Form and Content in History of Exegesis Scholarship

[M]odern scholars have a tendency to concentrate on form and method to the exclusion of content. (John F. A. Sawyer, The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity [Cambridge, 1996], p.22)

Hardly was there a truer sentence written. Sawyer laments that when scholars come to quotes from Isaiah in the New Testament, they usually list the quotations, note the introductory formulae, ask which original language version they correspond to, and how the quotation is treated, etc. I have found very much the same in studying the history of exegesis. Everyone is concerned with what sources commentators used; whether we can pinpoint an edition of the work cited; the chain of transmission; what languages the commentator knew; whether to characterize the interpretation as literal or allegorical or typological or figurative, and so on. For so long, very few were at work on the actual theology so richly present in the history of exegesis: what were these commentators actually saying? This is changing, thankfully. There are theologically-attuned history of exegesis works, such as G. Sujin Pak’s excellent The Judaizing Calvin (Oxford, 2009), and now many essays take this methodology. My own work on premodern commentary in 1 Corinthians 1-4 is strongly focused on the theology developed in those works which, after all, is what the commentators were principally concerned with.

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