Epistemology and Logic in the New Testament

Early Jewish Context and Biblical Theology Mechanisms that Fit Within Some Contemporary Ways of Knowledge

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Douglas W. Kennard
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Wipf & Stock Publishers
    , November
     2016.
     278 pages.
     $33.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532608155.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

“The universe of the philosopher and the universe of the biblical exegete rarely cross the same landscape” posits Douglas Kennard in Epistemology and Logic in the New Testament: Early Jewish Context and Biblical Theology Mechanisms that Fit Within Some Contemporary Ways of Knowing (1). Indeed, there are more than two scholarly worlds involved in this work, whose strength is the immense breadth of the sources it compiles. A number of connections are made between at least four fields: philosophical theories concerning knowledge, the study of ancient Jewish thought, the study of the Greco-Roman world in which the New Testament was written, and the New Testament itself. The author draws on all of these sources—employing a massive bibliography—to uncover the epistemological standards and logical patterns of New Testament thought.

This book is insightful. To cite one example, a number of years ago, while reading Cicero’s De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), I noticed something about chapter 17 of the Book of Acts in the New Testament—about the bits of Epicurean and Stoic theology which Paul employs in his speech in Athens. Should I have shared my observations in writing, or read some commentaries on the book of Acts to learn whether there was any need to share? I no longer have to wonder: Kennard has covered that in chapter 5. And there are many insights like that available in this book—perhaps thousands, but certainly hundreds of them.

Truth be told, I had trouble keeping the information organized. No doubt, this is at least partially due to my own limitations, but things would probably have been clearer with better summaries of the structure of individual chapters accompanying the chapter theses, along with clearer transition statements between chapters and chapter sections.

Another disadvantage is that the epistemological insights from the philosophers are underdeveloped. The author references John Locke, Thomas Reid, Charles Sanders Pierce, William Alston, Alvin Plantinga, and others without pausing for explanation. Having spent a good bit of time in areas of epistemology which even professional philosophers sometimes understand poorly, I have doubts that Kennard’s readers are profiting from these connections as much as they might. Moreover, many will no doubt think that the epistemologies of diverse philosophers such as Locke, Reid, Plantinga, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Pierce, Michael Polanyi, and others are too contradictory to be usefully linked to the New Testament. I am an optimist on this point—even if they ultimately disagree about some things, it is unlikely that these philosophers’s epistemologies are bereft of genuine (and mutually consistent) insights. Still, a short summary of Kennard’s understanding of the major philosophical insights in epistemology—perhaps in an extended introduction or even an appendix—would have been helpful. Perhaps this will appear in a future edition. In any case, Kennard’s footnotes—including some of his own work noted in footnote 3—can help the reader who wants more.

Such criticisms aside, in my judgment this book has considerable merit. In addition to the sheer number of insights, a clear and helpful picture emerges from them: the New Testament was written according to canons of logic, evidence, and warrant, and these canons are as respectable as the best epistemological work of some notable philosophers. Although this is more properly the thesis of the book, one other theme seems at least as important: the New Testament is a Jewish book, not only formed by interpretation of the Old Testament canon, but also shaped by Jewish canons of logic, evidence, and warrant. A better understanding of the Greco-Roman world is always nice for helping us understand the New Testament (especially the books by Luke, as Kennard points out), and Kennard serves us well enough in this regard. However, the depth and breadth of the Jewish aspects of the New Testament have often been missed. One of the contributions of theologians like N.T. Wright is in helping us look at the New Testament as a set of documents arising out of Second-Temple Judaism; Kennard does the same. Relating to this, he makes a sort of confession, “Luke merely says the gospel unto the kingdom different than evangelicalism usually does. N.T. Wright captures the essence of this gospel as: ‘Jesus the crucified and risen Messiah, is Lord.’ The fact that the vicarious atonement is not developed in Luke’s statement of gospel is disturbing to me because it shows that evangelicalism is prone to latch onto certain traditional or biblical thought forms and ignore other legitimate biblical concepts” (102).

The evangelical—along with anyone else committed to understanding the Bible—must be ready to rediscover the meaning of Scripture on Scripture’s own terms. Some of these are the terms of the Greco-Roman world of the New Testament. Others are those of human reason which philosophers explore, while still others are those of ancient Jewish thinking. Kennard serves anyone interested in biblical interpretation in tying all of these to the books of the New Testament.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Mark J. Boone is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Date of Review: 
March 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Douglas W. Kennard is Professor of New Testament, Theology, and Philosophy at Houston Graduate School of Theology.

Keywords: 

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