For my second installation of talking about classes I will talk about New Testament Exegesis. These posts are long, but hopefully they will be helpful to some even if they are boring to others. In addition, my hope is always that conversations will be sparked so feel free to comment!
Having taken Greek in the Summer, I took Introduction to New Testament Exegesis (NT3400) in Fall 2009. The objective of this course was:
“…to become more skilled and sensitive interpreters of Scripture, able to draw on a variety of critical tools and methods. With that larger objective in view, the course will work toward the following:
- Consolidation and enhancement of skill in Greek translation.
- Introduction to the theory and practice of biblical exegesis.
- Exploration of the place of biblical exegesis in Christian faith and life.
This class met three times a week and was taught by Dr. Beverly Gaventa. We focused on 1st Thessalonians and Luke translating four passages in each book. There were about 25 people which was apparently smaller than usual for this class. The first class meeting was spent going over our translations in small groups of about 7 or people. The idea behind this was that everyone would come to class having translated the passage and ready to discuss translation difficulties in the group as well as check your work against that of your peers. There was a Teaching Fellow for this course, a Ph.D candidate who has finished her course work and is now writing her dissertation. Both she and Dr. Gaventa offered their expertise and assistance, but this time was predominantly students reading through their translations together and discussion the implications of various points of the passage.
In the second class session of the week, Dr. Gaventa led the class through the passage and we further delved into the difficulties of the passage as well as text criticism and other points of interest within the passage. Thursdays were lecture days which were spent discussing translation in general. Hearing the New Testament by Joel B. Green was required reading in support of these lectures. The texts we used for this course were:
- The primary text for this course is the Greek New Testament (the 27th ed. of Nestle-Aland)
- a Greek-English lexicon, preferably the Danker, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.
- Green, Joel B., ed. Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation.
- van Voorst, Robert. Building Your New Testament Greek Vocabulary.
There were two papers required for this class and four “Exegetical Appetizers.” Of the four passages for each book, you had to pick two and write a one page “appetizer” about the passage. This was not a reflection paper in the sense that we were to write about what we felt about the passage, but rather a critical reflection covering the initial stages of our exegesis process for the passage. One of these (for each book) would eventually turn into the midterm paper (in this case 1 Thessalonians) or the final paper (Luke). These papers were to be 7-9 pages. The schedule went something like this:
- What is Exegesis? (No, It’s Not Done with Mirrors)
- 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
- Text Criticism (What Text are We Reading?)
- 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
- Analysis of Words and Grammar
- Thessalonians 4:13-18
- Historical-cultural Conventions, Part I.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
- Putting It All Together
- Luke 3:1-6
- Historical-cultural Conventions, Part II.
- Luke 7:11-17
- Narrative Analysis
- Luke 13:10-17
- Extending the Conversation: Commentaries and Beyond
- Luke 19:1-10
- Exegesis in the Pulpit
- Luke 20:20-26
This was my favorite class of the semester. I very much appreciated Dr. Gaventa’s approach to exegesis. While I was introduced to Gordon Fee’s book on NT Exegesis in a Biblical Hermeneutics course I took prior to coming to PTS, Dr. Gaventa did not seem to be interested in teaching us “the” way nor did she demand “a” way. This is definitely not to say that the standards were low or that it was a free for all. Quite to the contrary, Dr. Gaventa is known for being a tough grader. What I am trying to get across is that it seems to me that Dr. Gaventa set out to teach us how to engage with the text critically. She endeavored to help us acknowledge the assumptions we bring to the Bible when we read it.
I think I finally caught on when Dr. Gaventa handed out a sheet of paper with a small paragraph on it. It was in English and it was incomplete. It seemed as though it was taken out of the middle of something larger…as if the beginning and end were lopped off. The paragraph was about a husband and wife who brought their child to be baptized. We were asked to read through this paragraph and identify the things that would need further explanation is someone not familiar with church/baptism/etc. were to read this. And the paragraph practically lit up in front of me. It was as if every word in the paragraph needed explanation! The paragraph starts with, “Sometimes the speaking requires art.” What speaking isthe author referring to and what is meant by “art”? A little bit farther on, the father of the child states, “I’m not sure I believe.” “Believe in what?” I asked myself.
All the sudden the questions she asked us as we painstakingly went through the passage verse by verse as a class were not as intimidating. I emphasize “as” of course because exegesis is not a task to be taken lightly. But starting wasn’t as hard any more and that made all the difference. In our syllabus, Dr. Gaventa wrote “Since exegesis is not a spectator sport, it is expected that students will come to class having completed the work assigned and prepared to enter into discussion.” I learned a lot in this class and I am tremendously thankful I took it my first semester. And I am grateful that she did not try to cram exegesis in any specific box but rather encouraged each of us to personalize our methods. As a result, the skills I have learned will not be easily forgotten. Surprisingly I wanted to take another exegesis class when the semester was over. : )