Carson, D.A., and Douglas Moo An Introduction to the New Testament - Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. "Thinking about the Study of the New Testament" pp. 23-76
This chapter sets out to introduce the idea of New Testament studies, giving some of the main themes addressed historically.
PASSING ON THE TEXT
Carson & Moo point out the difficulty of creating copies of written works in antiquity. I did write in the margin of the book my recollection that in the 1st century BC authors complained about the quality of cheap editions on the market, indicating that books were not always terribly expensive or carefully made. The outcome of New Testament manuscript copies tends to show that the Scripture was treated very carefully.
We see a move in the first several centuries of transmission to scrolls giving way to codices, uncial writing giving way to quicker and smaller cursive scripts, and the Scripture being presented in a multitude of different language versions.
The text also discusses writing materials including papyrus, parchment, and vellum.
The New Testament is the book with the most whole or fragmentary witnesses of all ancient literature. Very early in the history of mass printing the Greek New Testament was released in multiple different editions. From pp. 27-28 "The Elzevir brotehrs' second edition, dated 1633, boasts (in what would today be called an advertising blurb) that the reader now has 'the text which is now received by all, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted;: the words we have italicized reflect the Latin textus receptus, referring to a commonly received text, and thus a standard text. This is the 'received text' which, more or less, stands behind all English translations of the Bible until 1881. This textual tradition is grounded in what was at the time a mere handful of mostly late miniscule manuscripts."
Textual criticism tended to arise by the end of the 17th century as scholars collated different manuscripts, noting the textual descent of each manuscript thread and providing substantial footnotes which could be used to track variant readings. Bengel, working around 1734, emphasized the question of "which reading is most likely to have generated all the others" and formulated the rule "the more difficult reading is to be preferred over the easier" (p. 29).
LONGSTANDING INTERPRETIVE TRADITIONS
Liberal and conservative scholars alike tend to discount some periods of scholarship from the past, with the conservatives tending to discount theological reflection prior to the Reformation and the conservatives considering the period before the Enlightenment as a time of superstition. Yet a review of the work of the early Church does not bear this out. The early Christians were very aware of what was being accepted as canonical Scripture and why. This was a matter of intelligent debate and scholarship in its own time and should be considered with respect. Carson and Moo address some of the work in antiquity as well as current trends which those ancient authors addressed.
THE RISE OF BIBLICAL THEOLOGY
The term "biblical theology" is easily redefined in different contexts. On p. 47 Carson and Moo observe that the term was first apparently used in a book in 1607 by W. J. Christmann. By 1675 P.J. Spener and later Pietists used the term to distinguish their own theology from theologia scholastica, the Lutheran orthodox theology of their time. By 1787, Johann P. Gabler redefined biblical theology as an inductive study of the biblical text as opposed to a study of systematic or dogmatic theology. The term "biblical theology" continues to be reshaped depending on its context.
HISTORICAL CRITICISM, LITERARY TOOLS, AND THE IMPACT OF POSTMODERNISM
This discipline seeks to locate the time and setting of composition of New Testament documents. It tends to look at the Scriptures as documents which arise from collation of different source documents, though this is not necessary to the discipline. In responsible historical criticism the scholar attempts to uncover the historical setting which gave rise to the statements as they were made.
Many literary critics tend to look at figures of speech and other literary features of the New Tstament documents in a microcosm. However, the critics who have emphasized the minutiae of the text tend to be discredited as readers realize that no piece of literature is composed by lifting individual words, phrases, or clauses from other sources and pasting them together to make a finished product. Some literary critics work with the genres of the writing both in the larger books and in the smaller elements, for instance, doing studies of the use of metaphor and simile in the New Testament and other texts from that period.
The New Literary Criticism and the Turn to Postmodern Readings
Postmodernists are not my friends. That's not actually entirely true. But postmodern philosophy is one which I consider every bit as dangerous as modernist philosophy. When carried to extremes it is hostile to the idea of definitive truth. I think that is a serious problem. However in recent decades an increasing number of scholars have pursued skeptical views of texts and the idea that they have intrinsic meaning. While some of the emphases of postmodernists have been valuable correctives against modernist philosophy, it is unhealthy to carry either philosophy to its ultimate logical conclusions.
An increasing number of scholars are using a social-science approach in which they look at the historical context of the New Testament and analyze the kind of interactions individuals may have brought to the composition. They focus on the roles different characters would have in their society and family and why those roles would be important to our understanding the text.
Language and Linguistic Approaches
Many scholars, as we might expect, study the New Testament from a linguistic point of view, seeking out word usage, grammatical constructions, and lexical studies. While these grids rarely lead us to a full-bodied theological understanding of a text, they are very important as a starting point in our understanding of the Scripture.