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Sociological Methods in New Testament

compiled by


Mr. Philip Yim Kwok Hung


Annotated Bibliography:

 (The books or reference in blue color are annotated.)


1. Aids

Garrett. Susan R. sociology (Early Christianity),” ABD. Vol. 6.

NY, London, Toronto, Sydney and Auckland: Doubleday, 1992. pp. 89-99.

She surveyed the recent shift from theological approaches to the sociological options. She then dealt with two problems in Social Inquiry: Does this a Humanistic Discipline or Science? Functionalist, Cognitive and Symbolic perspective are introduced. Then came the Problem of Incommensurability and Social Objectivity. After that, she reviewed the Seminal works which are classified under two kinds of studies: social Historical” Studies and social Scientific” Studies. The former approach included scholars like Malherbe, Grant and Hock; while the later one covered Theissen, Elliott, Meeks, and Petersen.

2. Secondary Literature

Barclay, John M. G. "Thessalonica and Corinth: Social Contrasts in Pauline Christianity," JSNT. 47, (1992), pp. 49-74.

The Christians in Thessalonica experienced hostility from non-believers, hence they warmly received Paul’s dualistic apocalyptic message that corresponding to their daily experience. On the contrary, Corinthian Christians enjoyed the dominant ethos that emphasized knowledge and imparted by the Spirit. The Corinthian Christians tended to show superiority, rather than hostility towards the non-Christians. Sociological study of Paul’s churches should also pay attention to social interaction, not just social status.

Borg, Marcus J. "Portraits of Jesus in contemporary North American Scholarship." Harvard Theological Review. Vol. 84, No. 1, (Jan, 1991), pp.-22.

Cambell, R. Alsatair. Does Paul Acquiesce in Divisions at the Lord’s Supper?” Novum Testamentum. Vol. XXXIII Jan. 1991 Fasc. 1. pp.61-70.

According to the author, G. Theissen rightly drew attention to the inequality of menu (1 Cor. 11:21). “nn” means zeals of a higher quality to serve the well-to-do while the well-off guests get more meager rations.” But v.19 is taken by commentaries as Paul’s expectation that in last days there would be divisions. However, Campbell suggests a New explanation (p.70). This is for there actually has to be discrimination in your meetings, so that if you please (free translation) the elite may stand out from the rest.”

Chan, Kai Wai Eli. "The Christian Base Communities in Latin America: An Popular Protest in Church and Society." Unpublished Master's thesis, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, USA, 1991.

Choi, Man Fai. Sociology. Chinese edition. Taipei: Sam Man, 1985. pp.263-382.

Corley, Kathleen E. Private Women, Public Meals: Social Conflict in the Synoptic Tradition. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993). (Click on this link will come to more details and comments on this book.)

The author examines how women’s differing roles in the ancient Greco-Roman world are reflected in the Gospel portraits of women. Corley concentrates on the variety of portrayals of women in meal or banquet settings. The author finds that the Roman women have moved towards equality while the Greek women are under male-dominant culture. This is compared with the Synoptics. Gospel Mark tends to hold the social conservatism of Hellenistic world, and Luke advocates the traditional roles too. To our surprise, Gospel Matthew holds a egalitarian ecclesiology and Jesus and John are characterized as Cynics who welcome women into their circles.

Crossan, J.D. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991.

Dudley C.S. and Hilgert, E. New Testament Tensions and the Contemporary Church. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987.

This study tries to analyze the NT by means of some sociological theories, then compare the findings with Contemporary Church. It investigates 5 areas: Community Formation, Christianity as a Counterculture sect, cognitive Dissonance and Christian Witness, The Constructive use of Conflict, Rituals of Structure and Mystery. N.B. The Further reading: major social science sources” in pp.187-8 is helpful.

Elliot, John H. Home for the Homeless: A Sociological Exegesis of 1 Peter, Its Situation and Strategy. Philadelphia: 1983.

Elliot, John H. "Review of The First Urban Christians by W. A. Meeks,”RSR. 11 (1985), pp. 329-35.

Elliot, John H. "Social-Scientific Criticism of the NT and its Social World: More on Method and Models," Semeia. 35 (1986), pp.-33.

Engberg-Pedesen T. The Gospel and Social practices according to 1 Cor. ,” NTS. Vol. 33 (1987) pp. 557-584.

It casts doubts on concept of so-called "love-patriarchalism”.

Epp, E.J. and MacRae, G.W. ed. The New Testament and Its Modern Interpreters. Atlanta: Scholars, 1989.

Freyne, Sean. The World of the New Testament. Vol. 2 of New Testament Message. Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1982.

Gager, John G. Kingdom and Community, The Social World of Early Christianity. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1975.

He uses modern millenarian movement as a model to analyze the earliest Christianity. Besides, he argues that the Christian missions are reactions to the prolonged waiting of the parousia that causes a cognitive dissonance among the believers. His point of departure is that Early Christianity as a social world in the making.”

Gager, John G. Review of Early Christianity and Society, by R. M Grant; Social Aspects of Early Christianity, by A. J. Malherbe; and Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity, by G. Theissen.” RSR. 5, pp. 174-80.

Garrett, S. R. Review of Christian Origins and Cultural Anthropology, by B. J. Malina.” JBL. 107, pp. 532-34.

Giddens, Anthony. Sociology. Cambridge: Polity, 1989.

Gill, David W. J. and Gempf, Conrad. ed. Graeco-Roman Setting. Vol. 2 of The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.)

Grant, R. M. Early Christianity and Society. San Francisco: 1977.

Grunlan, S.A. and Mayers, M.K. Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.

Harrington, Daniel J. "Second Testament Exegesis and The Social Sciences: A Bibliography," Biblical Theology Bulletin. Vol. 18, (April, 1988), pp.-85.

Henry, Patrick. New Directions in the New Testament Study. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979.

Hiebert, Paul G. Cultural Anthropology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983.

Hock, R. F. The Social Context of Paul’s Ministry. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980.

Paul’s tentmaking was not a rabbinical ideal, but an occupation meeting his needs. It was central to his life; it was also slavish and humiliated job that provided him a lot chances to meet slaves and artisans. It led him into poverty occasionally. His plying a trade made him contact with a tradition of philosophy - in large part Cynic (p. 68).

Hollenback, Paul W. "Recent Historical Jesus Studies and the Social Sciences," SBL Seminar Papers 1983.

Holmberg, Bengt. Paul and power: the structure of authority in the primitive church as reflected in the Pauline epistles. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978.

Holmberg analyzes the distribution of power at 3 levels: a) Between the church in Jerusalem and Paul the apostle; b) at regional level where Paul worked in local churches, personally, through co-workers, and by letters; c) at the local intrachurch level. He examines the evidences in NT and interprets them in light of modern theoretical sociology, especially Max Weber’s sociology of authority. He describes the nature of authority in the early church and concludes that a charismatic authority was continuously reinstitutionalized through interaction of persons, institutions, and social forces within the church.

Holmberg, Bengt. Sociology and the New Testament An Appraisal. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.

Horsley, R.A. Ancient Jewish Banditry and the Revolt against Rome, A.D. 66-70," CBQ, 43, 1981, pp.409-432.

Horsley, R.A. "Popular Messianic Movements at the Time of Jesus," CBQ, 46: 1984, pp.471-495.

Horsley, R.A. `"Like one of the Prophets of Old". Two Types of Popular Prophets at the Time of Jesus,' CBQ, 47: 1985, pp.435-463.

Horsley, R.A. "Menahem in Jerusalem A Brief Messianic episode among the Sicarii -- not 'Zealot Messianism'," Novum Testamentum, XXVII, 4 (1985), pp. 334-348.

Horsley, R.A. "The Zealots. Their Origin, Relationship and Importance in the Jewish Revolt," Novum Testamentum, Vol. XXVIII Fasc. 2 April 1986, pp. 159-192.

Horsley, R.A. and Hanson, J.S. Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs. Minneapolis: Harper & Row, 1985.

Horsley, R.A. "Popular Prophetic Movements at the time of Jesus their Principal Features and Social Origins," JSNT, (1986), pp.3-27.

Horsley, R.A. Jesus and The Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.

Horsley, R.A. Sociology and the Jesus Movement. N.Y.: Crossword, 1989.

Koester, Helmut. History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age. Vol. One of Introduction to the New Testament. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.

Kummel, W.G. Introduction to the New Testament. London: SCM, 1987. 6th impression.

Kyrtatas, Dimitris J. The Social Structure of Early Christian Communities. London: Verso, 1987.

Contra to Gibbon’s concept that Christians are of inferior ranks of human, He contends that Christians are from landowning and Hellenized peasants in the country side, and prosperous freedmen, artisans and bankers in cities. The Early Christianity has ignored the mass of agricultural and other urban slaves. The so-called millenarian and prophetic currents are marginal phenomena. Mainstream Christianity advocated strict observance of the existing social order.

Lee, Alfred McClung ed. Principles of Sociology. third edition. N.Y.: Barners & Noble, 1969.

Lee, Ming Fong. ed. A new introduction to Sociology. HK: HK Commercial, 1992.

Maccoby, Hyam. Revolution in Judaea: Jesus and the Jewish Resistance. N.Y.: Taplinger, 1980.

Malherbe, Abraham J. Social Aspects of Early Christianity. Barton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1977. [Second edition, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.]

In the prolegomena, he explained the reasons of recent rise of interest in social study of Early Christianity. Before many study has concentrated on theology or literary studies. No attention was paid to archaeological data. The present methods had gotten discontent among many scholars. He used an analysis on the Thessalonian church as an example. Secondly, the author discussed the social level and literary culture (p.29f). The new consensus is that the Pauline churches, e.g. Corinth Church, was consisted of mainly underprivileged and a few educated who came from middle class or even upper classes (p.30 n.4). From the study on quotations and allusions from classical writers, we knew that members of the Pauline churches were certainly well-educated. Then, Malherbe analyzed the house churches and their problems. Roland Allen (p.62) argued that the hospitality in house church (p.68f) had provided bases for the spread of Early Christianity. Gerd Theissen proposed that the inner social stratification caused the problem in Corinth Church (p.71). For example individual support (2 Cor.) and appealed to court revealed that they were well-established (p.76). Malherbe argued that Theissen had exacerbated these problems, because no topmost class was involved (p.85). As Ramsay MacMullen scrutinized, the social standing in the Roman society did not depend only by wealth. The societies are of high mobility of people and of diversified social status which may have caused the problem in Corinth.

Malina, Bruce J. The New Testament World: insights from cultural anthropology. Lousiville: John Knox Press, 1981.

Malina describes some anthropological theories that are frequently used. He discusses the following areas: honour and shame, dyadic personality, limited good (related to social status), defensive marriage, and purity rules. These areas are significant for the people in NT times in Middle East, but no longer operate in the same in the contemporary Western societies. Awareness of this feature can affect our interpretations on the Bible.

Malina, Bruce J. The Social Sciences and Biblical Interpretation,”Int. 36, pp. 229-42.

Malina, Bruce J. Review of The First Urban Christians, by W. A. Meeks,”JBL. 104, pp. 346-49.

Malina, Bruce J. The Received View and What It Cannot Do: III John and Hospitality,”Semeia. 35, pp. 171-94.

Malina, Bruce J. Christian Origins and Cultural Anthropology. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1986.

Manalili, Angelito G. Community Organizing for People's Empowerment.

Manila: Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc. : 1990.

Meeks, W.A. The First Urban Christians, The Social World of the Apostle Paul. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.

It describes Pauline Christianity: its urban environment, social level (mixed and ambiguous strata), formation, governance, and ritual of churches, patterns of belief and patterns of life in the church.

Meier, John P. First Century Galilee: Palestine as a peasant society. N.Y.: ,1991.

Mitchell, Alan C. Rich and Poor in the Courts of Corinth: Litigiousness and Status in 1 Corinthians 6, 1-11,” NTS. 39/4 (1993) pp. 562-586.

This study argued that the problem in 1 Cor. 6, 1-11 is the Christians of uppers social status taking the Christians of lower social status to courts. Paul used sophos, topos and shame that are concerned to the upper class to convinced them. Legal anthropology and historical data shed light on this possibility. The way Paul learnt about this problem and Paul’s suggesting private arbitration seemed to imply the opposed side is of lower social status.

Neusner , Jacob et al. ed. The social world of formative Christianity and Judaism: essays in tribute to Howard Clark Kee. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.

Osiek, Carolyn, R.S.C.J. What Are They Saying About the Social Setting of the New Testament?. New York: Paulist: 1984.

Petersen, Norman R. Rediscovering Paul: Philemon and the Sociology of Paul’s Narrative World. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985.

Norman Petersen brings insights from interpretive anthropology, the sociology of knowledge, and literary criticism to bear on Paul’s letter to Philemon. He had noticed that both narrative worlds and social worlds consist of symbolic forms” and social relationships.” In Ch. 1, he argues that the term narrative world” is appropriate for analyzing narrative”: like stories, they are characterized by plot, point of view, and closure. Letters imply a narrative which can be teased out and restated. In Ch. 2, he examines Philemon, seeking to view the actions of the actors in the story as the sociological structures underlying them.” In Ch. 3, he studies “ the overarching symbolic universe that provides meaning to and motivation for the actors’ behavior.” [review: by N. Peterson 1985, J. Smith, Dennis E. Forum 2: 57 - 66 S 1986.]

Rapske, Brain. The Book of Acts and Paul in Roman Custody. Vol. 3 of The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.)

Robbins, Vernon K. Jesus the Teacher: A Socio-rhetorical Interpretation of Mark. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

Robbins, Vernon K. socio-Rhetorical Criticism: Mary, Elizabeth and the Magnificent as a Test Case,” The New Literary Criticism and the New Testament. (Valley Forge: Trinity, 1994.) pp. 164-209.

Rogers, John A. "Dissonance and Christian Formation," Journal of Psychology and Christianity. Vol.11, No.1(1992), pp.5-13.

Sanders, E. P. Ed. Aspects of Judaism in the Graeco-Roman Period. Vol. 2 of Jewish and Christians Self-Definition. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.

He discussed the limits of tolerance (p. 88f), Sociology of self-definition (p. 245) and Self-isolation (p.268). other topics are unrelated to this theme. Vol. 1 talks about 2nd - 3rd C. Sects only.

Scroggs, R. The Sociological Interpretation of the New Testament: The Present State of Research,” NTS. 26, 1980. pp. 164-79.

Smelser, Neil J. Sociology. 3rd ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1988.

Stambaugh, J.E. and Balch, D.L. The New Testament in Its Social Environment. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986.

Sterling, G. E. "Jesus as Exorcist: An Analysis of Matthew 17:14-20; Mark 9:14-19; Luke 9:37-43a," CBQ, 55, No.3, (July 1993), pp.465-493.

Stowers, S. K. The Social Sciences and the Study of Early Christianity,” Vol. 5, in Approaches to Ancient Judaism. BJS. 32. ed. W.S. Green. Atlanta: 1985. pp. 149-81.

Tambasco, Anthony, J. In the Days of Paul: The Social World and Teaching of the Apostle. New York: Paulist Press, 1991.

Paul is always criticized by modern interpreters in areas like views on women, marriage, sex, and slavery. The author outlines the world in Paul’s times (social status, Greek Philosophers, and Mystical Religions), then he describes the life and times in each of the major cities visited by Paul and summarizes his teaching in these cities. He proposes that if we understand Paul’s world, we will clarify our misunderstanding on Paul’s views on the previous areas.

Taylor, Walter. F. "Sociological Exegesis: Introduction to a New Way to Study the Bible. Part II: Results," Trinity Seminary Review. Vol. 12, Num. 1, (Spring, 1990), pp. 26-42.

Theissen, Gerd. Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978.

He treats the Earliest Christianity as a renewal movement with Judaism brought into being through Jesus. The aim of sociology of the Jesus movement is to describe typical social attitudes and behavior within the Jesus movement and to analyze its interaction with Jewish society in Palestine generally” (quoted in p.1). He used the conflict theory as a tool Lack of data is admitted and he describes 3 kinds of conclusions will be used in analysis: Constructive, analytical, and comparative. In Part One, he analyzes the typical social attitudes towards the movement. Jesus movement was socially structured by 3 interrelated parts: the Son of Man, the bearer of revelation, who formulated ethical and religious commandments for his followers, wandering charismatics who modeled their lives after Jesus and local sympathizers who do not follow Jesus around Galilee but remained located in their own towns or villages and provided material support, especially when Jesus and his followers visited their villages. Then in Part Two, he scrutinizes the effects of Society on the Jesus Movement. he proposes 4 kinds of Factors: Socio-economic, Socio-ecological, Socio-political, and Socio-cultural Factors. In Part Three, He examines the Functional Effects of the Jesus Movement on Society.

Theissen, Gerd. The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982.

The first part, Ch. 1, introduces the social factors of itinerant charismatics and community organizers and their conflict. The second part, Ch. 2-4, takes up this understanding to analyze the problems in Corinth. The last part , Ch. 5, deals with the methodological problems of using sociological interpretation in the Bible. His models are from the itinerant Cynic philosopher (page 27) and the conflict theory in sociology. The model described in the first part is explained in details in his work Sociology of Early Christianity.

Theissen, Gerd. The Miracle Stories of the Early Christian Tradition. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.

Theissen, Gerd. The Shadow of the Galilean Jesus. tr. by John Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987.

Theissen had used narrative exegesis to re-build the context of Jesus’ times. The central character, Andreas, was a Jewish grain dealer who belonged to the upper class living in Sepphoris. The story started with his arrest in a demonstration against Pilate. He was forced by the Romans to spy on the Jewish religious movements in his times: the zealots, the Essenes, and Jesus. Andreas had tried to protested them and suggested amnesty to help the needy people. This might help to ease the tension between the Romans and the Jews. Pilate used this idea to release one man: an arrested Zealot or Jesus. Pilate wish to test the response of the people. Jesus was crucified and Andreas held himself responsible for this. Andreas was released when he saw Jesus in a nightmare. Andreas saw four beasts torturing the people, but Jesus appeared and saved all the people.

Theissen, Gerd. The Gospels in Context. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991.

Theissen, Gerd. Social Reality and the Early Christians. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993.

Tidball, Derek. An Introduction to the Sociology of the New Testament. Exeter: Paternoster, 1983.

Watson, Francis. Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach. Cambridge: CUP, 1986.

This study contended that Paul had tried to witness to Jews in vain and was forced to turn to Gentiles and not demanding them to observe all the rules of the Law. Paul was forced to converse his reform-movement inside Judaism” to a sect. Therefore Paul’s language must be understood sociologically rather than theologically. Paul sought to construct a theoretical rationale for separation. According to the analysis of sect, this rationale takes three forms: denunciation, antithesis and reinterpretation. Members of the parent religious community are denounced for moral, ritual or theological faults. Antitheses (for example between light and darkness) show the gap between the sect and the parent community. Reinterpretation of the religious traditions that is normally denied by the parent community. These features are seen in the Qumran and Johannine communities; which are also found in Galatians, Phil. 3 and Romans.

Zeitlin, Irving M. Jesus and the Judaism of His Time. Cambridge: Polity, 1988.