Thinking Ahead

I’ll be teaching New Testament Ethics this coming year, and I was expecting to draw on one of the standard monographs on the topic to contextualise our studies — sort of “where we got the idea that ‘biblical ethics’ or ‘New Testament ethics’ made sense as a distinct category.” I was surprised to see that the vast preponderance of books about NT ethics in the University library (a) spend almost no time exploring what they mean by “ethics” or “NT ethics” in the first place, and (b) devote most of their argument to a book-by-book analysis of “the ethics of Matthew” or “the ethics of Jude” or whatever.
 
Now, I plan in the end to lead the course in a very different direction (no shock there for anyone who’s acquainted with the kinds of thing I say about hermeneutics and theological interpretation). I would quite like, however, to have a bit of orientation for the students so that they have a sense of the alternatives. Ideally, they would have a very even-handed sense of the alternatives. As a bonus, it would help if the work in question helped students distinguish such terms as deonotological, consequentialist, apodictic, casuistic, and so on.
 
Now, I haven’t looked through my office, just the library. And I didn’t consult any of the heavy reference tomes — so there may well be an overview article in, say, the Dictionary of Theological Interpretation or similar source. I was just struck by the consistency of the sources that I did encounter. Any suggestions of useful sources welcome.
 

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I taught a NT ethics unit for the first time this year and faced the same problem. I ended up giving my own (highly sketchy) overview of ‘approaches to ethics’ and we did some work in exploring how biblical texts might serve to resource such an approach. We used the survey material in Hays’ Moral Vision and then Jeff Siker’s book for further reading on case studies – but in the end my feeling was that the main alternatives were between Niebuhrian realism and a virtue ethic approach (Yoder, Hauerwas etc). In terms of hermeneutics, I think that only Dale Martin has really begun work that is sorely needed here (Sex and the Single Saviour – I gave them his review of Hays to read, which was interesting). My line throughout the course was that Hay’s movement from the ‘descriptive’ task of exegesis to the ‘normative’ task of shaping moral decisions misses out on the essentially ‘constructive’ aspects of NT ethics, that requires attention to hermeneutics. Sorry that is long, and probably doesn’t answer your specific question, but semester is over here and I am looking back and wondering what I might have done better/differently.

  2. Thanks, Sean. You do help me by suggesting that you, too, found a gap in the literature at this point. I’ll probably assign them Hays’s “Part Three” right at the start, with lecture time devoted to setting those chapters in context.

    I’m glad, too (in a certain way) to hear you say that your “line throughout the course was that Hay’s movement from the ‘descriptive’ task of exegesis to the ‘normative’ task of shaping moral decisions misses out on the essentially ‘constructive’ aspects of NT ethics, that requires attention to hermeneutics.” This locates very precisely the point of my disagreement with Richard, to which my books and articles on hermeneutics provides my alternative for thinking about the semiotic hermeneutical pragmatics (I wouldn’t say that in public, just on my blog) of interpretation.

    I like Jeff Siker’s book, but the reading-afield factor looks out-of-balance relative to the focal energies of the course. I’ll definitely cite it as “recommended,” though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *