New Testament 101: Overview

Right, so my New Testament exam is tomorrow. So I thought I would continue in my recent vein of boring you to death with my exam preparation. I am finding it particularly helpful to try to frame my thoughts on the matters at hand in the least boring way possible. So you’re stuck with these types of posts for the next four years. If we’re lucky.

Our NT exam (and this time I double checked the details) feature two sections of five questions (so ten in total) of which we must answer two from each section (so four in total). The sections are split neatly between the context of the gospels and the content of the gospels.

Context, judging by past papers and the material from our lectures, majors on the inter-testamental period, and the religious, cultural, social, and political structures and conventions of first century Palestine, with a bit of geographical context thrown in for good measure.

Content, examines the structure of each of the four gospels, their treatments of the life and ministry of Jesus and their particular emphasis and apparent intended audience (or purpose). This latter category is assessed by examining the distinctives of each of the synoptic gospels and different treatments (chronologically and in level of detail) of Jesus’ teaching (both in word and deed). There’s a particular emphasis (in the assessment and teaching content) on Mark’s gospel. And of course, we have to know about the so called “synoptic problem”…

These are the “learning objectives” from the course outline.

  • to be able to demonstrate an understanding of the historical, cultural, religious and political environment of Jesus’ ministry.
  • to be able to apply an understanding of background to explaining given passages from Mark’s gospel.
  • to be able to demonstrate an understanding of the issues involved in the so called Synoptic Problem.
  • to be able to give an outline of Mark’s gospel and explain what is distinctive about his presentation of the life of Christ, in comparison to the distinctive features of Matthew, Luke, and John.
  • to be able explain the teaching of the gospels on the Kingdom of God and other major topics covered in the course.
  • to be able to reflect on the implications of the material studied for life and ministry.

The topics covered in essays (and therefore not covered in exams) are:

  • Discuss Jesus’ attitude to the law.
  • Compare and contrast Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God with what we know of first century Jewish expectations about the kingdom.
  • Why did the parables play such a significant role in the ministry of Jesus?

So, based on my detective work, these are (loosely speaking) the topics I expect the exam to deal with:


  1. Something on Hellenization – both the 2008 and 2009 past papers ask similar questions about the Greekness of first century Judaism.
  2. Something on the theology of second temple Judaism – both past papers ask about how Jesus ministry would be understood against this backdrop.
  3. Something about the intertestamental period – one exam paper (2008) asks a question that was an essay this year (the expectations of the kingdom of God in the first century), the other about what happened in the period between Malachi and John the Baptist. This question will probably focus on the Intertestamental literature (Qumran documents), the 2008 exam had this as a separate question to the kingdom of God one.
  4. Something about Palestinian culture – probably with reference to shame/honour culture, the four sects of Judaism, and any other cultural norms that might be significant for interpreting the ministry of Jesus.
  5. There’ll probably be a second question about a slightly different aspect of one of these first four areas.


  1. A compare/contrast question about the structure of each gospel.
  2. A question about the intended audience of a gospel.
  3. A question about variations between gospel accounts of an event (probably something in the passion narrative/resurrection).
  4. Something specifically related to the content of Mark’s gospel.
  5. A compare/contrast question about two of the gospels, and the way they treat a particular aspect of Jesus’ ministry – probably his miracles, and probably a comparison between Mark and John.