Three kinds of biblical criticism have originated in the last century or so, all of which are related to each other:
1. Literary Criticism: It attempts to find the documents that compose the Bible.
2. Form Criticism: It attempts to understand and gain insight into the oral stage of the Bible’s history. These critics teach that both oral and written stages existed before the final form the Bible was completed.
3. Tradition Criticism: It attempts to gain insight into the final stages before the Bible’s fixed or final form.
Form criticism killed literary criticism because it presupposed an oral and written prophetic tradition (at least in the Old Testament). This dampened the spirits of literary critics because they believed in a rigid written form of prophetic words. On the other hand, tradition critics spread their wings and soared through the skies with their new found freedom. No longer did they need to decode the cypher of multiple authorship in, for example, Deuteronomy. They proposed that a single author gathered both oral and written traditions in order to create the fixed or final form of Scripture.
Single authorship meant that Scripture had a purpose, and the tradition critics can now explore this unity found in the Scriptures. Perhaps not all have converted and left the altar of the documentary hypothesis, but many have.
Much energy was spent kneading out the kinks in these three critical methods; but, for the most part, they only discovered what Christians already believed and knew. We believe that the Bible has a centre and a unified purpose, though we attribute that to God.
For all the time spent on different methodological approaches to Scripture, I wonder what the point of it is? I read sermons recently by Chrysostom, a fourth century preacher. He preached Romans 3 in the same way I would. He taught the same truth, but this was 1600 years ago. Why spend our short years on these methodologies when just mastering the basics of the text can take a lifetime (and then some)?
If a new way to understand the Bible appears, can it really be essential? For thousands of years believers have understand the Scriptures. Is there anything new under the sun?