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  • Writer's pictureEric Cline

Historical Criticism, Historical Critical, and Historical-Theological

Updated: Jul 5, 2023


Historical criticism necessitates the historical-critical and thereby the criticism and the critical become one in contrast to the historical-theological. Much is learned from historical-critical analysis of the New Testament. We need criticism because the customs of the early days differ from present-day customs, the languages are different, and we need to drill into those customs and languages to learn the messages the authors sought to convey. To not be critical is to risk assumptions or accept views without discerning the claims of the original messages.

However, there is a significant difference in historical criticism among the religious and non-religious. To use historical-critical methods without historical-critical convictions is certain to be inadequate. It is not productive or constructive, and is therefore inadequate, to rule out the real influence of divine agency of the incarnation, virgin birth, Jesus’ divinity, resurrection, and ascension. The religious and non-religious bring presuppositions and neither can adequately perform historical-critical biblical interpretation. “Biblical exegesis and interpretation without conscious or unconscious dogmatic presuppositions is impossible. The interpretation of the Bible and Biblical history demands an open, unconcealed, and honest statement of the fundamental historical principles by which it is to be interpreted. The validity of all Biblical exegesis and interpretation rests upon its readiness to set forth clearly and unflinchingly the dogmatic presuppositions on which it is based.”[1]

With a historical-theological approach, indeed hermeneutics, we can address conditions, methods, and aim to form our criticisms more deeply, clearly, and adequately. Hermeneutics forces consideration of divine agency.

Conditions must be considered by the emotionally mature having background knowledge, acceptance of biblical authority, and a willingness to receive the biblical message.

Methods employ several criticisms to include textual criticism, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, literary criticism, canonical criticism, sociological criticism, background studies, discourse analysis, structuralism, and theological interpretation of Scripture.

Aim is what truly separates the historical-theological from historical criticism. Aim unites the history and theology of the New Testament, simultaneously. The New Testament is not purely historical and is not purely spiritual or doctrinal teaching. Its original setting and meaning require hermeneutics, historical-theology, crucial to correct understanding and application.

“A sound hermeneutic recognizes that the New Testament relates the story of Christ as the Old Testament foretold, that various witnesses depicted this story, that in Acts the story was spread, that the story was applied in various settings in the Epistles, and that it will culminate one day in cosmic judgment as prophesied in Revel

[1] Horton Harris, The Tübingen School: A Historical and Theological Investigation of the School of F. C. Baur (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1990), 262.

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