Revista Studii Teologice


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"Metoda istorico-critică în exegeza Noului Testament"

The Historical-Critical Method in the New Testament Exegesis

Autor(i): Ilie CHIŞCARI

The Holy Scripture may be analyzed from various standpoints and by means of various methods. The present study briefly presents one of these methods, which is employed in the investigation of the Scripture as an objective foundation for any exegetical analysis of a biblical text: the Historical-Critical Method. This approach to the biblical text has developed progressively, by combining and logically structuring several metods (synchronic and diachronic), which originally developed in independent, even opposite directions, each attempting to become ultimate solutions in the study of the Scripture.They were re-arranged as a sequence of complementary methodological steps of a single composite method, forming the current structure of the historical-critical analysis. The present paper addresses the following steps in the historical-critical method, applied to the study of the New Testament, in general, and the Holy Gospels in particular: Text Criticism, Source Criticism, Form Criticism, Genre Criticism, Tradition Criticism, and Redaction Criticism.
One of the basic premises of any exegetical endeavor is ascertaining the original text, as accurately as possible; therefore the first step in biblical exegesis is the reconstruction of the New Testament text as close to the original as it is possible. This is the object of Text Criticism (Textkritik). After a general presentation of the various categories of biblical accounts and the main classes of codices, we present the most common causes that have produced the differences among textual variants, as well as some of the main rules which the exegete must follow during this stage of research.
After ascertaining the critical text, the next step in the historical-critical exegesis is establishing the sources used by New Testament writers in their works, by identifying certain clues that separate the original material from the context in which it has been included. This is the object of Source Criticism (Literarkritik), which aims to identify the literary characteristics of a text, in order to determine its dependence on other texts and ascertain the way in which the biblical author used the available information in writing his own text.
Because human language, by its nature, relates the contents of any notion (be it expressed in thought, in speaking or in writing) to a particular form, the following step in the historical-critical analysis is identifying the literary form of the biblical narrative, by means of Form Criticism (Formkritik). In the case of biblical texts, the term „form” designates all formal elements provided to the author by the language and literature of a cultural context, and which he employs to express his thought and present it. This includes, on the one hand, the linguistic elements (phonetics, grammar, syntax, style), as well as the literary ones (formal structures pertaining to the dramatic, narrative and rhetorical aspects of a writing).
The offshoot of the above-mentioned methods in biblical exegesis is Genre Criticism (Gattungskritik), that is the study of suprapersonal literary dependences, manifest through the existence of typical, normative literary patterns called „literary genres”. While „form” is an aggregate of formative and formal elements of a single, particular text, the „literary genre” is the ideal, hypothetical form reconstructed on the basis of similarities between individual „forms” identified in concrete texts. In the genre criticism stage, the exegete must attempt to identify the genre whose form is the closest to the text being investigated.
Every literary form indicates a particular reality it was born from, a primary setting in life (Sitz im Leben) to which it remains connected. After ascertaining the literary genre to which a textual form belongs, the exegete must investigate the community that has bequeathed that material, and from which it has been obtained and included among the New Testament writings. This is the object of Tradition Criticism (Traditionskritik). This method investigates, through the analysis of literary forms, the origins and history of pre-literary (oral or written) tradition of New Testament writings. This step of research thus aims to retrace the course of the Saviour’s teachings and the testimonies to His deeds, since they occured to the moment of recording them in the holy Gospels.
The last step is Redaction Criticism (Redaktionskritik), which aims to identify and evaluate the intervention of every evangelist on the sources they employed, when they wrote the holy Gospels. The evangelists not only conveyed and recorded particular information, but also interpreted it. Thus they acted as theologians, who recorded the tradition concerning the Lord’s words and deeds, adding the testimony of their own faith. The present study aims to explain: the traditions as recorded in the biblical books, the theological stance that motivated certain choices of the author, as well as the historical context in which he wrote.
The results of the historical-critical analysis of a New Testament text must be: a critical version of the analyzed excerpt, a number of hypotheses concerning the literary sources of the text, ascertaining its form and literary genre, reconstructing the circumstances from which the respective tradition originated, and identifying the intervention of the Gospel author. However, the historical-critical method with its components does not suffice for understanding the respective text, but it must be integrated into the broader context of biblical exegesis. It represents the first step, putting forth some working hypotheses as plausible as possible, to be used in subsequent interpretations of the theological truths contained by the New Testament.
Even though the historical-critical method employs the instruments of non-theological disciplines, such as literature or history, the endeavor of the exegete must not be historical but theological. The purpose of his analysis is not merely to discover the historical reality underlying the texts, but to employ the information thus obtained, in order to better understand the theological truths expressed by the Scripture. The historical-critical method is merely an instrument of biblical exegesis, not its goal. Using this method is effective only when faith completes it. This is the path always followed by the Church in interpreting the holy writings and this is the research „method” proposed by patristic exegesis. As the New Testament contains the God-inspired words, it must be read and interpreted in the same Spirit in which it was written. The goal of exegesis is not limited to understanding and conveying Christ’s revelation, but it must be to confess it. While using all the instruments provided by philology, literature, history or any other discipline, the exegete must always bear in mind St. Paul’s words: „Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (2 Co 3:5-6).

Pagini: 55-104