The pathos of New Testament studies : of what use are we to the church
Currently many Christians worldwide – particularly in Africa – are (re)discovering the power of scripture for their daily lives. The moment affords theology in general and the biblical sciences in particular a golden opportunity to assist the ecumenical church in accounting for the ways in which scripture functions in its (public) ethos, so as to be truly authoritative and life-giving. The paper takes this challenge as its point of departure, while exploring the dynamic yet complex interface among the various elements implied by such interpretive events. From within New Testament perspectives these elements refer to (1) the God of Jesus Christ and the Spirit (as ultimate sender), (2) the New Testament writings (as medium), and (3) implied and historical (first, later and present-day) receivers. The essay argues that New Testament Studies are challenged to define and nuance its primary functions at the very epicentre of these interacting dimensions of textual communication. This ‘inner sanctuary’ of New Testament Studies is a rich yet fragile, liminal space from where scholars have to account for the hope and faith implied by these documents. Ultimately, the essay is concerned with the pathos of New Testament Studies – with its persuasive power, reception and lasting (sense-making, problem-solving) effects in the lives of real people. With reference to voices from within various disciplines and contexts, it argues that the life-changing power of the New Testament writings, their continuing authority across times and cultures, lie in their metaphorical ability to disclose (glimpses of) an alternative moral world – a radically new perspective on reality, a new way of living in the world. New Testament Studies are continuously challenged to do likewise – to facilitate and mediate the discernment of such an alternative world, a world characterised by God’s radical, surprising yet paradoxical presence in Jesus of Nazareth and the Spirit. The essay concludes with tentative suggestions as to how New Testament Studies (in South Africa) may serve such a purpose.