Answering a Series of Questions Regarding New Testament Scripture


Answering a Series of Questions Regarding New Testament scripture: based on Russell Pregeant, Engaging the New Testament: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, First Fortress Press, 1997 & Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All its Worth, Zondervan 2003.

I Why do Fee and Stuart, in their first chapter, insist that it is necessary to interpret scripture?

 One of the primary reasons Fee and Stuart contend that there is a need to interpret scripture is because every reader instinctively brings to the words of scripture his or her own character – which may influence the way it is read.  We, the readers of scripture, cannot escape who we are (nor is it important to do so).  We bring to the Bible our life stories, assumptions, histories, preferences, prejudices, nativities, world-views, and experiences.  Almost invariably, we cannot separate who we are from how we see, or interpret, all things – including the scriptures.  Though we would never articulate it, the assumption is often made that our individual opinions and ideas are orthodox.  The Bible is then read through the lenses of that assumption, resulting in an interpretation that is tainted proportionately to our prejudices.  The first need, then, lies in the understanding that our individual worldviews might imply or bring something to the Bible that was never intended to be there.

Fee and Stuart also write that another need to interpret scripture is found by looking at the wide variety of scriptural understandings displayed in today’s churches.  It is quite apparent that there is a wide difference in the manner in which many congregations are reading and reacting to the same scripture.  For example, some Bible-led assemblies baptize believers by means of immersion.  Other churches, reading the same Bible, receive converts by baptism through “sprinkling.”  Some do this in “Jesus’ name” only, while others baptize in “the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”  Concerning these methods there are some who contend that Christians can do either one, while others believe the Bible teaches that a strict adherence to only one will result in perfect obedience.  Clearly, the need for interpreting scripture in today’s world is made evident by the many ways that we are living the scriptures out in our churches.

Fee and Stuart also add that a need to interpret scripture comes out of an understanding of the nature of scripture.  They intimate that the Bible is a book of divine thought relayed through means of the human experience.  In other words, if one disregards the divinely ordained message of the Bible, while reading it only as a human work of literature, then that same one fails to recognize the major contribution of scripture.  Conversely, if one does not take into consideration the marks of humanity left in the pages of the Bible, then that same one might overlook the great flavor in which scripture has been provided.

II. On the basis of Fee and Stuart, chapter 2, explain the differences among formal equivalence, functional equivalence and free translations.  Which Biblical translation do you use most, and which of these categories does it fall into?

 The words formal equivalent, functional equivalence, and free translations are terms that Fee and Stuart use to describe the various types of English Bible translations and paraphrases available to us today.

What Christians refer today as the Old Testament was written originally in Hebrew and Aramaic.  Our New Testament is generally believed to have originally been written in Greek.  To transfer these languages into English (or any language for that matter), translators must make certain decisions on how they will make the original texts available to the modern reader.  This is because there are not always equivalent words, sentence structures, and idioms among all languages.  Additionally, languages evolve over time making some words and phrases obsolete, or implying new meanings to them.

Formal equivalence is a term describing the method of translation wherein the translators attempt to retain both the words and grammar of the original language in the receptor language.  The translators make this possible sometimes at the cost of readability to the modern student of the Bible.  The versions that follow the formal equivalent method are commonly referred to as literal or word-for-word translations.

Functional equivalence is a term assigned to a method of translation that seeks to preserve the apparent meaning of the text while choosing familiar, up to date language and idioms that the reader will be more likely to understand.  In some instances the translators will not choose exact Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek-to-English equivalents if the resulting product causes the sentence to become too unreadable or if the original idiom can be better understood another way.

Free translation is a te used to define a method of translation wherein the translators seek to relay the idea of the original text.  Less concern is placed on using exact words and phrases of the original language than the aforementioned methods of translations.  Instead, the editors attempt to relay the concept of the text in a readable, familiar form.  Products of this method of translation are often referred to as paraphrases.

 There are three Bibles that I rely upon most.  My foremost choice is the New American Standard Bible (© 1977).  My copy was given to me by a dear brother who was like a father in the faith to me.  But, outside of the emotional attachment that I have for this particular copy, I have found it to be an excellent tool in studying.  The NASB belongs to the formal equivalence family of translations, and is widely known as a fair representation of the original text.

I also have great admiration for the New King James Version, and use it secondarily.  Like the NASB, the NKJV is a formal equivalence translation.  I use it in my studies along with the NASB.

Although they are both faithful word-for-word translations, the New Testament sections of these two Bibles are based on two different sets of manuscripts.  Like the well-known 1611 King James Version, the NKJV is derived from manuscripts commonly known as the textus receptus.  Those manuscripts have been known to us for a long time, but are not considered to be the most proximate to the original writings.  The New Testament of the NASB relies on what is often referred to as the Alexandriantext.  The Alexandrian manuscripts were more recently discovered, but appear to be chronologically more proximate to the original documents.

Both of these Bibles provide reasonable translations of the wording of the original text.  Side by side they illuminate well the sets of texts that are available.

My third choice is also a translation that relies on the Alexandrian text: the New International Version.  It is a functional equivalence translation and is superbly readable.  If the reading of the NASB and NKJV becomes difficult, I turn first to the NIV for an additional perspective.   However, I do not rely on it for detailed word studies.

Fee and Stuart seem to go to great pains to recommend the NIV as a superior translation.  They even warn readers not to use the KJV and NKJV for Bible Study.  In part this seems due to their lack of confidence in the textus receptus.  But the implication that they make suggesting that the textus receptus is more flawed than the Alexandrian text[i] is an opinion that is as unsupportable as the argument that the textus receptus is superior to the Alexandrian.  Until we hold the original apostolic letters and know what their authors really wrote, I do not believe that we can dogmatically say that one is more complete than the other.

It is noteworthy to recognize that Gordon Fee was a member of the editorial board that composed both the NIV and TNIV.[ii]  This raises the possibility that his bias may not be based entirely on scholarly interests.

Explain briefly what Pregeant means by each of the following: historical-critical method, social-scientific criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism.

Pregeant[iii] begins his first chapter describing how many people live out the Christian experience in ways that might well appear in contradiction to one another.  Indeed, there are many who read the same Bible yet walk away with different impressions not only of its ideas, but of the very nature and concept of God.  Since we live in a cosmos where conflicting truths cannot be always equally absolute, it is impossible to consider that God’s ultimate truth is as varied as the people who discover it.  The struggle, then, in uncovering God’s truth, seems to lie in trying to properly understand the words through which it was shared.

The historical-critical method is a technique described by Pregeant that is used by Biblical scholars to help discover the truth of scripture.  This method is born in the understanding that scripture was not simply written for the modern reader, or in our modern context.  Rather, it was written in a different age from us, and by those who lived in a place that is likely to be foreign to us in a lot of ways.  The scriptural text also likely had a very specific audience in mind that might have been undergoing a particular event, which prompted the writing of the text.

The historical-critical method demands that we make all possible effort to understand the historical context of the text before beginning to attempt to understand its meaning.  If we can appreciate how its original audience might have understood the writing (or the speech that it recorded – or both), then we can likely draw closer to the very intent of the text in question.  Finally, then, we can begin to draw some conclusions as to how the text can be interpreted into our own lives.

Social-scientific criticism is another method that Pregeant describes as being used by scholars to bring to light the meaning of scripture.  In a sense it is an expansion of the historical-critical method because it asks detailed questions with the historical context.

After answering the questions of who, what, where, and when about the text, the social-scientific criticism method takes a look at the various social components of that age.  These characteristics might have significant influence in understanding the text.  For example, the scholar may determine that a particular text was a letter written by a disciple of Jesus to a young church in a particular region.  The scholar then might try to discover the social climate wherein the young church was set.  What form of government was in place?  What social concerns were prevailing?  Was it a well-appointed community, or was there a great chasm set between the social classes?  According to Pregeant these are just a few of the questions that serve to better illuminate the passage of scripture being studied.

Pregeant points out that a new interest developed as critical scholars began to orient scripture to its historical context.  This interest began to recognize the literary features of scripture.  As a result, two disciplines developed that Pregeant writes were “extremely influential in twentieth-century scholarship.[iv]

The first of these disciplines is recognized as form criticism.  Focusing on the New Testament writings, this method of study suggests that its authors may have utilized written material as well as circulating oral tradition to compile their works.  Form criticism attempts to classify and identify any information about the presupposed sources, and also reconstruct the stages of development that the writing may have undergone before reaching us in its present form.  Pregeant adds that the form critic also presumes that various social-environmental factors transformed some of the oral traditions that were being passed around.  Form criticism attempts to identify those factors and their influence on the oral traditions that they presuppose were being relied upon by the writers.

Pregeant describes a method of study that grew out of form criticism: redaction criticism.  Working under the presumption that the writer did not simply regurgitate the available source material, the redaction critic hopes to identify what the author may have edited for his[v] own purposes.  While the form critic attempts to work back from the writing to identify its original form, the redaction critic attempts to identify additions that the writer may have inserted, and thereby identify the author’s particular interests.  Form and redaction criticism functions on presuppositions that the New Testament writers never claimed for themselves, nor did the early Church fathers and nearly eighteen-hundred years of Church history provide.

Looking at p. 95 in Pregeant, answer briefly questions 6, 11, 14, 15, and 17.

 6) How was Judaism affected by Hellenism?

In the wake of his conquests, Alexander the Great very much influenced the Mediterranean world with the Greek culture and language. This influence – Hellenism – posed some serious problems for the Jewish people who were still trying to live out their old traditions of faith. Hellenism challenged Judaism’s separatist ideology by encouraging a more global view of humankind.  It also challenged the old religions that seemed impotent in light of Grecian conquests.  It introduced new styles of religious and philosophical viewpoints that ran counter to the Jewish belief system.  As well, it introduced new styles of dress and cultural vices that were abhorrent to tradition-bound Hebrews.

Northern Jewish communities in Samaria and Galilee tended to be more influenced by Hellenism than the Jews in southern Judea.  Therefore, not only did Hellenism put outside pressure on the Jewish person, but it began to exert inside pressures from between these already separating Jewish communities.

11) What would it have been like to be a Palestinian Jew during the Roman occupation?  How might your social standing have affected your evaluation of the occupation government?

 Pregeant points out that some Jews initially welcomed Roman occupation since it brought a semblance of order to an otherwise chaotic land.  However, most resented the presence of a foreign ruling power that interfered in their governmental and religious life.  Rome also increased their suffering by placing harsh economic pressure upon the already poverty-stricken masses.  Adding to these insults Rome put in place a shrewd, ruthless man over Judea – Herod the Great. Though from southern Judea, Herod was not received as one of their own by the Jews.  He tried to win the favor of the Jews, but his obvious allegiance to Rome was repugnant to them.  Jesus may have shown the Jewish disdain for Herod when he was brought before Herod’s son (Herod Antipus).  He refused to even speak with him, or answer his questions (Luke 23:7-9).

Roman taxation was detestable to most any Jew.  However, to the vast lower-income class it placed almost unbearable hardships upon their ever-weakening shoulders, and likely formed in their mind a deep hatred for the occupation.  On the other hand, the upper-income class was provided more opportunities, and likely viewed the occupation with less resentment.

14) Give a brief description of the patron-client relationship in the world of the Roman Empire?  How does the concept of debt figure into this relationship?

 Pregeant describes the Roman culture as a mulit-tiered society.  At almost any economic level there were some who served the interests of those above them.  Those who served are referred to as clients by Pregeant.  Those whose interests were being served by the lower classes are referred to as patrons.  In some instances the client of a higher class might also be the patron of a lower economical class person, who would become his client.  In that instance, the person who was both client and patron is referred to as a broker by Pregeant, and would be instrumental in negotiating the economic relationships between the more widely-split classes.

According to Pregeant, the patron at any level set the conditions of the repayment of debt.  An example of this kind of relationship might be understood in the parable of debtors recorded in Matthew 18:23-35.  In that parable Jesus described a master (the patron) who chose to settle accounts with his servants (his clients).  One of the clients turned out to be a broker; who himself was a patron of a lower class client.

15) Give a brief description of how the concepts of honor and shame functioned in the ancient Mediterranean culture.  Compare that culture’s understanding of the human self to our own view.

Honor, as described by Pregeant, was always understood in terms of how one’s self – or one’s group – was viewed by the larger, collective group.  Shame was the awareness of one’s self or group’s reputation within the larger body.  To maintain honor one needed to have a healthy sense of shame.  Individualism was only understood as the individual related to the larger group.  The goal of the individual was to bring honor to the larger group.

In Western culture today the honor or standing of the larger group has much less significance to the individual than in the Eastern cultures.  This was illustrated during WWII as Allied powers were shocked by the seemingly endless supply of Japanese kamikaze volunteers who found the highest honor in dying.  Even more recently observed are the frequent suicide-murder bombings executed by radical Muslim devotees.  These acts of terrorism – born out of a desire to maintain the honor of the larger group – starkly contrast our Western understanding, where the individual places a higher level of importance on him or herself.

 17) What are the specific characteristics of Gnosticism, and what are the various theories of its origins?

 In the New Testament days Gnosticism was a philosophy that taught that from the true god (pure light) emanated lesser gods.  From one of these lesser gods the known world was created.  Created by this lesser god, the world, made up of matter, was viewed as evil.  Consequently, anything of matter was viewed as evil.  By contrast that which is spiritual was viewed as good.  Humankind, then, was considered dual-natured – being made up of both matter (evil) and spirit (good).

To remedy the human condition, Gnostics believed that the true God sent a redeemer to the world to reveal hidden knowledge that would set at liberty the spiritual nature of humankind.  This redeemer was purely spiritual (good) and did not constitute of matter (evil).

According to Pregeant Gnostic origins are not altogether known.  For some time there was a widely-held belief that Gnosticism was a Hellenistic form of Christianity.  Then, there developed a theory that Gnosticism pre-dated Christianity, and that Christianity borrowed from its redeemer motif.  Still others hold that Gnosticism grew out of a sect of Judaism that saw the God of the Old Testament as the lesser-god entity who wrongly created the world.  (Because of its harsh conditions, existence in the old Mediterranean world was a challenge to most everyone.  Therefore, it is not difficult to see how the ancients began to view all physical matter as evil).

Consider carefully Fee and Stuart’s statements about “The Historical Context” of 1 Corinthians (pp. 59-64).  Then look at 1 Cor 11:27-32 in light of their instructions in the paragraph that says “THINK PARAGRAPHS” on pp. 64-65.  Apply their instructions to this paragraph from 1 Corinthians.  That is, briefly explain what Paul is saying in this paragraph and then explain why “Paul says this right at this point”: (which requires consideration of the larger literary context).

 What Paul seems to be saying in the selected verses is that anyone who participates in the Lord’s Supper in an inappropriate way is guilty of sin, and invites judgment.  Paul urges his readers to first examine themselves before participating in the holy meal.  Obviously the task in understanding this passage is to unwrap what is meant by “inappropriate.”

To understand why Paul wrote this passage at this particular juncture in the epistle – and to understand precisely what he means – one must look at the larger context of the passage.  In the preceding paragraph (vs. 3-16) Paul addressed the issue of head coverings.  In verse 17 Paul seems to shift gears, beginning a new paragraph of thought: the selfish manner in which some in Corinth were participating in the Lord’s Supper.  He pointed out that these were eating and drinking ahead of the others, becoming drunk, and leaving nothing for those who would eat later.  Paul rebuked them and urged that they wait to eat with the others (vs. 33).  The “unworthy manner” in which they were participating in the Lord’s Supper seems defined by the text as their selfish attitudes toward eating and drinking.

What was Paul defending when he rebuked Peter at Antioch (see Gal 2)?

 According to the account in Galatians, Peter had visited the church in Antioch.  Based on what Paul recorded in Galatians 2 it seems that when Peter arrived there he fellowshipped fully with the believers.  However, when church leaders from Jerusalem (Jewish believers) later joined him in Antioch, Peter withdrew from eating with the Gentile believers to avoid the criticism of his Jewish brothers.  The criticism would have been based upon the fact that the Gentile believers had remained uncircumcised; thus, they were not observing the Jewish laws.  The Jewish Christians from Jerusalem were apparently under the persuasion that all believers needed to observe the Jewish law.

Paul’s defense seems to stem from two different arguments.  First, he defends the concept that the believer’s in Antioch (as elsewhere) were saved through their faith in Christ, and that the keeping of Jewish laws and traditions was not essential for that salvation.  It is apparent in Galatians 3 that this same heresy had crept into the Church of Galatia, and that its false teachers were leading the people into a legalistic form of religion.

But part of Paul’s defense also seems to be tied into a larger argument that he had been making from the beginning of the epistle: that the gospel he preached to them had been received directly from Jesus, and that the he did not get it second-hand from the other apostles.  Although his disagreement with Peter had to do with the heresy that he wanted to address with the Galatians, it also supported his position that he was not a “man-pleaser” (Gal. 1:10), and that he had the same authority of an apostle, and could stand up to the others if they erred.

Looking carefully at Paul’s reasoning in Galatians, what basic commitments is he defending in arguing so strongly that justification is by faith, not works of the law?  To answer this question well, you need to separate Paul’s supporting arguments from the basic Commitments that he is defending.  Focus on Gal 2:11 to 5:6.

 I cannot find any New Testament epistle written by any author that bears the heated passion that marks Paul’s letter to the Church in Galatia.  His vehemence has no New Testament equal.  What produced the anger that caused him to wish that his Galatian enemies were castrated (5:12)?  The false teachers who came to Galatia in Paul’s absence had apparently taught the believers that they must become (or continue in) Judaism in order to remain in the Church.  These were Judaizers, who taught that the believers should be circumcised, and that they should observe Jewish traditions, such as the keeping of the Sabbath and festivals.

If the Judaizers were correct in their argument that Christians must become Jewish, then Christianity would be just another sect of Judaism – like the Pharisaic or Sadducean sects.  It would mean that righteousness before God was not given to those who lived a life of inward repentance, but that it could be claimed by any who kept an outward show of the rules.  This kind of hypocrisy is what angered Jesus the most – an outward show of piety while the heart remained unchanged (e.g. Matt. 23:13-39).

This hypocrisy might be illustrated in this way: an owner’s dog always bites the mailman.  So, the owner puts a muzzle on the dog.  When the mailman comes to the door the dog growls and lunges but can no longer bite.  The muzzle has stopped the dog from biting, but has does nothing to change its desire to bite.

If obedience to the law brought about salvation then one could keep an outward set of rules but inwardly maintain hatred, fear, anger, lust, and an assortment of other offensive rules that are abhorrent to the Spirit of Christ.  Paul knew that an insistence on the law as a requirement for salvation would only produce an unregenerate people.

Paul’s argument is based upon the simple but powerful truth that salvation can only come from trusting Christ in faith – which requires one to make an inward change of the heart.  Paul was not opposed to works of obedience so long as they followed and sprung forth from a changed heart.

List three passages in Romans that speak to you most meaningfully about the redemptive significance of Christ’s death.

 1)      Romans 5: 12-21: In this passage Paul encourages his readers to consider that by the disobedience of a mere man (Adam) much sin and death entered our world; therefore how much more grace then must there be available by the obedience of the divine-man (Christ).  My mental and imaginative capabilities are pitifully insufficient to even draw near to the meaning of this passage!  If the result of Adam’s disobedience brought sin and death in such visible, tangible ways to all people, then (oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!) the redemption brought by Christ must be far more weighty, far more lasting, far more transcendent, far more encompassing – even far more real than what Adam had done!

2)      Romans 3: 20-24: In these verses Paul reiterates the truth that no one can experience the righteousness of God by keeping the law.  Rather, Paul writes, God’s righteousness is given to those who approach God in faith.  Furthermore, Paul adds that those who in faith receive the righteousness of God are also justified before God.  Being justified here means that the demands of God’s law have been met.  The righteousness that is given to the believer is the righteousness of Christ Jesus.  The justification imputed to the believer was made available by the sacrificial death of Jesus.

3)      Romans 5:1: Paul explains that the believer who is justified with God also has peace with God.  This peace is not necessarily the same peace Jesus promised to his disciples in John 14:27.  In that passage Jesus appears to be promising peace in the midst of distress.  In the Romans passage, Paul appears to be explaining that we who are made righteous before God are no longer are at enmity with God as we once were (Romans 8:7)  The redemptive work of Christ not only gives us proper legal standing with God (justification), but also proper relational standing by peace.


[i] Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, Zondervan ©2003, pg. 52.

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Fee (last viewed 4/26/07).

[iii] Russell Pregeant, Engaging the New Testament: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, Fortress Press © 1997.

[iv] Ibid, pg. 27.

[v] This student recognizes that some may be offended by the gender-specific pronoun used here.  It was selected in light of the large body of evidence indicating that all NT writers were male.

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