I just finished reading Thomas Schreiner’s new New Testament Theology (2008) which is a massive work of nearly a thousand pages. At the same time, I was reading F. Matera’s new NT Theology and I must say that I liked Schreiner’s approach more. S. chose a primarily topical approach (in contrast to Matera’s quasi-historical/canonical approach) which prioritizes a heilsgeschichtlich perspective and a covenantal framework. All good. One thing that Schreiner is insistent upon is the Trinitarian dimension of NT theology where the NT’s message is ‘God-focused, Christ-centered, and Spirit-saturated’; he explains: ‘God will receive all the glory for his work in Christ by the Spirit has he works out his purpose in redemptive history’ (p. 23).
I am all for that.
Interestingly, the subtitle of the book is: ‘Magnifying God in Christ’. I beg the question: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE HOLY SPIRIT . Since I am a Methodist, I felt the need to point this oddity out, because it would have been quite easy to add ‘through the Spirit’. This does not do much damage to an otherwise lucid approach to NT theology, but I did find it unusual.
I have said before that when it comes to doing a good PHD, ‘the magic is in the method’ – that means that just doing exegesis of a passage is not enough (anymore). We need ‘fresh’ approaches to the NT, largely because it is well-worn ground. How can you find something original? Now, not every thesis will be original in its method, but that is a great area to express the ‘originality’ of your thesis statement – ‘My study will take the theory of X and apply it to Y-NT text’. So, in the name of good inter-disciplinarity, I am recommending 5 books that every NT pHD Student should read.
When I taught Greek at Gordon-COnwell Theological Seminary (Boston campus) I taught a night course to about two dozen students who worked full-time in their other jobs and studied at night and on the weekends. This was exciting, as these students tended to be dealing directly with pastoral leadership questions and were passionate about learning. However, when it came to Greek, by the end of the first semester, we went from 23 registered students down to 9. Believe it or not, a few of those students who dropped the course told me they decided to transfer from Gordon-Conwell to another Boston seminary that did not require the Biblical Languages. Why did they do this? In their opinion, IT’S TOO HARD!!! Well, yes. It is hard. So, from a professor’s perspective, what can we do?
Well, I will leave aside the issue of choosing a good textbook and also teaching style overall. Here I simply want to say that I sensed that many students didn’t understand why it is helpful to learn Greek. I think we need to illuminate students as to the benefits of learning Greek early on in the year to motivate them and help get them through hard times. There is a prevailing mentality that students will have to learn some Greek before you can explain to them what it is all about. I agree, but some don’t last even a few weeks! So, I have tried to come up with resources that encourage students to learn Greek. Here are two resources I found that were especially helpful. The first is an essay by John Piper, and the second is a summary (not by me) of a list-serv discussion on this very question. Please inform me of other online texts/discussions.
Brothers, Bitzer Was a Banker!
by John Piper, The Standard, June 1983, 18-19. Used by permission.
A slightly revised version of this article now also appears in Piper’s book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Broadman & Holman, 2002).
“As dear as the gospel is to us all, let us as hard contend with its language”
Last year Baker Book House reissued a 1969 book of daily Scripture readings in Hebrew and Greek called Light on the Path. The readings are quite short, and vocabulary helps are given with the Hebrew verses. The aim of the editor, who died in 1980, was to help pastors preserve and improve their ability to interpret the Bible from the original languages.
His name was Heinrich Bitzer, and he was a banker.
A banker! Brothers, must we be admonished by the sheep what our responsibility is as shepherds? Evidently so. For we are surely not admonishing and encouraging each other to press on in Greek and Hebrew. And most seminaries–evangelical as well as liberal–have communicated by their curriculum emphases that learning Greek and Hebrew well is merely optional for the pastoral ministry.
I have a debt to pay to Heinrich Bitzer, and I would like to discharge it by exhorting all of us to ponder his thesis: “The more a theologian detaches himself from the basic Hebrew and Greek text of Holy Scripture, the more he detaches himself from the source of real theology! And real theology is the foundation of a fruitful and blessed ministry! (p.10).
A Plague of Uncertainty
What happens to a denomination where a useful knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is not cherished and promoted as crucial for the pastoral office? (I don’t mean offered and admired. I mean cherished, promoted and sought.)
Several things happen as the original languages fall into disuse among pastors. First, the confidence of pastors to determine the precise meaning of biblical texts diminishes. And with the confidence to interpret rigorously goes the confidence to preach powerfully. You can’t preach week in and week out over the whole range of God’s revelation with depth and power if you are plagued with uncertainty when you venture beyond basic gospel generalities.
Second, the uncertainty of having to depend on differing human translations (which always involve much interpretation) will tend to discourage careful textual analysis in sermon preparation. For as soon as you start attending to crucial details (like tenses, conjunctions and vocabulary repetitions), you realize the translations are too diverse to provide a sure basis for such analysis.
So the preacher often contents himself with the general focus or flavor of the text, and his exposition lacks the precision and clarity which excite a congregation with the Word of God.
Expository preaching, therefore, falls into disuse and disfavor. I say disfavor because we often tend to protect ourselves from difficult tasks by belittling or ignoring their importance. So what we find in groups where Greek and Hebrew are not cherished and pursued and promoted is that expository preaching (which devotes a good bit of the sermon to explaining the original meaning of the texts) is not much esteemed by the clergy or taught in the seminaries.
Sometimes this is evident in outright denunciation of schoolish exposition. More often there is simply a benign neglect; and the emphasis on valuable sermonic features (like order, diction, illustration and relevance) crowds out the need for careful textual exposition.
Another result when pastors do not study the Bible in Greek and Hebrew is that they (and their churches with them) tend to become second-handers. The harder it is for us to get at the original meaning of the Bible, the more we will revert to the secondary literature. For one thing, it is easier to read. It also gives us a superficial glow that we are “keeping up” on things. And it provides us with ideas and insights which we can’t dig out of the original for ourselves.
We may impress one another for a while by dropping the name of the latest book, but second-hand food will not sustain and deepen our people’s faith and holiness.
The Mother of Liberalism
Weakness in Greek and Hebrew also gives rise to exegetical imprecision and carelessness. And exegetical imprecision is the mother of liberal theology.
Where pastors by and large can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended relativists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error.
Further, when we fail to stress the use of Greek and Hebrew as crucial in the pastoral office we create an eldership of professional academicians. We surrender to the seminaries and universities essential dimensions of our responsibility as elders and overseers of the churches.
Acts 20:27 charges us with the proclamation of “the whole counsel of God.” But we look more and more to the professional academicians for books which fit the jagged pieces of revelation into a unified whole. Acts 20:28 charges us to take heed for the flock and guard it from wolves who rise up in the church and speak perverse things. But we look more and more to the linguistic and historical specialists to fight our battles for us in books and articles. We have, by and large, lost the biblical vision of a pastor as one who is mighty in the Scriptures, apt to teach, competent to confute opponents and able to penetrate to the unity of the whole counsel of God.
Is it healthy or biblical for the church to cultivate an eldership of pastors (weak in the Word) and an eldership of professors (strong in the Word)?
The Pastor Debased
One of the greatest tragedies in the church today is the debasement of the pastoral office. From the seminaries to the denominational headquarters, the prevalent mood and theme is managerial, organizational and psychological. And we think thereby to heighten our professional self-esteem! Hundreds of teachers and leaders put the mastery of the Word first with their lips, but by their curriculums, conferences, seminars and personal example show that it is anything but foremost.
One glaring example is the nature of the Doctor of Ministry programs across the country.
The theory is good: continuing education makes for better ministers. But where can you do a D.Min. in Hebrew language and exegesis? Yet what is more important and more deeply practical for the pastoral office than advancing in Greek and Hebrew exegesis by which we mine God’s treasures?
Why then do hundreds of young and middle-aged pastors devote years of effort to everything but the languages when pursuing continuing education? And why do seminaries not offer incentives and degrees to help pastors maintain the most important pastoral skill–exegesis of the original meanings of Scripture?
No matter what we say about the inerrancy of the Bible, our actions reveal our true convictions about its centrality and power.
We need to recover our vision of the pastoral office which embraces, if nothing else, the passion and power to understand the original revelation of God. We need to pray for the day when pastors can carry their Greek Testaments to conferences and seminars without being greeted with one-liners. The day when the esteem for God’s Word and its careful exposition is so high among pastors that the few who neglect to bring their Testaments will go home to study. The day when prayer and grammar will meet each other with great spiritual combustion.
Never Too Late
In 1829 the 24-year-old George Muller wrote, “I now studied much, about 12 hours a day, chiefly Hebrew … [and] committed portions of the Hebrew Old Testament to memory; and this I did with prayer, often falling on my knees…. I looked up to the Lord even whilst turning over the leaves of my Hebrew dictionary” (Autobiography, p. 31).
In the Methodist Archives of Manchester you can see the two-volume Greek Testament of the evangelist George Whitefield liberally furnished with notes on the interleaved paper. He wrote of his time at Oxford, “Though weak, I often spent two hours in my evening retirements and prayed over my Greek Testament, and Bishop Hall’s most excellent Contemplations, every hour that my health would permit” (Dallimore, Whitefield, I, p. 77).
Brothers, perhaps the vision can grow with your help. It is never too late to learn the languages. There are men who began after retirement! It is not a question of time but of values.
Continuing education is being pursued everywhere. Let’s give heed to the word of Martin Luther: “As dear as the gospel is to us all, let us as hard contend with its language.” Bitzer did. And Bitzer was a banker!
B Greek general consensus
1. You are always subject to the choices of the translator(s) in doing Biblical studies if you do not know the original languages. a.. Even though you may trust those translators, nevertheless it is more useful in doing serious study to know the language yourself. b.. Unless you can read Biblical Greek, you have forever limited yourself to low-level study aids. The inability to research commentaries and lexicons that deal with the original language again means that you have decided to let someone else tell you what the Bible says: commentaries that are not based on the original languages are inadequate. c.. It gives you access to the best scholarly journals and books in biblical and theological studies. d.. It gives you a greater independence as an interpreter of Scripture 2. It takes you a step closer to the people who used the language 2000 years ago. a.. It gives you a broader and deeper understanding of the linguistic and cultural milieu in which the NT was written. b.. It gives you a new appreciation of the richness and depth of the sacred texts, which previously you have come to value even though you have perceived them only through a veil, dimly. c.. Studying the Bible in the original languages brings a new dimension to the scriptures that simply does not get portrayed in English. It allows you to interact with the scriptures in a new way. 3. Studying the Greek NT provides a way to get a fresh look at what the text is actually saying. It may help to overcome some of our preconceived notions of what the English text says.
I have thought a lot lately about how I do research. It seems so often I end up accidentally stumbling onto the most formative essays and articles for my research. This is fortuitous, but how can I research in a more systematic and effective way? Well, I don’t know, but I feel it is worthwhile to tell you how I go about it and see if you (all) have something to add. So, when I begin research on a chapter/section of my thesis (in Pauline theology), this is how it generally goes:
1. Consider the most important terms and concepts related to my chapter (so, currently, PAUL, APOSTLESHIP, IDENTITY).
2. The first thing I do is try to collect a bibliography to read through. This is sometimes the most difficult part if the area of research is not well-covered and/or if there is no standard way of referring to the subject matter. Ben Byerly (see comments) reminded me that monograph bibliographies are great places to find basic reading lists; also the reviews of literature in theses.
A. Search Tyndale House catalog on key terms (PAUL, APOSTLE, IDENTITY). Why Tyndale House? It is restricted to Biblical Studies and they are pretty comprehensive. Also, they have listed a large number of theses from places like Oxbridge, some of which have not been subsequently published. Anyway, it is a good place to begin (see http://www.tyncat.com). After Tyndale I also check out Harvard’s HOLLIS catalog.
B. Check bibliography of Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IVP). There is almost certainly going to be an article on any Pauline topic and the bibios will have all the seminal works in English and some in German.
C. Check ATLA (at first all the full-text stuff to get immediately accessible literature; then another search for all the stuff). Write down all interesting entries related to key terms.
D. Do the same on JSTOR.
E. Do the same on Googlescholar and Googlebooks. Googlebooks, in particular, has yielded for me dozens and dozens of books that I would have never thought to look up. It has been absolutely invaluable. If you are not searching googlebooks for relevant literature, you are really missing out.
F. Search other Dictionaries (on LOGOS I have TDNT, Anchor Bible Dictionary, Dictionary of NT Backgrounds, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery); see also the new NEW INTERPRETER’S DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE. Also, the DICTIONARY FOR THE THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE (Baker), but it usually has very short entries with bibliographies that are not anymore helpful than DPL.
G. Sometimes I will try amazon.com and search on key terms and look for full-search books. Not often that helpful.
H. Sometimes I get on SAGE journals and do a search – usually it yeilds too many non-theological items to be helpful.
What else is helpful for others in compiling reading lists for your research? I should also mention the utilility of asking the blogging community – I have received some very helpful tips – thanks!
My penultimate chapter that I am working on deals with Paul’s self-conception of his apostleship and where he derived this understanding from and how it developed in the articulation of his status and ‘calling’ in his letters.
The only thing I know of that is substantial is Shutz’s Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority. Does anyone know of other good resources? I am more interested in the generation and development of his apostolic identity, rather than more current interests in social dynamics (i.e. Paul and ‘power’). More specificially, I am studying the importance of the metaphors of Paul as ‘temple architect’ (see 1 Cor 3; Rom 15) and Paul as ‘priest’ (1 Cor 9; Rom 15) – are these just convenient metaphors or are they more formative in his identity? Where did he get these ideas from? Please help!
Any suggestion would be most welcome, but presume I have read basic dictionary entries and commentaries. Thanks!
My thesis research is on how Paul used metaphors to reshape identity and ‘convert’ the imagination (as Hays would say) of his churches. One can see an early attempt to explicate this in Paul Minear’s Images of the Church in the NT. I just saw announced a new book that goes even further than Minear to also look, not only theologically, but rhetorically at how Paul used ‘images’ or word-pictures to form his communities’ symbolic universe. See below.
In his letters to the early Christian communities, the apostle Paul left for Christians of all time an array of powerful images: from the pain of a thorn in the flesh to the tenderness of a nursing mother for her children, from the competition on an athletic field to the growth of an agricultural field. In The Power of Images in Paul, Raymond Collins explores how Paul uses the ordinary to describe what is extraordinary, how Paul skillfully uses a wide range of metaphors as a means of both persuasion and clarification. But this book is more than an analysis of Paul’s images themselves. Collins also examines how Paul deliberately draws from secular as well as religious and biblical themes in order to draw a culturally diverse audience into relationship with Christ. Entering Paul’s world with Collins, readers will better appreciate Paul’s use of metaphor and, more important, be persuaded as was Paul’s original audience of God’s unfailing love in Christ.
Though the book has not yet been released in the UK, the publisher (Liturgical Press) offers a free excerpt which includes the preface and introduction (see HERE).
I began my blog about 20 months ago, and I am happy celebrate today getting just over 40,000 hits. In light of this occasion, I decided to gather together some of my more popular ‘how-to’ posts for academic research onto one page for easy accessibility and review. See the page above ‘Guide to Researchers’.
Also, you may have noticed that I changed the picture at the top. What you are now looking at is the beautiful Durham cathedral and some other buildings on the palace green. Durham cathedral and castle are considered to be a ‘World Heritage Site’ and one of the most popular landmark buildings in the UK. If you are ever in northeast England, please come check it out. BTW – the theology department is also on the palace green and the student study office is very close as well.
As I am in the process of applying for academic jobs, I am confronted with the important matter of who to ask for a recommendation and why. This raises an important issue: what are references for? What kind of reference is most useful or impressive? I don’t have the answers since I have only been on the applying side and not the hiring side, but I do have thoughts. My hope, though, is that others who may know more than I do will weigh in in the comments! Please, inform me and/or correct me!
So, here are some of my guesses, reflections, and thought.
1. What are references for?
On a basic level, they are a way of making sure that who you say you are in your CV is really reflective of your personality, character, and competency. Thus, it is important to get someone who knows you pretty well (i.e., someone you actually took a course from or who knows and has read your work in some detail).
2. How many recommendations will I need?
Most hiring institutions will ask for three. And, most of these do not specify any further.
3. Do I need to know someone famous?
Well, the short answer is no. I mean, not everyone who would be a good candidate happens to also be D.A. Carson’s or N.T. Wright’s apprentice (though I know someone who is ). You need men and women of integrity, hopefully in full-time teaching, who can vouch for you. Ideally, one of your recommenders is a senior scholar. What is a senior scholar? Whether they are well-known or not, a senior scholar is a full professor (tenured, in American terms, a ‘professor’ in UK terms) and has a strong publishing record. Don’t panic, most of the time your doctoral supervisor will fit this bill. Another good test of a senior scholar (in New Testament) is membership in SNTS. Now, if they happen to also be Richard Bauckham or Stanley Porter or Beverly Gaventa – that is a boost and will help.
4. How do I choose my three?
As I said, the first should be a senior scholar, hopefully in the primary field of study you are applying to. And, hopefully you have taken at least 2 courses with him or are supervised by her. As for the others, I have some ideas, but these are just my opinions. First, you want to diversify. Having all three from the same institution is not ideal unless you are at Duke or Cambridge (and the like). See if someone from your master’s institution can also write one. Or your undergrad if you studied biblical studies. Now if you studied classics in undergrad, a rec from your history prof would also be attractive (I think). Having two from your PhD institution is not bad at all. When it comes down to it, try to make sure they really know you and know your strengths.
5. What are the referees going to write about?
Frankly, I don’t know. Partly it depends on how they know you. Partly it depends on what you’ve done and what your strengths are. And, partly it depends on the nature of the job you are applying for. Once again, ideally, you want one of them who can speak about your teaching abilities. Also, at least one of them should know your writing and research potential and capabilities. If you are applying at a seminary, perhaps the hiring committee would be interested if a referee could comment on your maturity and character.
6. I DON’T KNOW THREE SCHOLARS, what do I do!!!!!
Well, that is a set back. If you could turn back time, I would tell you to begin your PhD with the idea that you will attend conferences, look for teaching opportunities, and dialog over email with scholars not only for the purpose of learning for your thesis and strengthening your skill set, but also for establishing yourself in a scholarly community that is mutually beneficial (i.e. ‘schmoozing’). As a Christian who is trying to be Christ-like I know it is not pious to kiss up to the big names and ignore other students and so-called ‘nobodies’. And, I discourage you from having an atitude that would foster these negative patterns. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to be a bit bold and try and get to know some scholars in the field (while not snubbing others). How? This is tough because everyone is different. An important and easy way is to attend and present papers at smaller conferences (like regional SBL). The smallness lends itself to being in such close quarters that it is easy to strike up a conversation. You may have to have to guts to say to a scholar if they tell you they liked your paper, ‘Would you be interested in having a copy; also, I would be happy to receive comments and feedback in more detail’. Is this annoying to scholars? Well….often…yes. But, not always. And most scholars will say no if they don’t want to.
All in all, though, I can’t underestimate the importance of attending and especially presenting papers at conferences (especially the British NT conference if you study here).
7. How do they know what to write?
I usually email some information to my referees such as my CV, a sample cover letter, a short note on my ministry experience and current involvement, and anything else that will help them ‘remember’ me (if it has been a while). You may even want to phone them at first as that form of contact will help them to see how important they are to you and how much you will appreciate their support (I sound like a politician, don’t I?).
8. How do I know if my referees will say good things?
You don’t. They seal the references and send them in directly. But one can hope that they would turn you down for a reference if they did not plan on supporting your job application.
Well, that’s all I have to say. Now, please, let me hear from you in the comments. How to do references help you get a job? What can you do to make this element of your application better? I would suggest, of course, lots of prayer.
As some of you know, an ongoing interest of mine is the question of the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Steve Moyise and Maarten Menken have been editing a series of books on how NT authors use certain Old Testament texts. The series began with Psalms (2004, T & T Clark), and then, Isaiah in the New Testament (2005, T & T Clark). We now have Deuteronomy in the New Testament (2007; T & T Clark). These edited volumes follow the pattern of studying OT books according to their importance in the NT as demonstrated in the frequency of quotations and allusions.
In the Deuteronomy volume, we see a very fine cast of scholars thinking together about the use of Deut. in the NT. Notably, we see contributions by Steve Moyise (Mark), Maarten Menken (Matthew), Michael Labahn (John), Roy Ciampa (Galatians and Romans), Brian S. Rosner (1 and 2 Corinthians), and Gert Steyn (Hebrews). As we move down the frequency list (Psalms, to Isaiah, to Deut. and so on), it becomes harder and harder to analyze the whole NT from this perspective as fewer and fewer citations/allusions are detected. Thus, we see a noticeable absence of reflection on, for instance, Ephesians and Colossians, and most of the General Epistles.
I will not examine the book chapter by chapter because, frankly, the details of the chapters are primarily descriptive and only really interesting to someone who is studying the subject in depth. My interest in the book is more in terms of why Deuteronomy is so frequently referred to, not just how it is. In Timothy Lim’s chapter on the use of Deut. in early Judaism, he points to the notion that its popularity probably comes from its use in liturgy (see esp. 15). In favor of this, he also mentions the Jewish practice of carrying phylacteries and ‘mezuzot’ which would have included texts such as ‘Deut. 6.8; 11.8). And, Lim notes that the Decalogue also appeared often in such liturgical texts.
What about the NT? M. Labahn argues that Deut. was of interest to John (the Evangelist) because of motifs that easily derive from it such as Love of God and Care for God’s Commandments. One cannot ignore, either, how important for Jewish messianic expectations, to hope of the ‘Prophet to Come’.
In Romans and Galatians, R. Ciampa gives a exegetically rich intertextual investigation and his concluding statements are particularly insightful. He eschews Francis Watson’s approach to Paul and the OT. Ciampa, instead of seeing two opposing voices in Deut., takes a more covenantal approach as reconfigured in terms of the cross. Thus, he responds to Watson as such: ‘If we grant that Paul perceives that Christ’s coming has brought about the transition from curse to blessing that was anticipated in Deuteronomy 30 in a surprising way, it opens up the possibility that Paul views some texts as reflecting divine guidance and instruction for the situation in which Paul’s readers find themselves as believers in Christ.’ (116). I think Ciampa is on to something, but the challenge is to determine which texts are which!
Ciampa’s covenantal perspective on Paul’s Christology and soteriology suggests that ‘in Paul’s view God has fulfilled the theological programme of Deuteronomy 30 through Christ himself, and that has brought about significant implications for understanding how the realities of curse and blessing, death and life, disobedience and obedience, sin and righteousness are conceived in light of the good news of Christ’s achievement’ (117).
Though I won’t go into detail, Brian Rosner’s work on 1-2 Corinthians in this volume is equally cogent. He would probably agree with Ciampa’s covenantal approach, but his perspective on the Corinthian Correspondence highlights more Exodus and Passover themes that come from Deut.
Whenever I review books that consist of multiple-contributors, I am disappointed when there is no concluding chapter. Such a chapter is needed, I think, to give coherence to the whole book. This Deut. volume (as the others) lacks such a post-work reflection. In a final chapter we hope to see the commonalities in the various approaches, wider themes that emerge, significance dissonance among the chapters, and perspectives for the future.
Nevertheless, I am collecting the whole set of these books as they are excellent specimens of how to approach the Old in the New in a sophisticated way which considers the early reception history, the vorlage, important literary questions regarding the nature of intertextuality, and also hermeneutic principles and approaches appropriated by the NT authors. I am quite sure that another volume on the minor prophets is in the works. I eagerly look forward to it.
NB: In the introduction to this Deut. volume, Moyise makes the caveat that this study could not do an in-depth look at the Decalogue in the NT. Even though the contributors did touch on this as relevant, this is still a study waiting to happen. Future doctoral students should keep this in mind.
This past week was about the sixth or seventh time I have presented a paper in a conference and I am actually starting to feel more comfortable with the whole process. As I have been reflecting on the conference, I thought I would share some thoughts, both as a presenter and an audience member.
1. Always have some kind of handout. Now, I prefer to give out the whole paper because (a) it is easier to follow along (especially if the audience members nod off!), (b) it can compensate for talking a bit too fast, and (c) it allows the reader/hearer to reflect further on your paper and offer you more specific feedback at a later time. The disadvantages are that it is costly and time-consuming to offer and there is a higher potential for someone stealing your work. Nevertheless, if you do not feel comfortable giving the whole paper, have some kind of outline and especially your thesis statement(s). A short bibliography is always welcome. Put your email on there as well so you can receive feedback.
2. Stay Focused – Some paper presenters tend to digress from their manuscript and do asides. It, for me, is barely tolerable once or twice, but certainly do not make it a habit. Try to stick to your guns (although jokes tend to be more welcome). These asides add more time on your paper and can get irritating (as it breaks up the coherence of your paper sometimes).
3. Pause – intentionally take a drink of water or just stop and take a breath every so often (at the end of a section) so people can mentally settle and/or catch up. Build such pauses into the timing of your paper if need be.
4. Summarize, summarize, summarize! In the writing of your paper (not in asides) summarize what you are saying and what you have said repeatedly. It may seem too repetitive to you, but it is very helpful for those who are just listening.
5. Biblical Texts – if your paper is based on a biblical passage, have a handout with the text on it in English and also Greek/Hebrew. Don’t assume your audience knows the passage by heart.
6. Don’t quote German unless you absolutely have to or unless you are presenting at SNTS. Please think of those of us that can barely read it, let alone try to recognize it by ear.
NOTES ON ANSWERING QUESTIONS
1. Don’t Backlash -some questioners have an angry tone and mean spirit in their interrogation. Don’t stoop down to their level and lash back. Try to resummarize what they have asked, but as if it were done in a more neutral way. Then answer the question. I have failed in this area where I get defensive and over-compensate by bringing up every argument I can think of to overwhelm them.
2. Answer questions concisely- this is hard, but most people don’t want to hear a long answer. Often a really long answer means either (a) you are trying to show off, (b) you are having a private conversation with the questioner publicly, which is also annoying, (c) you don’t really know the answer, or (d) you are thinking out loud and the audience members are all looking at their watches.
3. Don’t feel too proud to say ‘I don’t know’, but it is not bad to venture an idea after saying this (but briefly).
4. If the question is completely off the topic, but interests you, give a quick (30 second) answer and say, ‘for the sake of those who have more questions about the paper, catch me afterward for a longer answer’.
5. If the questioner makes a statement instead of a question (i.e., ‘I think that your ideas are…’) feel free to say, ‘Thank you for giving me something more to chew on on this topic’ and move on. Those who are just making a comment, in my opinion, often just want to tell you something and are looking for feedback. But, not always.
As I am presenting soon at SBL, I will get another chance to practice what I preach! See you in Boston!