Meet the Bible

What do I want in a course that introduces the New Testament?

I’ve been thinking about it as I look back on the year’s teaching, and after reading the article in Inside Higher Education about Robert Frank’s economics curriculum. Part of the problem involves the interplay of cognition and judgment. Entering students in Bible generally need to learn more about the Bible itself, and about the terms and frames in which biblical scholars write, but they also need to learn to think like biblical scholars — at least insofar as that enables the students to make useful sense of the vast quantities of scholarly writings.

The Franks article helpfully makes several points I want to bear in mind as I think about NT introduction. First: “The idea of taking a few core things, working on them until you get them, and then moving on and adding complexity only when the root stuff is firmly embedded, that just seemed like such an eye-opener to me.” There’s so much that NT scholarship has done, has gradually taken for granted as a minimal base for knowledge and reflection, that it’s hard for a teacher to see how vast a load of stuff we’re dumping on people.

Second, Frank’s project helps students develop a narrative intelligibility for the matters we study — rather like Stephen Neill’s book, revised by Tom Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986. I’m beginning to think that the best way to introduce students to the New Testament would involve helping them understand how we got to where we are, on several limited areas. A student who has come to understand the history of analyses of the Synoptic Problem will be better prepared to think about pseudonymity in the catholic epistles, even if we don’t spend a lot of time on II Peter.

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