblical texts as well as the history of the development of the texts.
Biblical criticism began as an aspect of the rise of modern culture in the West. While some scholars claim its roots reach back to the Reformation, most agree it grew out of the German Enlightenment. German pietism and British Deism were also influences. The search for evidence concerning how the Jesus of the Bible and how the Jesus of history are or aren't the same grew out of biblical critical factors. Lasting for two and a half centuries, biblical criticism advanced understanding of the Bible.
The practice of biblical criticism includes a wide range of approaches and questions within four major contemporary methodologies: textual, source, form and literary criticism. Textual criticism examines the text and its manuscripts to identify what the original text would have said. Source criticism searches the texts for evidence of its original sources. Form criticism identifies short units of text and seeks to identify their original setting. Each of these is primarily historical and pre-compositional in its concerns. Literary criticism, on the other hand, focuses on the literary structure, authorial purpose, and reader's response to the text through methods such as rhetorical criticism, canonical criticism, and narrative criticism.
A range of other methodologies and perspectives have emerged as biblical criticism has been influenced by other academic disciplines and theoretical perspectives in the late 20th and early 21st century. In a field long dominated by white, male, Protestants, scholars of different ethnicities, women, and those from the Jewish and Catholic traditions became prominent voices. Globalization and academic disciplines as diverse as Near Eastern studies, psychology, anthropology and sociology began forming new methods of biblical criticism such as socio-scientific criticism and psychological biblical criticism. Post-modernism and post-critical interpretation began questioning the role and function of biblical criticism. Biblical criticism changed from a historical discipline to a field of disciplines with often conflicting views.
According to tradition, Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible including the book of Genesis. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), and Richard Simon (1638-1712) are among the philosophers and theologians who studied Genesis and found contradictions, parallelisms, and inconsistencies indicating to them that a single author was improbable. They began asking questions about the origins of the texts.:140,404:127 Jean Astruc (1684-1766) the French physician responded with an effort to show Moses could still have been the author. He borrowed methods of textual criticism already in use investigating Greek and Roman texts and applied them to the Bible.:6 He found what he identified as the Mosaic sources he believed were later conflated by scribes into the book of Genesis.:213 Astruc's approach was developed and spread by doctoral candidates at the twenty or so Protestant universities in Germany. They had a willingness to re-express Christian doctrine in terms of philosophy and history as part of the belief in the importance of history which reached its peak during the German enlightenment (circa 1750-1850).:1–6:53-55 German pietism also played a role in the rise of historical criticism by supporting the desire to break the hold of religious authority.
Rationalism played a significant role in the development of biblical criticism. The Swiss theologian Jean Alphonse Turretin (1671–1737) attacked conventional exegesis (interpretation) and argued for critical analysis being led solely by reason. But it was with theologian Johann August Ernesti (1707–1781), when he applied the philological-historical method (a combination of history and linguistics) to New Testament texts, that Turetin's ideas began to gain influence.:39–42 Theologian Siegmund Jakob Baumgarten (1706–1757) played an early role in the development of biblical criticism by distinguishing between a natural understanding of the Bible as an ancient text, and supernatural understanding of the Bible as a divine communication. Johann Salomo Semler (1725–1791) was a student of Baumgarten. Semler dropped the idea of a supernatural understanding altogether and argued for an end to all doctrinal assumptions, thereby giving historical criticism its non-sectarian nature. As a result, Semler is often called the father of historical-critical research.:43 Semler distinguished between "inward" and "outward" religion, the idea that for some people, their religion is their highest inner purpose, while for some others, religion is a more exterior practice: a tool to accomplish other purposes more important to the individual such as political or economic goals. This is a concept recognized by modern psychology.
The spread of biblical criticism was also influenced by the history of religions school:96 (known as the Kultegeschichtliche Schule or alternatively the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule in German).</ref>:19:297,298 This school was not a place but was a group of German Protestant theologians associated with the University of Göttingen in the late 19th century.:222:161 Communications scholar James A. Herrick says even though most scholars agree biblical criticism evolved out of the German Enlightenment, there are also some histories of biblical scholarship that have found "strong direct links" with British deism. Herrick references the theologian Henning Graf Reventlow as saying deism included the humanist world view, which has also been significant in biblical criticism.:39–40
While the conventional view is that modern Biblical criticism began with Spinoza and the Enlightenment, some scholars such as Gerhard Ebeling (1912–2001), Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976) and Ernst Käsemann (1906–1998) traced its origins to the Reformation. Biblical studies scholar John W. Rogerson says, "There is truth in both positions, the underlying issue being whether historical criticism is alien to Christian theology or a product of it." Three early scholars of the Reformation era who helped lay the foundations of modern biblical criticism were Joachim Camerarius (1500–1574), Hugo Grotius (1583–1645), and Matthew Tindal (1653–1733). Camerarius advocated for knowledge of context for interpreting Bible texts. Grotius paved the way for comparative religion studies by analyzing New Testament texts in light of Classical, Jewish and early Christian writings. Tindal, as part of English deism, asserted the view that Jesus taught natural religion, an undogmatic faith, that was later changed by the Church. This view drove a wedge between scripture and the Church's claims of religious truth, prompting historical study to support agreement or disagreement.:41:117–136
The first quest for the historical Jesus began with Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694–1768): he was a philosopher, writer, Enlightenment free thinker and professor of Hebrew and Oriental languages at his native city's high school. This undemanding job gave him time for study and writing. G. E. Lessing (1729–1781) was a librarian and philosopher who discovered copies of Reimarus' writings. Reimarus had left permission for them to be published after his death, and Lessing did so between 1774 and 1778, publishing them as Die Fragmente eines unbekannten Autors (The Fragments of an Unknown Author). Over time they came to be known as the Wolfenbüttel Fragments after the library where Lessing worked. Reimarus distinguished between what Jesus taught and how he is portrayed in the New Testament. According to Reimarus, Jesus was a political Messiah who failed at creating political change and was executed. His disciples then stole the body and invented the story of the resurrection for personal gain.:46–48 Reimarus' controversial work prompted a response from Semler in 1779, Beantwortung der Fragmente eines Ungenannten (Answering the Fragments of an Unknown).:355-359; 43-45 Semler engaged critically with the gospels and history in order to refute Reimarus' arguments. But Reimarus' writings had already made a lasting change in the practice of biblical criticism by making it clear such criticism could exist independently of theology and faith. Historical criticism could serve its own ends, be governed solely by rational criteria, and reject deference to religious tradition.:48
Lessing also made contributions of his own work by means of the philosophy of history. He explained that the biblical texts should be studied in context; this has since become a basic idea in the discipline of Near Eastern studies.:102 The biblical scholar Johann David Michaelis (1717–1791) wrote the first historical-critical introduction to the New Testament, in which the historical study of each book of the Bible is discussed.:343-346:43 For those such as Michaelis and Griesbach, Christianity was historical, but for theologians Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752–1827), Johann Philipp Gabler (1753–1826), and Georg Lorenz Bauer (1755–1806) the Bible was seen through the "hermeneutic (interpretation) of myth".:117 Their method is opposite to research strategies which stress objectivity and independent interpretation. Asserting that understanding is produced through systematic processes, they differentiated between historical myth and philosophical myth and applied those definitions to Bible interpretation.:288
In the 19th century, biblical criticism was divided between higher criticism and lower criticism. Higher criticism focused on composition and history, while lower criticism was concerned with a text's meaning for its readers. Theologian Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792–1860) was the first to use historical methods to postulate a sharp contrast between the apostles Peter and Paul. This has had widespread impact on Pauline and New Testament studies as well as studies of the early church, Jewish Law, the theology of grace, and the doctrine of justification.:60-77 In the later 19th century, the discovery of ancient manuscripts revolutionized textual criticism and translation.:20 The late nineteenth century also saw the second "quest for the historical Jesus." Important scholars included David Strauss (1808-1874), Adolf Von Harnack (1851-1930), William Wrede (1859-1906), Ernst Renan (1823-1892), Johannes Weiss (1863-1914), and Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965). Schweitzer revolutionized New Testament scholarship with his emphasis on the eschatological orientation of Jesus. During this time, the work of Bible scholar H. J. Holtzmann developed the chronological order of the New Testament.
In the early twentieth century, Karl Barth:433-439 along with Rudolf Bultmann in Germany, and others in North America, concentrated on the kerygma: the message of the New Testament. Consensus is that Barth was the greatest theologian of the twentieth century,:22 however, scholars also agree that Bultmann was the most influential figure of the twentieth century in biblical criticism. Theologian Konrad Hammann calls Bultmann the "giant of twentieth-century New Testament scholarship", and adds: "His pioneering studies in biblical criticism shaped research on the composition of the gospels, and his call for demythologizing biblical language sparked debate among Christian theologians worldwide." Bultmann said faith became possible at a point in history: the historical event of Jesus' death. However, he also said this history is presented in the New Testament in the mythical terms of Jesus' resurrection. Therefore, he concluded, the mythology of the New Testament needs to be reinterpreted—demythologized—using historical study and the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger.:22 This "set the agenda for a generation of leading New Testament scholars".:21
Biblical criticism of the early to mid twentieth century was not only dominated by Bultmann's form criticism, but also by redaction criticism. While form criticism divided the text into small units, redaction emphasized the literary integrity of the larger literary units.:23,74 The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran in 1948 renewed interest in the contributions archaeology could make to biblical studies. The New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias used linguistics and history to describe Jesus' Jewish environment. Bible scholar Donald K. McKim says Jeremias' contribution to New Testament scholarship is "hard to overestimate".:563–565 Theologian C. H. Dodd pioneered the biblical theology movement which can be seen as a rejection of the liberalism of prior historical critics.:23:29 It focuses on the final form of the text instead of taking it apart into its constituent pieces. It has been accused of being political.:11
After 1970, biblical criticism began to change radically and pervasively, comparable to the level of change that took place when biblical criticism first began.:21 New criticism (literary criticism) developed.:3 New historicism, a literary theory that views history through literature, also developed.:60–65 Biblical criticism began to apply new literary approaches such as structuralism and rhetorical criticism, which were less concerned with history and more concerned with the texts themselves.:14 In the 1970s, the New Testament scholar E. P. Sanders did work on Second Temple Judaism (circa BCE 500 to CE 70) and first century Christianity that has since pervasively influenced Pauline studies, altering many previously held ideas about Paul and the early church.:69–92,260:xviii The third "quest for the historical Jesus" was taken up by the Jesus Seminar. In 1974, the theologian Hans Frei published The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, which became a landmark work leading to the development of post-critical Biblical interpretation. By 1990, biblical criticism was no longer primarily a historical discipline but was instead a field of disciplines with often conflicting interests.:21
Biblical-historical criticism was a period in biblical interpretation that lasted from the mid 1700s to the late 1900s and is distinguishable from the criticism that was practiced before and after it.:18–22 By the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, multiple new perspectives from different ethnicities and feminist theology revealed an "untapped world" previously overlooked by the majority of white male Protestants who had dominated biblical criticism from its beginnings.:1:138 Near Eastern studies, globalization and other academic fields became a part of biblical criticism which was no longer simply a historical discipline. This created an awareness among biblical critics that the Bible can be rationally interpreted from a variety of different perspectives. These changes altered biblical criticism's central concept from the criteria of neutral judgment to instead having a critical awareness of the various biases the researcher brings to the study of the texts.:22:19–20:138
Textual criticism examines the text itself and all associated manuscripts to determine the original text.:47 It is one of the largest areas of Biblical criticism in terms of the sheer amount of data it works from. There are more than 3,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts, not including nearly 2000 fragments. There are also more than 2,000 lectionaries, thousands of other New Testament translations into languages such as Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, Georgian, and Armenian, and literally a million New Testament quotations in the collected writings of the Church Fathers. As a comparison, Homer's Iliad is currently found in more than 1,900 manuscripts, though many are of a fragmentary nature, and the two chief works of the first-century Roman historian Tacitus, Annales and Historiae, each survive in only a single medieval manuscript. These texts were all written by hand, by someone copying from someone else's handwritten text, so they are not alike in the manner a printed work would be. The differences between them are called variants.:206–212 A variant is simply any variation between two texts.:2 The textual critic Bart Ehrman points out the total number of variants is greater than the number of words in the New Testament, with the total equalling approximately three variants for every word. They are not evenly distributed; some texts have more than three, some texts have none.:13-60 Textual criticism includes the study of variants, making this one of the most contentious areas of Biblical criticism as well as one of the largest.:119–120
Textual critics differentiate variants based on their "meaning" and "viability". A meaningful variant changes the meaning of the text, and a viable variant is likely to have been part of the original wording. Philosopher Robert B. Stewart says that less than one percent of variants are both viable and meaningful.:40 Many variants originate in simple mis-copying. For example, a scribe drops one or more letters, skips a word or line, writes one letter for another, transposes letters, and so on. Some variants represent a scribal attempt to simplify or harmonize, by changing a word or a phrase.:37–42 Some mistakes were corrected, others perpetuated, with the copies of the copies also having the same mistakes. Ehrman explains: "The errors tend to form "families" of manuscripts: scribe "A" will introduce mistakes which are not in the manuscript of scribe "B", and over time the families of texts descended from "A" and "B" will diverge further, but will be identifiable as descended from one or the other. Textual criticism studies the differences between these families to piece together what the original looked like.":206–212 Sorting out the wealth of source material is complex, therefore textual families were sorted into categories tied to geographical areas. The divisions of the New Testament textual families were: Alexandrian (also called the "Neutral text"); Western (Latin translations); and Eastern (used by Antioch and Constantinople). In the 1770s, the biblical textual critic Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745–1812) added the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus to the Alexandrian text type category.:213–217;252
Textual criticism uses specialized methodologies and enough specialized terms to create its own lexicon. It is guided by a number of principles that are, themselves, sometimes contested. For example, one of Griesbach's fifteen critical rules for determining which texts are likely the oldest and closest to the original is Lectio brevior praeferenda: "the shorter reading is preferred". This was based on the idea that scribes were more likely to add to a text than to omit text, making shorter texts more likely to be older. Latin scholar Albert C. Clark challenged this in 1914.:212–215 Based on his study of Cicero, Clark argued that omission was a more common scribal error than addition (interpolation), saying "A text is like a traveler who goes from one inn to another losing an article of luggage at each stop.":213 Clark's claims were criticized by those who supported Griesbach's priciples. Clark responded, but disagreement continued. Nearly eighty years later, the theologian and priest James Royse took up the case. After close study of multiple papyri, he concluded that Clark was right all along.:214
The textual critic must occasionally choose a reading based on personal judgment, experience or common-sense. Biblical scholar David Clines gives the example of Amos 6.12. It reads: "Does one plough with oxen? The obvious answer is 'yes', but the context of the passage seems to demand a 'no'; the usual reading therefore is to amend this to, 'Does one plough the sea with oxen?' The amendment has a basis in the text, which is believed to be corrupted, but is nevertheless a matter of personal judgment.":23–45 Some scholars have recently called to abandon older approaches to textual criticism in favor of new computer-assisted methods for determining manuscript relationships in a more exact way. There is already consensus that the various locations traditionally assigned to the text types are incorrect and misleading. Thus, the geographical labels should be used with caution; some scholars prefer to refer to the text types as "textual clusters" instead.:44
Source criticism is the search for the original sources that form the basis of biblical text. It can be traced back to the 17th-century French priest Richard Simon.:35 In Old Testament studies, source criticism is generally focused on identifying sources within a single text. For example, the modern view of the first six books of the Hebrew Bible (the Pentateuch and Joshua) was laid in 1753 by the French physician Jean Astruc. Beginning with a study of Genesis, Astruc presumed Moses was the original author, but that Moses did not personally experience the events recorded there. Therefore, he either obtained the accounts through witnesses or revelation from God. Moses never claims revelation. Astruc concluded that Moses had in his hands ancient documents containing the history of his forebears. Astruc's goal was identifying and reconstructing these documents by separating the book of Genesis back into those original sources. He discovered Genesis alternates use of two different names for God while the rest of the Pentateuch after Exodus 3 omits that alternation. He found repetitions of certain events, such as parts of the flood story that are repeated three times. He also found apparent anachronisms: statements seemingly from a later time than Genesis was set. Astruc hypothesized that scribes came along later and mistakenly fused Moses' material into a single unit that became the book of Genesis.:1-10:336:139–152
In New Testament studies, source criticism has revealed the Gospels are both products of sources and sources themselves. As sources, Matthew, Mark and Luke are partially dependent on each other and partially independent of each other. This is the synoptic problem. Multiple theories exist to explain this; however, two theories have become predominant: the four-source hypothesis and the two-source hypothesis.:136-208,1029-1045 Mark has 661 verses; six hundred of those verses are in Matthew and 350 of them are in Luke. Some of these verses are verbatim. Most scholars agree this indicates Mark was a source for Matthew and Luke. There is also some verbatim agreement between Matthew and Luke of verses not found in Mark. In 1838, the religious philosopher Christian Hermann Weisse developed a theory about this. He postulated a hypothetical collection of Jesus' sayings from an additional source called Q, taken from Quell, which is German for "source".:9 If this document existed, it has now been lost, but some of its material can be deduced indirectly. Comparing what is common to Matthew and Luke yet absent in Mark, the critical scholar Heinrich Julius Holtzmann demonstrated (in 1863) the likely existence of Q well enough to allow two-source hypothesis to emerge as the most supported synoptic solution.:9,10:148 There is also material unique to each gospel. This indicates an additional separate source for Matthew and an additional separate source for Luke. Biblical scholar B.H.Streeter used this insight to refine and expand two source theory into four-source theory in 1925.:48
While most scholars agree the two-source theory offers the best explanation for the Synoptic problem, it has not gone without dispute. The Synoptic Seminar disbanded in 1982 reporting its members "could not agree on a single thing" leading some to claim the problem is unsolvable.:163 No single theory offers a complete solution. There are a number of complex and important difficulties that create challenges to every theory.:208:4–13 One example is Basil Christopher Butler's challenge to the legitimacy of two-source theory, arguing it contains a Lachmann fallacy. Butler says the two-source theory loses cohesion when it is acknowledged that no primitive source can be established for Mark.:149 The authority of different versions of a text can be difficult to establish with the principles of evidence normally used in historical study, since there are so few 1st-century physical manuscripts of any kind that have survived to modern times.:147 The theologian Donald Guthrie says that there is still much uncertainty concerning the sources.:208
Theologian Antony F. Campbell argues that source criticism's most influential work is Julius Wellhausen's Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Prologue to the History of Israel, 1878), whose "insight and clarity of expression have left their mark indelibly on modern biblical studies".:6 The Documentary hypothesis, also known as the JEDP theory, or the Wellhausen theory, says the Pentateuch was combined out of four separate and coherent sources known as J (which stands for Yahwist, which is spelled with a J in German), E (for Elohist), D (for Deuteronomist), and P (for the Priestly source).:2 Biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen took Astruc's insights and correlated the history and development of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible with the development of the Jewish faith. Old Testament scholar Karl Graf (1815–1869) suggested the P in 1866 as the last stratum of the Wellhausen theory.:382:58 Therefore, the Documentary hypothesis is sometimes also referred to as the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis.:69:3:256
Advocates of the Documentary hypothesis contend that it accounts well for the differences and duplication found in each of the Pentateuchal books. Furthermore, they argue, it provides an explanation for the peculiar character of the material labeled P, which reflects the perspective and concerns of Israel's priests. However, it has been heavily criticized. Old Testament scholar Ernest Nicholson says that by the end of the 1970s and into the 1990s, "one major study after another, like a series of hammer blows, ... rejected the main claims of the Documentary theory, and the criteria on ... which those claims are grounded.":95 It has been criticized for its dating of the sources, for assuming that the original sources were coherent, and for assuming E and P were originally complete documents. Also, studies of the literary structure of the Pentateuch have shown J and P used the same structure, and that motifs and themes cross the boundaries of the various sources which undermines arguments for separate origins.:207,208:50,58,59 Problems and criticisms of the Documentary hypothesis have been brought on by such literary analysis, but also by anthropological developments, and by various archaeological findings, such as those indicating Hebrew is older than previously believed.:273–275 Presently, few biblical scholars still hold to Wellhausen's Documentary hypothesis in its classical form. However, while current debate has modified Wellhausen's conclusions, Dr.Nicholson says "for all that it needs revision and development in detail, [the work of Wellhausen] remains the securest basis for understanding the Pentateuch.":95-132;228
Form criticism began in the early twentieth century when theologian Karl Ludwig Schmidt observed that Mark's Gospel is composed of short units. In Jewish oral tradition, an oral tradent (the person responsible for transmitting oral tradition) remembers long blocks of material by breaking it down into short units and memorizing those.:5 Schmidt asserted the small units of Mark's gospel were remnants of that practice and evidence of oral tradition. Bible scholar Richard Bauckham says this "most significant insight," which established the foundation of form criticism, has never been refuted.:243Hermann Gunkel (1862–1932) and Martin Dibelius (1883-1947) built from this insight and pioneered form criticism. Form criticism breaks the Bible down into those short units. They are called pericopes and they are classified by genre: prose or verse, letters, laws, court archives, war hymns, poems of lament, and so on. Form criticism then theorizes concerning the individual pericope's Sitz im Leben ("setting in life" or "place in life"). Form critics believed the early Christian communities formed the sayings and teachings of Jesus according to their needs, their "situation in life", and that each form could be identified by the situation in which it had been created.:269:174:55:17–25
Form criticism, represented by Rudof Bultmann—its most influential proponent—was the dominant method in the field of biblical criticism for nearly 80 years. Its basic premise, that the New Testament is assembled from short pre-literary oral units, remains accepted. However, some of form criticism's foundational assumptions have come under heavy attack since the end of the 1970s.:13:278:242,247[note 1] For example, form criticism originally assumed the pericopes had a pure form but became corrupted over time. However, the fact so few Gospel pericopes conform to the ideal types indicates they may not be corrupted, but may instead have existed from the beginning in the modified or mixed form in which they are currently found.:246–249
In the early to mid twentieth century, Bultmann and other form critics argued that oral "laws of development" could be found within the New Testament. They said these laws would help scholars understand the oral tradition that preceded the written texts.:54–56:174:1–118 In the 1970s, the New Testament scholar E. P. Sanders argued against the existence of such laws, saying that Bultman's argument was circular.:273–274 According to Sanders, "There are no hard and fast laws of the development of the Synoptic tradition. On all counts the tradition developed in opposite directions. It became both longer and shorter, both more or less detailed, and both more and less Semitic. Even the tendency to use direct discourse for indirect, which was uniform in the post-canonical material which we studied, was not uniform in the Synoptics themselves... (Sanders 1969:272).":298:182 During the latter half of the twentieth century, extensive research was done on cultures with oral traditions still in existence. This research has shown 'laws of oral development' cannot be arrived at by studying written texts.:293:4–5,7–13:112
The biblical studies scholar Werner H. Kelber says that Bultmann's form criticism was programmed throughout the mid-twentieth century toward finding each pericope's original form. This focus distracted from consideration of memory as a dynamic force in the construction of the gospels or the early church community tradition.:277,278–291 Theologians Martin Dibelius (1883–1947) and Vincent Taylor (1887–1968) are among the few in the early to mid twentieth century who diverged from the dominant form critical view.:270 What Kelber refers to as form criticism's "astounding myopia" has produced enough criticism to revive interest in memory as an analytical category within biblical criticism.:278
Hellenistic culture surrounded first-century Palestine, and form criticism assumed the early Church was heavily influenced by that culture.:46 However, New Testament scholar N. T. Wright says newer evidence shows that is unlikely to be a valid claim.:1–7 He states, "The earliest traditions of Jesus reflected in the Gospels are written from the perspective of Second Temple Judaism [and] must be interpreted from the standpoint of Jewish eschatology and apocalypticism.":47 Contrary to the assumptions of form criticism, Wright asserts the Gospels are Jewish-style biographies, not Greek.:36–38,47 This has pervasively impacted Pauline studies. At first, form critics thought the apostle Paul was heavily influenced by Hellenism, but contemporary scholarship on first-century Judaism and Pharisaism has changed perceptions of Paul by arguing Hellenization was unlikely.:71 Bultmann has also been personally criticized for being overly focused on Heidegger's philosophy in his philosophical foundation.:57,58 Bultmann's philosophy has been further criticized for working with a priori notions concerning "folklore, the distinction between Palestinian and Hellenistic communities, the length of the oral period, and more, that were not derived from study but were instead constructed according to a preconceived pattern".:101:246–248[note 2]
For some, the future of form criticism is in doubt. Bible scholar Anthony J. Campbell says:
Form criticism had a meteoric rise in the early part of the twentieth century and fell from favor toward its end. For some, the future of form criticism is not an issue: it has none. But if form criticism embodies an essential insight, it will continue. ...Two elements embody this insight and give it its value: concern for the nature of the text and for its shape and structure... If the encrustations can be scraped away, the 'good stuff' may still be there.:219-220
Redaction criticism developed after the Second World War.:96 Redaction is the process of editing multiple sources, often with a similar theme, into a single document. Redaction criticism is an outgrowth of both source criticism and form criticism. However, where form criticism fractures the biblical elements into their individual forms, redaction criticism attempts to interpret the meaning of the whole literary unit. Form criticism saw the synoptic writers as mere collectors, not authors, and focused on the Sitz im Leben as the true creator of the texts. Redaction criticism deals more positively with the literary setting, the function of meaning within that setting, the authors themselves, and the framework of tradition. In the redactive view, the gospels are "sophisticated works with plans, presuppositions, and motifs".:158–159 Therefore, "it provides a corrective to the methodological imbalance of form criticism".:158-160 Redaction criticism is based on the two-source hypothesis and is usable only where identifiable sources are present.:96–108
The development of literary criticism shifted the attention from history and pre-compositional matters to the text itself. The New Testament scholar Paul R. House says that the discipline of linguistics, new views of historiography, the decline of older methods of criticism, and literary scholars such as Northrop Frye and Robert Alter[note 3] contributed to the development of literary biblical criticism.:3 By 1974, the two methodologies of literary criticism were rhetorical analysis and structuralism. Rhetorical analysis divides a passage into units, observes how a single unit shifts or breaks, taking special note of poetic devices, meter, parallelism, word play and so on. It then charts the writer's thought progression from one unit to the next, and finally, assembles the data in an attempt to explain the author's intentions behind the piece.:8 Structuralism looks at the language to discern "layers of meaning" with the goal of uncovering a work's "deep structures": the premises as well as the purposes of the author.:12 The 1980s saw the rise of formalism, which focuses on plot, structure, character and themes, and reader-response criticism, which focuses on the reader rather than the author. Reader-response criticism was put forward by the Old Testament scholar David M. Gunn in 1987.:5 Literary criticism has been accused of using its methodology to make claims that are beyond its scope, and for being too politically oriented.
Canonical criticism has both theological and literary roots. Its origins are found in the Church's views of scripture as sacred as well as in the literary critics who began to influence biblical scholarship in the 1940s and '50s. Canonical criticism responded to two things: 1) the sense that biblical criticism had obscured the meaning and authority of the canon of scripture; and 2) the fundamentalism in the Christian Church that had arisen in America in the 1920s and '30s. Canonical criticism does not reject historical criticism and sociological analysis, but they are considered secondary in importance. Canonical critics believe the texts should be treated with respect as the canon of a believing community. Canonical critics use the tools of biblical criticism to study the books of the Bible, but approach the books as whole units. They take the books as finished works and treat each book as a unity, instead of taking them apart and focusing on isolated pieces. This begins from the position that scripture contains within it what is needed to understand it, rather than being understandable only as the product of a historically determined process.:37–38:1–10 Canonical criticism helped literary criticism move biblical studies in a new direction by focusing on the text rather than the author. It uses the text itself, the needs of the communities addressed by those texts, and the interpretation likely to have been formed originally to meet those needs. The canonical critic then relates this to the overall canon. Canonical criticism is associated with Brevard S. Childs (1923–2007), though he declined to use the term.:154
James Muilenburg (1896-1974) referred to himself as "the prophet of rhetorical criticism".:762–765 A product of the '60s, rhetorical criticism seeks to understand text type, as does form criticism, but moves beyond form criticism by looking into the inner theological meaning the author was trying to communicate. The rhetorical scholar Sonja K. Foss says there are ten methods of practicing rhetorical criticism, but each focuses on three dimensions of rhetoric: the authors, what they use to communicate, and what they are trying to communicate.:3–8 Rhetorical criticism is the systematic effort to understand the message being communicated in a focused and conscious manner. Biblical rhetorical criticism asks how hearing the texts impacted the audience. It attempts to discover and evaluate the rhetorical devices, language, and methods of communication used within the texts to accomplish the goals of those texts. Phyllis Trible, a student of Muilenburg, also applied and developed rhetorical methods, while adding a Christian feminist viewpoint.:158–159:131–133
Narrative criticism approaches scripture as story. Narrative criticism began studying the New Testament in the 1970s, and a decade later also included the Old Testament. However, the first time an approach is labeled narrative criticism was in 1980 in the Bible scholar David Rhodes' article "Narrative Criticism and the Gospel of Mark".:3–179 Narrative criticism has its foundations in form criticism, but it is not a historical discipline. It is purely literary. Narrative criticism embraces the textual unity of canonical criticism, while admitting the existence of the sources and redactions of historical criticism. Narrative critics choose to focus on the artistic weaving of the biblical texts into a sustained narrative picture. The literary scholar Erich Auerbach (1892–1957) argued that "narrative economy" (omitting comments about the thoughts or emotional state of a character) and "narrative unity" are what make the text a "work of art." He encouraged others to see biblical characters as literary figures, and promoted the idea of textual unity, the importance of the narrator, authorial intent, and an awareness a narrative can be interpreted in multiple ways.:163,301,310,445:55–56 This perspective is key, Auerbach says: "Since so much in [Bible stories] is dark and incomplete, and since the reader knows that God is a hidden god, [the reader's] effort to interpret it constantly finds something new to feed on... there is no end for interpretation.":49-51
Scholars such as Bruno Bauer (1809–1882), Arthur Drews (1865–1935), and G. A. Wells (1926–2017) have long argued that the gospels are fictional in nature, and, therefore, the historical existence of Jesus is impossible to verify.:24 Rudolf Bultmann and Burton Mack accept the probable existence of a historical Jesus but argue that the stories of him are so saturated with legend and myth that we can know nothing about him. Robert Funk and J. D. Crossan support historical research, and say some facts of the historical Jesus can be discerned from biblical texts, but all supernatural claims about him are legend. John Meier and N. T. Wright are among those scholars who maintain the value of historical research, say objective understanding can be derived even from biased material, and that the Jesus of tradition emerges from such critical study of the Bible texts.:24–26
In 1987, Dennis Polkow presented a paper cataloguing 25 separate criteria used to determine historical authenticity.:193-199:3-33 New Testament scholar John Kloppenborg Verbin explains, the lack of uniformity and agreement on methodological issues concerning criteria, such as conflicting approaches to prioritizing them, have created challenges and problems undermining the validity of the criteria. For example, the question of whether dissimilarity or multiple attestation should be given more weight has led some scholars exploring the historical Jesus to come up with wildly divergent portraits of him.:10-31 Multiple methodological alternatives involving hermeneutics, linguistics, cultural studies and more, have been put forth by various scholars as alternatives to the criteria, but so far, the criteria remain the standard used to measure authenticity.:xi
The criterion of multiple attestation or independent attestation, sometimes also referred to as the cross-sectional method, is a type of source criticism. Simply put, the method looks for commonalities in multiple sources with the assumption that the more sources that report an event or saying, the more likely that event or saying is historically accurate. First developed by F.C.Burkitt in 1911, Burkitt claimed he found 31 independent sayings in Mark and Q. Within Synoptic Gospel studies, this was used to develop the four-source hypothesis according the gospels the multiple sources necessary to lend credence to historicity. As New Testament scholar Gerd Theissan says "there is broad scholarly consensus that we can best find access to the historical Jesus through the Synoptic tradition.":25:83 A second related theory is that of multiple forms. Developed by C.H. Dodd, it focuses on the sayings or deeds of Jesus found in more than one literary form, such as parables, dispute stories, miracle stories, prophecy, or aphorism. The force of this criterion is increased if a given motif or theme is found in multiple books of the Bible.:90–91:174–175,317
The criterion of embarrassment is based on the assumption the early church would not have gone out of its way to "create" or "falsify" historical material that only embarrassed its author or weakened its position in arguments with opponents. As historian Will Durant explains:
Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidents that mere inventors would have concealed—the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus' arrest, Peter's denial, the failure of Christ to work miracles in Galilee, the references of some auditors to his possible insanity, his early uncertainty as to his mission, his confessions of ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on the cross.
These and other possibly embarrassing events, such as the discovery of the empty tomb by women, Jesus' baptism by John, and the crucifixion itself, are seen by this criterion as lending credence to the supposition the gospels contain some history.
The criterion of the crucifixion is related to the criterion of embarrassment. In the first-century Roman empire, only criminals were crucified. The early church referred to death on the cross as a scandal. It is therefore unlikely to have been invented by worshippers.:139,140:239 Bible scholar David Mishkin says "[t]hat Jesus died on a Roman cross in Jerusalem is perhaps the one truth with virtual unanimity" among Bible scholars. If the words and actions of Jesus were authentic, they would alienate some people, especially powerful people, therefore the manner of his violent death at the hands of Jewish and Roman officials appears credible and historical.
New Testament scholar Gerd Theissen and theologian Dagmar Winter say one aspect of the criterion of embarrassment is "resistance to tendencies of the tradition.":239 It works on the assumption that what goes against the general tendencies of the early church is historical. For example, criticisms of Jesus go against the tendency of the early church to worship him, making it unlikely the early church community invented statements such as those accusing Jesus of being in league with Satan (Matthew 12:24), or being a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19). Thiessen and Winter sum this up with what can also be referred to as enemy attestation: when friends and enemies alike refer to the same events, those events are likely to be historical.:240
The criterion of dissimilarity or discontinuity says that if a particular saying can be plausibly accounted for as the words or teaching of some other source contemporary to Jesus, it is not thought to be genuine evidence of the historical Jesus. The "Son of Man" sayings are an example. Judaism had a Son of Man concept (as indicated by texts like 1 Enoch 46:2; 48:2-5,10; 52:4; 62:5-9; 69:28-29 and 4 Ezra 13:3ff), but there is no record of the Jews ever applying it to Jesus. The Son of Man is Jesus' most common self-designation in the Gospels, yet none of the New Testament epistles use this expression, nor is there any evidence that the disciples or the early church did. The conclusion is that, by the process of elimination of all other options, it is likely historically accurate that Jesus used this designation for himself.:202:489–532,633–636
The criterion of coherence (also called criterion of consistency or criterion of conformity) can be used only when other material has been identified as authentic. This criterion holds that a saying or action attributed to Jesus may be accepted as authentic if it coheres with other sayings and actions already established as authentic. While this criterion cannot be used alone, it can broaden what scholars believe Jesus said and did.:54–56:90:174 For example, Jesus' teaching in Mark 12:18-27 concerning the resurrection of the dead coheres well with a saying of Jesus in Q on the same subject of the afterlife (reported in Matthew 8:11-12/Luke 13:28-29), as well as other teachings of Jesus on the same subject.:69–72
The New Testament contains a high number of words and phrases called Semitisms: a combination of vernacular koine Greek with Hebrew and Aramaic influences.:112:52–68 A Semitism is the linguistic usage, in the Greek in a non-Greek fashion, of an expression or construction typical of Hebrew or Aramaic. In other words, a Semitism is Greek in Hebrew or Aramaic style.:53:111–114 For example, Matthew begins with a Hebrew gematria (a method of interpreting Hebrew by computing the numerical value of words). In Matthew 1:1, Jesus is designated "the son of David, the son of Abraham." The numerical value of David's name in Hebrew is 14; so this genealogy has 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the Babylonian exile, and 14 from the exile to the Christ (Matthew 1:17).:54 The spoken language of first century Jews was predominantly Aramaic, so writing or dictating in Greek would need to be translated. The Septuagint apparently became the lexicon and grammar guide for that translation because it left linguistic traces in phrasing and style within the gospels. Such linguistic peculiarities tie New Testament texts to Jews of 1st-century Palestine. :53
At first, biblical historical criticism and its deductions and implications were not popular outside liberal Protestant scholarship. The American Fundamentalist movement of the 1920s-1930s was created, at least partly, as a response to liberalism. Some fundamentalists believed liberal critics had invented an entirely new religion "completely at odds with the Christian faith." Other conservative Protestants disagreed with the fundamentalists. William Robertson Smith (1846–1894) is an example of an evangelical who believed historical criticism was a product of Christian theology going back to the Christian Reformation. He saw it as a "necessary tool to enable intelligent churchgoers" to understand the Bible. He was a pioneer in establishing the final form of the Supplementary theory of the Documentary hypothesis. A similar view was later advocated by the Primitive Methodist biblical scholar A. S. Peake (1865–1929).:298 Other evangelical Protestant scholars such as Edwin M. Yamauchi, Paul R. House, and Daniel B. Wallace have continued to contribute to critical scholarship.
The Catholic Church had difficulty accepting biblical criticism at first. Pope Leo XIII (1810–1903) condemned secular biblical scholarship in his encyclical letter Providentissimus Deus ('On the Study of Holy Scripture') on 18 November 1893. The pioneering work on textual criticism by the French Dominican M.-J. Lagrange (1855–1938) laid the path to overcoming this resistance.:Intro Later, the Jesuit Augustin Bea (1881–1968), played a vital part in the publication of the 1943 papal encyclical Divino afflante spiritu ('Inspired by the Holy Spirit') sanctioning historical criticism.:298 This tradition is continued by Catholic scholars such as Bernard Orchard,:89 and Reginald C. Fuller.:5
Hebrew Bible scholar Jon Douglas Levenson says Orthodox Judaism has also had some difficulty accepting biblical criticism. Some, such as rabbinicist Solomon Schechter (b. 1903), saw biblical criticism of the Pentateuch as a threat to Jewish identity. The growing anti-semitism in Germany of the late 19th century and early 20th century, the perception higher criticism was an entirely Christian pursuit, and the sense many Bible critics were not disinterested academics but were proponents of supersessionism, prompted Schechter to describe "Higher Criticism as Higher Anti-semitism".:83 Professor of Hebrew Bible Baruch J. Schwartz states that Jewish scholars were late to enter the field of biblical criticism because of this.:8,9–10
The first historical-critical Jewish scholar of Pentateuchal studies was M. M. Kalisch in the nineteenth century.:203–229 Full entry into Pentateuchal studies defined by the critical approach began in the early twentieth century.:222 In 1905, Rabbi David C. Hoffman wrote an extensive, two-volume, philologically based critique of the Wellhausen theory, which supported Jewish orthodoxy. Bible professor Benjamin D. Sommer says it is "among the most precise and detailed commentaries on the legal texts [Leviticus and Deuteronomy] ever written.":215 Yehezkel Kaufmann was the first Jewish scholar to appreciate fully the import of higher criticism. Mordechai Breuer, who branches out beyond most Jewish exegesis and explores the implications of historical criticism for multiple subjects, is an example of a contemporary Jewish biblical critical scholar.:182:277
Islamic studies scholar Gabriel Said Reynolds says there is no current edition of the Qur'ān that contains an apparatus criticus (a listing of variant readings). While Reynolds notes that two separate translations of the Qur'ān often contain numerous, sometimes irreconcilable, contradictions, there is still no text that has been constructed based on manuscripts that have been subjected to textual analysis and collation.:1-5 Keith E. Small describes the overall situation: "there is no critical edition of the text, no free access to all of the relevant manuscript evidence, no clear conception of the cultural and linguistic milieu within which it [the Qur'ān] has emerged, and no consensus on the basic issues of methodology.":1-4 It is only in the last twenty to thirty years that this has begun to be recognized as an issue worth addressing. Recent controversies in Qur'ānic studies have renewed interest in pursuing and addressing the "great problem...the integration of philosophy and history.":18
Socio-scientific criticism is part of the wider trend in biblical criticism reflecting interdisciplinary methods and diversity.:3–28 It grew out of form criticism's Sitz im leben and the sense historical form criticism had failed to adequately analyze the social and anthropological contexts which formed the texts. Socio-scientific criticism uses the perspectives, theories, models, and research of the social sciences to determine what "social laws" influenced the growth of biblical tradition. Socio-scientific criticism is close to historical biblical criticism in its goals and methods, and has less in common with literary critical approaches. It analyzes the social and cultural dimensions of the text and its environmental context.:54–56 Professor Margaret Y. MacDonald used socio-scientific criticism, combining anthropological and sociological methods, to study early pagan responses to Christianity and the lives of first and second century Christian women. There is little direct information available on the lives of women in early Christianity, but this socio-scientific approach revealed valuable information concerning what exactly pagans were reacting to: the lives and evangelistic activities of Christian women. MacDonald asserts this indicates women were more important to the beginnings of Christianity than has previously been realized.
In the 1940s and '50s the term postmodern began to be used to signify a rejection of modern conventions.:70–73 Many of these early post-modernist views came from France, immediately after World War II. Postmodernism has been associated with Marx and Freud, radical politics, arguments against metaphysics and ideology, and is against any philosophy that attempts to make rational descriptions of society. Biblical scholar A. K. M. Adam says postmodernism is not so much a method as a stance.:vii Its three general features are: 1) it denies any privileged starting point for truth; 2) it is critical of theories that attempt to explain the "totality of reality;" and 3) it attempts to show all ideals are grounded in ideological, economic or political self-interest.:22 Postmodernism is suspicious of traditional theology and the neutrality of reason, and emphasizes indeterminacy of the texts and relativism. In textual criticism, postmodernism rejects the idea of a sacred text, treating all manuscripts as equally valuable.:xi-xiii:292
Feminist criticism is an aspect of the feminist theology movement which began in the 1960s and '70s. One of its goals was to challenge, subvert, correct, and replace the theology from Germany that had been established since the 1900s. The early historical critical studies of theologians Rosemary Ruether and Elisabeth Fiorenza revealed a history of patriarchy within the biblical texts and a liberating Christian gospel at its core.:75 Fiorenza states feminist views of power, struggle, and vision, give a "full circle" view of a Christian theology of liberation.:1:173 Feminist biblical criticism has abandoned the idea of a single correct interpretation of a biblical text, arguing instead it has many applications, interpretations, meanings, or values.:11,19,23,61–62 Feminist criticism embraces a reader response view of the text and the value of women's experiences.:13:309–312
Postcritical Biblical interpretation shares the post-modernist suspicion of reason's ability to remain neutral, but is not hostile toward theology.:22 It begins by asking, "if the meaning [of biblical narrative] is not found in the narrative itself, where is it found?" Post-critical interpretation seeks to understand the stories as "realistic narratives" that are "history-like" demonstrating truths that are inherent within the context of their plot. Post-critical interpretation adopts patterns of reading borrowed from secular literature, but also finds patterns of reading that emerge from the biblical text itself.
Psychological biblical criticism applies psychology to biblical texts; it was not until the 1990s that it began to have an influence among the new critical approaches. Bible scholar Wayne Rollins says the goal of a psychological critical approach is to find expressions of the human psyche in the biblical texts. It can be used in both a historical and a literary manner but is often associated with Freudian psychoanalysis.:61–78:3