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Issues in New Testament studies is symposium focus at Southeastern

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Fifteen world-renowned biblical scholars are scheduled to converge on the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary campus in April to re-examine three widely held beliefs in New Testament studies.

David Alan Black, professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern and organizer of the “Symposium on New Testament Studies: A Time for Reappraisal,” said “three cans of worms” will be opened during the conference. “In each of these [issues], we’re calling into question popularly held beliefs.”

Discussion topics planned for the April 6-7 conference on the seminary’s Wake Forest, N.C., campus will focus on the order in which the gospels were written, commonly referred to as the synoptic problem; textual criticism, also known as the King James-only controversy; and the authorship of Hebrews in the New Testament.

For example, with the synoptic problem, most scholars believe the Book of Mark, the second gospel by placement in the New Testament, is without doubt the earliest written of the four gospels.

While a case can be made for that view, Black said, there are also difficulties with it and there are alternative views that need a hearing. “That’s why we have invited William Farmer,” a professor at the University of Dallas and the leading proponent for Matthew as the earliest written gospel.

Black said that during the first four centuries A.D. the church fathers “were unanimous that the earliest gospel was Matthew’s, not Mark,” and Matthew is “the only view that comports with early Christian history.”

Another of the conference’s topics, textual criticism, otherwise known as the King James Version debate, “is still a very fiery debate in some circles,” Black said. One of the issues to be discussed is the place of the Byzantine text in New Testament textual criticism, which “some scholars reject out of hand and others exalt to a place of primacy.”

Black said the third issue addressed in the symposium, the authorship of the book of Hebrews, generally has three perspectives: Apollos, Luke or the traditionally held view of Pauline authorship.

The symposium’s keynote speakers for each of the three topics include: “The Synoptic Problem,” Craig Blomberg, professor of New Testament, Denver Theological Seminary; “The Authorship of Hebrews,” Simon Kistemaker, professor of New Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Miss.; “New Testament Textual Criticism,” Eldon Jay Epp, of Lexington, Mass., who is a world-renowned scholar in the area of textual criticism and a retired professor from Case-Western Reserve University.

Following each session’s keynote address, three speakers, each representing differing views, will present their cases for discussion, followed by a response from the keynote speakers.

Other scheduled conference speakers include Moises Silva, professor of New Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Mass.; Grant Osborne, professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill.; Lincoln Hurst, associate professor of religious studies, University of California at Davis; Scott McKnight, professor of New Testament, North Park College, Chicago; and J. K. Elliott, professor of New Testament, University of Leeds, Great Britain.

“Anybody who knows New Testament studies will realize we have an excellent lineup of the very best scholars in this field,” Black said.

The study of theology and the New Testament, Black said, often comes down to an intersection of faith and reason, with the student or researcher typically driving a wedge between faith and reason or between faith and criticism. However, he said, “[I]t’s no longer a question of faith or reason. It’s a question of either a reasonable faith or a faithless reason.”

Black said that revisiting some of these issues, on which some pastors and lay leaders may be strongly opinionated, encourages students of God’s Word to decide for themselves.

“At Southeastern, we are engaged in scholarship at the highest level,” Black said. “That’s one of the reasons we want to hold this conference. We are engaging the major issues in New Testament studies today, yet we don’t sacrifice academic credibility just because our hearts have a passion for the gospel. We’re attempting a balance.”

The conference fee is $40 for participants who register before March 1 and includes a copy of the International Standard Version New Testament with CD-ROM, as well as the participant’s choice of “The Myth of Adolescence” by Black or “Worldviews at War” by Allan Moseley, associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew and dean of students at Southeastern. Published essays delivered at the symposium will be available at a later date.

Registration on or after March 1, by mail or at the door, is $50. Further information is available by calling (919) 556-3101, ext. 369; e-mail, [email protected]; or writing SEBTS New Testament Symposium, Box 1889, Wake Forest, NC 27588.

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  • Debbie Moore