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History of New Testament Research: From C. H. Dodd to Hans Dieter Betz (A Review)

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The following is a review of William Baird’s History of New Testament Research: From C.H. Dodd to Hans Dieter Betz
With the publication of volume three, William Baird brings his masterful work on the history of New Testament research to a close. Beginning with Enlightenment and ending with the Betz, Baird has provided a history that the guild of New Testament studies will consult for years to come. As with the previous two volumes, each chapter contains important figures in the field of NT research. For every NT scholar, Baird includes a brief biography and a discussion on the development of their thought. By selecting scholars’ most influential works, he shows the reader key developments in the trends of NT research that took place during the twentieth century.
In part one, “Renaissance of New Testament Criticism,” Baird highlights works from a number of NT scholars who impacted the field for decades to come. With the exception of Henry Cadbury and James Robinson—who studied under Bultmann—every individual discussed was born and educated in the UK or Germany. Before the two great wars, the cutting edge of NT scholarship took place mostly in Europe. Students from all over the world filled lecture rooms at Marburg, Cambridge, Basel, and elsewhere to learn from the best NT scholars in the world. Some of the NT scholars reviewed in part one include C.H. Dodd, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Ernst Käsemann.
Part two, “Revisiting of Critical Problems,” begins with an evaluation of the major discoveries of the twentieth century. Arguably the greatest event in NT research, the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls and the Nag Hammadi witnessed a renaissance of sorts that touched on both Testaments. With these discoveries, scholars had to reevaluate old assumptions once again. Scholars in the previous generation had argued for a more syncretist Christianity, but the post WWII generation of scholars looked to Jewish soils—to understand the calling and work of the Messiah, as well as the development of Christianity. Influential in this resurgence were Joachim Jeremias, W.D. Davies, E.P. Sanders, and Martin Hengel. Part two finishes with a chapter on the founding and influence of the academic societies SBL, SNTS, CBA, and the Jesus Seminar.
The final section surveys the theological and synthesizing movements on both sides of the Atlantic. The shift from Europe to America as the center of NT research begins to take shape in these final chapters—a shift evidenced by the teaching posts held by many of the scholars reviewed. In contrast to the first two parts, this final part lacks a real theological/exegetical/historical controversy that shaped the development of NT research. Nevertheless, this final generation of scholars stands out for their rigorous exegetical and synthesizing skill, especially noticed in the commentaries they published.
Volume three of Baird’s History of New Testament Research is a must-have for anyone wanting to know the major trends and key scholars of the NT period. Baird is informative while remaining entertaining. He brings the reader through the life and work of each scholar without getting bogged down in too much detail—something I am sure would have been easy to do, given the scholars that fill this volume.
While there is much to commend, I do have a few criticisms. First, the lack of evangelical scholars is a shame. I am thankful for the inclusion of F.F. Bruce, but many others could have been included. For example, a section on G.E. Ladd would have been a nice edition to this work. His work on eschatology has been very influential in NT scholarship. Second, the failure to recognize the Evangelical Theological Society as an important society for NT study is puzzling. While not the size of SBL, ETS is nevertheless an important venue for the development of NT scholarship. I may have been able to overlook this if it were not for the inclusion of the Jesus Seminar. And third, while this is not as important as the first two, I do want to mention the sprinkling of grammar and spelling errors throughout.
William Baird has done a great service by providing these three volumes on the history of New Testament research. While there is much more that can be said regarding the field of NT research and the men and women who have shaped it, Baird has provided a starting point for us. From there, we can venture off into the field and explore the landscape in greater depth.
Get William Baird’s History of New Testament Research  today.

Written by
Cliff Kvidahl

Cliff obtained his MTh from SATS, where he wrote his thesis on the theology of atonement in the letter to the Hebrews. He currently serves as co-founder and senior academic acquisitions editor at Fontes Press.

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Written by Cliff Kvidahl