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Midwestern begins new year with old & new faces, recent research

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Both old and new faces were on hand for the beginning of the academic year at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
An Aug. 27 academic convocation at the Kansas City, Mo., seminary featured the recently completed doctoral research of Alan Tomlinson, who joined Midwestern in 1995 and who in the spring of 1997 received a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Also featured was the work of Terry Wilder, who came to Midwestern in 1997 and who received a Ph.D. this summer from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Offering the invocation for the event was Milton Ferguson, president emeritus of Midwestern Seminary, whose 23-year term as president preceded that of current President Mark Coppenger.
Drawing on inscriptions and papyri text from the first century, Tomlinson assistant professor of New Testament and Greek explained how in Romans Paul personifies sin as a slave master to whom the Christian no longer owes allegiance. Wilder, visiting professor of New Testament and Greek, examined the intent and reception of pseudonymous letters in the first century in an attempt to shed light on theories that some New Testament books attributed to Paul were actually written by others using Paul’s name.
Tomlinson’s research particularly explored the implications of first-century slavery practices in the interpretation of Romans 6. Slavery in Paul’s day, Tomlinson said, was vastly different than that of the 18th century and involved varying degrees of freedom. He noted slaves in the first century earned wages and were actually permitted to buy their freedom. However, by Paul’s day, the price of slaves was so high that it was impossible for a slave to earn enough to gain his freedom. Thus, slaves were granted conditional freedom which stipulated that they remain in service to their old master until either the master or the slave died.
“Thousands of emancipation texts include a stipulation that the so-called freed slave must stay and serve the old master,” Tomlinson explained. “In Romans 6:1, the word translated ‘stay’ or ‘continue’ is the Greek term which stipulated this continued servitude to the old master.”
Other terms in Romans — such as “the old man” and “body” — are also technical terms from first-century slavery, Tomlinson said. Thus Paul’s slavery metaphor brings cohesion and meaning to Romans 6 and to the book as a whole. Tomlinson concluded by quoting Romans 8:1-3, where Paul notes the freedom which the Law could never bring but which Christ won over the reigning power of sin.
“Many expressions in Romans allude to one’s emancipation from the legal hold of the sin master,” Tomlinson explained. “Now, we can still serve sin today. We do — each one of us is a sinner. But sin no longer has the legal right to reign in our lives.”
Wilder, whose presentation followed Tomlinson’s, began by explaining how concern for the authenticity of the New Testament gave impetus to his doctoral research.
“Many scholars today believe that pseudonymous works exist in the New Testament,” Wilder explained to students. “In other words, rather than believing, for example, that Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles, they will say that a later disciple wrote these works and borrowed Paul’s name in order to propagate Pauline teaching.”
Such suggestions have fostered considerable debate, particularly concerning whether such works — if they did exist — would have been considered deceptive in the first century. Wilder said that while he clearly does not believe the New Testament contains such works, the point of his research was to ascertain the intent and the reception they would have received if they did exist.
Wilder said his research led him to conclude the burden of proof should not be upon those who defend the authenticity of the New Testament but rather upon those who challenge it.
“I found that often scholars seem more interested in maintaining their presuppositions than they are in genuinely looking at the evidence,” Wilder said. “In the course of my study, I found several assumptions that scholars hold in relationship to this subject which are simply not true.”
Among other things, Wilder’s research demonstrated that the ideas of literary property and copyright in our own day are fairly comparable to similar concepts present among ancient writers, including Christians. In this regard he cited evidence from both classic writers and from Paul’s own practice of signing letters in his own hand. Wilder went on to say that, in ancient times, letters were understood to serve as substitutes for the writer’s actual physical presence, a fact which also would create disdain for pseudonymous letters. Indeed, Wilder found that pseudonymous letters clearly were considered deceptive by early Christian leaders, describing how one elder was put out of the church when leaders discovered he had attributed to Paul a work of his own writing.
“The known responses of early Christian leaders to pseudo-apostolic works does not favor the belief that the early church approved of these types of works,” Wilder said of his research. “When you look at the language they used to describe these types of works, it is not complimentary. It suggests deception.”

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  • Clinton Wolf