Over at the Bible and Culture Ben Witherington has a post on the topic that he has titled "post-Christian New Testament Studies." Here is a bit of what he has to say:
Strange winds are blowing in the field of Biblical Studies these days, and some of them involve clouds that carry no rain, and promise no lasting crops. What I am referring to is the growing trend to assume that you should be able to do a higher degree in the Bible without: 1) learning any of the Biblical languages, and 2) without learning the proper history of the Biblical cultures and times, and 3) without assuming that these ancient texts need to be studied in their original contexts, because, it is assumed, ‘meaning is in the eye of the beholder’
The problem here is not just an anti-historical approach to the Biblical text, the problem is also an anti-linguistic, anti-contextual approach to the meaning of texts, and thus it involves epistemology, assumptions about how meaning is formed, and the like. These assumptions are seldom argued for, they are simply taken for granted, as if Stanley Fish wrote the Bible on meaning and texts and how they work (or don’t)
One manifestation of this proposed new model for studying the Bible could be called the purely literary approach. The Bible is literature, therefore we will read it in light of modern assumptions about, for example, fiction. Not mind you, ancient approaches to novels or histories or biographies, no modern approaches entailing modern theories of meaning. The Bible on this approach is treated as a document originally appearing in English and subject to the trends in analysis of modern English literature.
Ben goes on to use post-colonial approaches as one example of this type of reading. He is appreciative and critical of this approach. It is an interesting read. I don't want to critique Ben's post since it is a short entry and I am sure he has more nuanced thoughts on the topic. But I will note that I gained a greater appreciation for non-historical approaches as I did my work on Cain and Abel. What I discovered there is that many interpreters were trying to make sense of the Bible for their time period. And that meant that often the original setting and context was not always as important to them as it is to us today. Our preoccupation with the original setting has much to do with our heritage from the protestant Reformation than an interpretive method that extends back through church history.
What do you think? How important is it that we interpret the Bible in the context of its original linguistic, historical and cultural context?