Essay / Theology

Martin Hengel (1926-2009)

TheoBlog reports that Martin Hengel, New Testament scholar, has died in Tübingen at the age of 82.

Hengel’s scholarly accomplishment was great. His 1973 inaugural lecture in Tübingen was published in English in expanded form as The Son of God (Fortress Press, 1976). In that programmatic work he declared some of the guiding principles that would mark his life’s work:

I am concerned to demonstrate that historical scholarship and theological –one might even say dogmatic– questions must not stand in unresolved contradiction to each other. On the contrary, the historian misunderstands the nature of New Testament christology unless he grasps its theological concern and its inner consistency, while a dogmatic approach which does not take seriously the historical course of christology during the first decades of primitive Christianity is in danger of becoming no more than abstract speculation. At a time when historical positivism and hermeneutical interest largely go their own ways in New Testament scholarship, it is vitally important to reunite historical research and the theological search for truth.

Writing from the heart of historical-critical Germany in the 1970s, Hengel was decades ahead of his time. He was doing theological interpretation of scripture before we called it that, and doing it at a higher level of integration with historical scholarship than most scholars manage. Hengel swept aside the old Harnackian claim that Greek thought had corrupted a simple gospel, and instead got down to work looking at the sources. Hengel’s works were painstaking investigations into the two relevant contexts of the New Testament: judaism and hellenism.

Share this essay [social_share/]