New Testament 102: Introduction

And so it begins. New Testament is first cab off the rank exam wise – and we’re looking at Acts (and by extension Luke) and a bunch of seemingly random epistles. Random because our lectures this semester were pretty random and we didn’t really cover half the books past papers cover.

Here’s what we know about the exam:

There are four questions on Acts (two to be answered).

And four questions on the following (two to be answered):

  • 1 & 2 Peter
  • 1 Corinthians (maybe)
  • Galatians
  • 1 & 2 Thessalonians
  • Hebrews
  • Ephesians
  • Colossians

What we also know
Bruce, our venerable lecturer, likes asking questions that help us develop our thinking in line with his thinking… so when it comes to Acts (and looking at the past papers) it’s likely that the (M Div and Grad Dip) questions will involve some element of the following (it’s also likely the answer will have something to do with the Graeco-Roman culture and its interaction with the issue at hand):

  • A question about the reliability of Acts (probably based loosely on the 6 volume “Book of Acts in its First Century Setting” series that he edited).
  • A question about Gallio’s judgment and its significance for Christians in the early church.
  • A question about Paul’s apologia at the Areopagus.
  • A question about the unity of Luke-Acts (which touches on rhetorical purpose etc)
  • Something about the repetition of the phrase “And the Word of the Lord grew and multiplied.” and its function within the book.
  • Something about the inclusion of legal terminology and court transcripts in the book (which may tie in with the Gallio question).

The B Th questions will quite possibly overlap with those issues – but they’ll also, I would think, include something about the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8-11:1, which was an essay question for the M Div.

As to the next section, they really are anybody’s guess… but I’d say there’ll be something about:

  • The circumcision debate in Galatians
  • The rhetorical (as in first century public speaking) undertones of 1&2  Thessalonians
  • Something about the structure of Hebrews
  • Something about Peter’s views of virtue and Christian living in 1 and 2 Peter.
  • And something about different purposes, issues or audiences in Colossians and Ephesians.

Here are the questions from the last two exams (we don’t have photocopies of the B Th past paper. Sorry):

Section A
  • Discuss the nature and importance of the “Community of Goods” in the early Christian community. (2009)
  • How important was the Jerusalem Council decision for both Jewish and Gentile Christianity? (2009)
  • Was the Acts 17 speech before the Council of Areopagus Paul’s unsuccessful foray into the field of philosophical apologetics? (2009)
  • ‘He appears to be the herald of foreign divinities’. How does Paul herald his gospel before the Council of the Areopagus in Luke’s summary of this address? (2008)
  • Are the court room appearances of Paul in Caesarea Maritima a Lukan invention? (2009)
  • Discuss Luke’s recordings of the formal hearings the Jews verses Paul in Roman courts in Acts and the outcomes. What do they tell us about the status of early Christianity? (2008)
  • Is the ending of the Book of Acts Luke’s real ending of his second volume? (2009)
  • ‘And the Word of the Lord grew and multiplied’. Discuss this theme in Acts and show how Luke justifies this conclusion at the end of the various phases of the expansion of the early Christian mission. (2008)
  • Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus reveals not only his own modus operandi as a church planter but a somewhat pessimistic view of his expectations of the future of the Ephesian church. Discuss. (2008)
Section B
  • Is James an epistle of straw? (2009)
  • Betz wrote that the main issue in Galatians is, ‘How can the spiritual man live?’ Evaluate this view. (2009)
  • How much can we learn about the activities of Paul’s opponents from his letter to the Galatians? (2008)
  • In 1 & 2 Thessalonians, why does Paul go into so much detail about the parousia? (2009)
  • What are the differences and similarities between Paul’s letters to Ephesus and Colassae? (2009)
  • Explain the function of the warning cycles within Hebrews. (2009)
  • Discuss how the theme of ‘how much more’ unfolds in the letter to the Hebrews. (2008)
  • Discuss the plight of all humanity as Paul unfolds the need for salvation in the opening section of Romans and the solution he subsequently sets forth. (2008)
  • In the light of what Paul knew about the Corinthian church’s problems as he wrote 1 Corinthians, was he not being pastorally irresponsible to have addressed them as ‘sanctioned in Christ Jesus’ (1:2)? (2008)

To clear up any confusion about what books we should be studying, I’ve emailed Bruce and I’ll update this post when he replies.

UPDATE: Here’s the transcript of my email conversation with Bruce:

“A few of us are unclear about exactly what books we’re expected to cover for the NT exam. Could you shed some light on that please?

We covered lots of Acts (and I understand there are four questions on Acts), and then 1 & 2 Peter, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Galatians and a bit of Hebrews.

The past papers have questions on Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, and 1 Corinthians – are we meant to have covered those?”


“The exam will be on the books covered. The others will be covered either in NT or theology in the next 2 years so it is the books covered in class.”

Clarification question:

There is some confusion over the books we actually covered, are you able to provide a list that I can pass on to the google group?

Am I missing any books from my list in the original email? Did we cover enough of Hebrews for it to be examined?


“The books are as you stated and the issue on Hebrews dealt with was the unfolding of person and work of Christ as an overview if you remember. I distributed material on Thessalonians and Galatians.”

New Testament 101: Background – Intertestamental Period

The Old Testament period, depending on who you listen to, either ended with Malachi (around 445BC), or Daniel (some scholars put Daniel in the second century BC).

In any case, the canonical account of the end of the Old Testament wraps up after the construction of Jerusalem’s “second temple” – hence the name “second temple Judaism” is applied to the religious practices that developed in this period. Israel exists under the reign of the Persians at the close of the Old Testament, and by the time of the New Testament find themselves under Roman rule. A lot of political water has gone under Jerusalem’s bridge in this time…

We have a fair bit of literature from second temple Judaism covering this period – important bits for reference sake include:

The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

These books are non-canonical histories of the Jewish people that were widely circulated amongst second temple Judaism, and included in the Septuagint (also known as the LXX) a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament from around the third century BC. The writings included in the Septuagint (and wikipedia links) include: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Jesus Sirach, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremy (in the Vulgate this is chapter 6 of Baruch), additions to Daniel (The Prayer of Azarias, Sosanna and Bel and the Dragon), additions to Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, and Psalm 151.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered at Qumran, include copies of scrolls from the Hebrew bible, copies of these apocryphal documents, and a bunch of secular writings from the period describing life in Second Temple Judaism.

Jewish Histories

Josephus wrote significant (though pretty biased) accounds of Jewish history covering the intertestamental period and different events in the first century AD.

Philo of Alexandria gives a unique insight into the Hellenization of Judaism. He was a Jew, living in a Greek city in Egypt, he was well connected, and wealthy. And he fused Greek philosophy with the teachings of Judaism. Philo was a Jewish envoy to the crazy Roman emperor Gaius Caligula when trouble kicked off between the Jews and residents of Alexandria over the Jew’s refusal to worship the emperor as part of the Imperial Cult. His fusion of Greek and Jewish theology led some 19th century critical scholars to dub him the father of Christianity – because they believed the beliefs of Christianity to have evolved from this fusing. But it was more an apologetic exercise where he sought to promote Judaism as the best philosophy on offer.

The Persian Period (539-332 BC)

The Persian period placed Israel in a geographically precarious position between waring nations. Israel was the frontier for conflict between Egypt and Persia. Some suggest Nehemiah’s quest to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls should be understood in this light. Aramaic became the Jewish Linga Franca in this period.

The Hellenistic Period (332-143 BC)

Alexander the Great smashed Syria up bad and belted any Persian political pretenders into submission. Persia’s territories fell under Hellenistic rule. Then Alexander died and all his potential heirs started clamouring for power. Judea became a pawn in a two hundred year wrestling match between two dynasties – the Ptolemaic rulers from Egypt, and the Seleucid rulers from Syria.

The Hasmonean (Maccabean) Period (143-63 BC)

The Seleucid dynasty took control of the near east in about 202BC, and initially provided Israel with religious freedom. This symbiotic relationship lasted until 169 BC when Antiochus IV decided to loot the temple. There was a mini-rebellion after this, and Antiochus eventually issued an edict banning any expressions of Judaism and installed a statue of Zeus in the Temple in Jerusalem. This was like flame to a fuse, sparking a Jewish military rebellion. The Hasmoneans, a family linked to the priesthood – and particularly the Maccabean clan – aligned themselves with the Roman Empire and eventually claimed the high priesthood (Antiochus’ successor repealed his edict), and finally independence. The family eventually claimed royal honours and began expanding Jewish boundaries, in a quasi-messianic campaign.

During this period of self-government a number of Jewish religious groups emerged – the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots. See below for their distinctives… and these groups

The Roman Period (63 BC to New Testament times)

The Hasmoneans rebuffed Greek rule for a significant amount of time, and during this period a power vacuum emerged in the near east – and there was nothing the Roman Empire liked more than a power vacuum in neighbouring territories. So Rome invaded. Pompey, a Roman General, arrived in Judea and found a house divided, two Hasmonean upstarts were fighting for supremacy. Both turned to Pompey for support, he picked a side (Hyrcanus), the other guy didn’t like it. And Pompey invaded.  Hyrancus was installed as high priest and “ethnarch” (but not king), and Rome redistributed the territories the Maccabees has claimed. A guy named Antipater, and his son Herod the Great, took power from the Hasmoneans. Herod was a Roman puppet. He ruled for 26 years and conducted a huge infrastructure program (largely to honour Roman rule and cement his power). He also wiped out the last of the Hasmoneans (including his wife, and his two sons by her). Herod died in 4 BC, leaving dueling heirs, and a dynasty vastly unpopular with the power brokers of Jewish society. Augustus wasn’t happy with either heir and placed Judea under provincial rule, through Roman officials reporting to the governor of Syria. In 66AD the Jews rebelled against Rome and Jerusalem, and the temple, were eventually destroyed.

Hellenistic Judaism

Hellenism was a cultural phenomenon. As the cultured Greeks conquered the primitive barbarian like nations around them they brought their culture with them. Cultural appropriations included religion, language, social structures, government, art, philosophy, and an aesthetic approach to just about everything… As this influence crept in, or possibly burst in, to the Jewish scene, the citizens of Judea were forced to reassess the core and non-core elements of their religious practice. This Hellenisation caused significant tension within the Jewish population – but it’s fair to say that it wasn’t all encompassing. Jews maintained their religious identities and kept ceremonial and cultic distinctions from the rest of the Greek empire. In many ways Philo was the model Hellenised Jew.

Hellenisation was essential for social mobility. Any political wannabees had to sell out their Judaism for progress.

While some “scholars” like Bart Erhman push the idea that nobody in Palestine spoke Greek as a piece of evidence for a lack of authenticity of the gospels – this is a minority position that pretty much contradicts all the extent evidence, including coins, inscriptions and papyrii from the period. Hengel is one scholar who has conducted significant work in demonstrating that Palestinian culture was a multilingual, multicultural melting pot. About ten percent of Palestinian Jews, in Hengel’s estimate, spoke Greek as their primary language.

There was no real “normative” model of Judaism in this period – everybody pretty much chose how Greek they wanted to be, or how Jewish.

Jewish Theology

The Qumran documents, and other apocryphal writings, show that there was significant theological diversity operating in the Second Temple period. There were four dominant theological movements, or sects, operating in Judea in this time:

The Pharisees

The Pharisees emerged largely in opposition to the Hasmonean rulers, and their fusion of prisetly and kingly power, they were a popular group and socially powerful. They sought to apply the Torah to everyday life, and are presented (particularly in Matthew) as the foils to Jesus teaching, they are often grouped with “the teachers of the law,” they were particularly concerned with creating a fence aroung the Torah, they created a series of extra laws and customs to ensure they would never encroach on the Torah (these were later written up as the Mishnah). They sought to bring about the Kingdom of God, and the arrival of the Messiah, by teaching God’s law. They believed in the soul, in resurrection, in heaven and hell, and in the existence of the supernatural. While they are often presented negatively in the light of Jesus’ teachings, it was a broad church of beliefs and practices (Nicodemus in John 3 was a Pharisee, Joseph of Arimathea may have been one too).

The Sadducees

The Sadducees were compromisers – they supported the Hasmonean dynasty, and the Hellenisation of Israel. They were wealthy. They were corrupt. They focused their theology on the Pentateuch alone, while acknowledging the rest of Scripture. Only doctrine that could be demonstrated through the Pentateuch was binding, they rejected Oral Law. The Sadducees, in contrast to the Pharisees, dismissed any notion of immortality, resurrection or supernatural beings like Angels and Demons. They did not oppose Roman rule. They were the administrators of proceedings in the temple under Rome, and died out with Jerusalem in 70AD.

The Essenes

The Essenes were essentially a Jewish Doomsday cult. They tried to withdraw from society, maintaining purity and piety, while awaiting the apocalypse. They repudiated the Maccabean dynasty, and believed that withdrawing from society would hasten the coming of the kingdom of God. They were intensely devoted to the law and saw themselves as God’s elect subgroup within Israel. Qumran was a particularly rigid Essene monastic community. They expected two messiahs – a priestly leader, and a kingly leader, and their documentation found at Qumran reveals that though the community was contemporaneous with Christianity they did not acknowledge Jesus or Christianity in any way (despite the views of some “scholarly” conspiracy theorists.

The Zealots

The Zealots were cool. They carried swords around and stealthily killed Roman collaborators. They were first century Jewish ninjas. They hoped to overturn Rome’s empire in a military fashion and led a variety of revolts during the first century that can best be described as failed messianic uprisings. Their expectations are consistent with some of the disciples’ expectations of Jesus as a military messiah.

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.