Why I don’t believe that NT studies is an academic discipline

I’m not going to write an essay on this.  I trained as a scientist, and so was naturally sceptical that the humanities were doing more than wiggling their prejudices.  I came to think differently about patristics after reading T.D.Barnes Tertullian, which convinced me that objective data-driven work was possible. 

One factor in my disbelief in the humanities was that I was long ago convinced, by reading books produced by people holding teaching posts in New Testament Studies, that the discipline was pseudo-academic.  Objectivity counted for nothing; conformity to a manufactured consensus was everything.  Over the years I heard endless anecdotes about victimisation of Christians foolish enough to subject themselves to “study” in this subject, who found prejudice being taught as scholarship.

It seems little has changed, if Dan Wallace is to be believed.  And I do believe him.  I believe every word of it.  After all, what structural mechanism stops such behaviour?  But there is no pressing reason why any of us should pay good money to fund such “studies”.

6 thoughts on “Why I don’t believe that NT studies is an academic discipline

  1. The sciences aren’t completely safe from that either, but merely less given to this sort of thing. Look at the climate debate, whether you believe in man-made global warming or not, there are a lot of people who will try to use hard evidence to say that you are wrong.

    Given all of this, I wonder how so many people maintain that humans are innately good when we seem to ruin everything we touch.

  2. The problem is the same one, in all disciplines; how do we descope our opinions, and do work that is testably objective. In the hard sciences the work is reproducable; blue copper sulphate will always turn white when heated. The scandal about the fakery with climate change shows that these people are not doing hard science, but really a form of humanities. The same is true with subjects like economics.

    Objectivity doesn’t just happen. There has to be a system to make it happen. The absence of this renders all of the humanities at risk, whenever something is controversial. What is needed is a system, a structure, beyond the idea of peer-review.

  3. Hi, Roger.

    At first, I wasn’t quite clear about your point. Being a fledgling theologian (hoping to emphasize scriptural theology), I felt a slight defensive urge arising. However, I do see what you’re saying although I’d choose a different term than academic: maybe empirical or objective. Clearly, the humanities have lacked those qualities for some time.

    Back when I was wrapping up graduate work in English, I published a paper in a journal. The acceptance letter had a rather odd comment from one of the reviewers noting how refreshing it was to read a paper on a literary subject that wasn’t attempting to pursue an agenda. I thought it to be a sad commentary on the state of literary criticism, but altogether true.

    Glad to have found your blog. Patristics is one of my loves as well.

  4. Hi Bill,

    I feel that in general the humanities are allowed too much slack. I well remember “Marxist economics”, and the rise and fall of sociology, and the exaggerated claims both made for themselves. I used to believe that the humanities were just rubbish, based on stuff I saw from NT studies, and I think a lot of hard scientists thought the same.

    What I came to realise, tho, is that what I had read was *bad* scholarship. The problem wasn’t that scholarship was rubbish, as that bad scholarship was endemic. The answer is good scholarship, and this means a shake-up of the discipline. I think NT studies is about 70 years overdue for this, ever since P52 was discovered. As far as I can tell no general reassessment of methodology took place, despite this find destroying the prior consensus.

    Your anecdote on English is interesting too. How DO we get rid of all these agendas?

  5. The obvious solution is that people choosing academic careers should resolve to study things that they are sure they don’t care about at all. But then I suppose we’d run the risk that they would only produce studies that justified their apathy.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  6. I’m not sure I agree. People should be enthusiastic about what they study. But I’m not sure that a lot of people in NT studies are particularly keen that what the NT writers have to say be true. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is hardly a welcome message to the selfish generation, after all, and they control appointments.

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