Here’s a good quote from Johannes Munck regarding the difference between doing NT studies and Patristics.

As a young man, feeling my way towards the study of the New Testament, I wrote a book about Clement of Alexandria. There were many surprises in the change from patristics to the New Testament. In patristics–a map with many blank spaces–there was always a feeling of gratitude for the work already done by others, and pleasure when they had reached entirely different interpretation of the texts. In the New Testament there seemed to be less elbow-room. Everything appeared to have been settled already, in our grandfather’s generation, or earlier still . . . Having criticized the traditions of the primitive Church concerning the New Testament writings and primitive Christianity, the professors had themselves come to represent tradition and authority, and there was no room for young scholars, for it was not permissible to doubt what all believed. Brilliant impartiality and ended in stolid conservatism . . .

Let us give the younger generation opportunity and encouragement to question the important, but perhaps not always [the] true or permanently valid views put forward by the generations before us. Let us go further, and urge them to question what we ourselves tell them.

With a subject like the New Testament, consisting of a certain number of facts, and a large number of theories, and assumed rather than substantiated suppositions, it is necessary to go through it from time to time, in order not to forget what is fact and what is theory.

Excerpted from “Jewish Christianity in Post-Apostolic Times” NTS 6 (1959-60), pp. 115-16

While I’m definitely playing in the NT area, maybe this is a helpful call for people to spend some time doing patristics instead of just NT. If it feels uncomfortable to take that step, at least try out the Apostolic Fathers and you’ll find out how fun it is to be able to read 90% of all the secondary literature on a work. If you are even aware of 10% of the stuff on Paul, you’re doing good.

HT: Joel at Euangelion

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