How Important is the History of Biblical Interpretation to New Testament Interpretation?

I’ve a new book chapter coming out in Studies in the History of Exegesis (History of Biblical Exegesis 2: 12, ed. Mark W. Elliott, Raleigh C. Heth, and Angela Zautcke; Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2022). The book features essays from various meetings of the SBL History of Interpretation section (led by Mark Elliott and Michael Legaspi) and divides into four sections: Matters of Approach, Early Exegetical Cases, Luther’s Exegesis 500 Years On and Early Modern Concurrences and Tensions in Exegesis.

My chapter sits in section 2. I employ the famous command to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” as a case study for answering the question set for the section: how important is the history of biblical interpretation (Auslegungsgeschichte) for the understanding of a New Testament text?

My argument is, in short, twofold: first, that at the exegetical level, the history of New Testament interpretation provides mixed results for New Testament interpretation. Second, at the hermeneutical level, that history offers richer benefits by raising questions about the parallels and discontinuities in the methods and motivations of ancient and modern reading cultures. To illustrate this second point, I provide an enlightening (for me at least) comparison of the exegesis of this command by Origen and Tertullian and by the renowned NT scholar Adela Yarbro Collins. The book will hopefully appear sometime in 2022.

Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

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