Here’s what Bishop N.T. Wright had to say about the state of NT scholarship during the Moule Memorial Lecture, (Thursday, 5 June 2008 ) “New Testament Scholarship and Christian Discipleship” (full lecture pdf)
New Testament scholarship has always been subject to the danger of over-footnoting; that problem is now reaching epidemic proportions. The NT is of course the smallest set text of any academic speciality I know, and within that those who specialise in simply, say, Paul or John are treating themselves to a luxury unimaginable in almost any other discipline. But this means that study of secondary and tertiary literature thus regularly takes the place within the discipline that, in a wider area like Patristics or Rabbinics, would have been taken by the mulling over of other primary sources. And not only is this overfootnoting forbidding to the would-be student or researcher, which I’m afraid may be one reason why in the last generation comparatively few of our bright students have gone on into doctoral work and university teaching; it makes it seem harder and harder to accomplish anything, to arrive at a clear statement of something that needs to be said. Many books in the field now seem to have it as a badge of honour that only a third to a half of each page is actual text, with the rest being small-print footnotes. We have got to the stage – and this is particularly ironic when we consider the current debates about St Paul and the so-called ‘New Perspective’ – where writing in the discipline looks rather like the fifteenth-century commentaries on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, with comments on comments on comments on a text which was itself a synthesis of the Bible and the Fathers. Just as Luther and Calvin had to be bold and offer a fresh reading of scripture which was not encumbered with that massive freight, so there has to be a place, I suggest, not of course for a naive and unaware reading, but for a fresh engagement with the firstcentury sources themselves. . .
For guys like me that aren’t exactly the sharpest pencils in the box, it’s hard enough simply to master the secondary literature (to say nothing of the primary literature) . . . making a “contribution”? I chose New Testament studies with an eye on serving the church, but academically, I knew I was setting myself up for some extra challenges.