Sunday, June 07, 2009

Teaching the New Testament

So, in about two months time I'll be teaching my first Introduction to the New Testament course (1st year undergraduate course), and I'm super excited, and concerned. First off, this gives me a chance to exercise my generalist tendencies, since I'll be introducing the NT, not just Paul, Peter, John, the Synoptics or Jesus. However, there are some daunting elements, such as what to include and what to exclude. There is only so much one can cover, and I don't want to privilege anything, but give the NT a fair hearing. So here's my list of questions for those engaged in teaching, and for those who've done an Introduction to the NT.
Those who Teach
  1. What text book(s) is the most helpful?
  2. Should/did you include the historical Jesus?
  3. Background contexts and information? [Overview of 2nd Temple Judaism? Roman history?]
  4. Textbook or list of readings?
  5. How do you deal with Paul? Letter by letter, or theme by theme?
Those who Study
  1. What was the best part of your intro course?
  2. What was the worst part of your intro course?
  3. Text book or collection of readings?
  4. More time given to lecturing, class discussion or group work?
  5. Powerpoint or lecture outline?
Anyone: Got advice, tips, do's and dont's for a newbie? I recognise that some of this will be highly subjective, and I'll just have to proceed via trial and error. I've taught individual letters before (at this level), which I really enjoyed. But the thought of trying to cover the whole NT is scary. So any help would be appreciated!


John Lyons said...

You need to say more about your students for people to give you meaningful comments.

Nevertheless, I'll have a crack at one point. If you don't include the historical Jesus, how will you explain the differences between the four gospels? The danger is that many students will simply assume that the four are all talking about the real (i.e historical, since to them that is the real) Jesus, and that all manner of interesting features will get massaged out of existence.



Sean said...

Thanks John. Basically, I have no idea as to who my students will be. Class size is limited to 20 people, and there will be people from Asia, New Zealand and perhaps other countries. But other than that, it's an unknown...

I'll probably include a lecture on the historical Jesus, but am not sure as to how much information to give. Do I survey the quest? The 3rd Quest? Do I highlight particular offerings, is that too much?

I'm beginning to doubt whether one can actually teach an introduction to the NT at this level, without it being somewhat superficial.

Thanks for your comments.

Daniel said...

Well I am a student and I have taught a similar class a number of times before, so I'll lend my advice to both sets of questions:

Those who Teach
What text book(s) is the most helpful?
• I would go with Carson/Moo or deSilva for intro texts, if you are covering theology as well, readings from Ladd are my preferred. Also, if you have not read it, you defiantly should and then consider assigning Longenecker’s The Lost Letters of Pergamum. In my opinion it is the most effective way to teach NT background to students.

Should/did you include the historical Jesus?
• Yes, but only if it does not strain your ability to accurately cover the actual text later on. I would not sacrifice a full discussion of the Johannine or Peterine letters in order to give a lecture on HJ.

Background contexts and information? [Overview of 2nd Temple Judaism? Roman history?]
• Absolutely. This, in my opinion if far more important than HJ.

Textbook or list of readings?
• For intro classes I think a text works better as it allows a student to see get a full perspective in one unified volume

How do you deal with Paul? Letter by letter, or theme by theme?
• Letter by Letter, that’s how he wrote them. If its and an intro to the NT you should do your best to remain as tied to the actual text as possible.

Those who Study
What was the best part of your intro course?
• We read LPP sse above.

What was the worst part of your intro course?
• Skipping over important sections in a text because they are “easy” or skipping entire books as a whole.

More time given to lecturing, class discussion or group work?
• Lecture. If the class is a true NT Intro the info is vast and needs to be covered as thoroughly as possible, which means a lot of teaching.

Powerpoint or lecture outline?
• Both, but leave blanks to fill in handouts, students must pay attention to fill in the blanks and understand the material, but don’t have to worry about taking every little thing down.

I hope this helps!

Rob Lloyd said...

Hey Sean,
I'm really excited for you. This sounds like a great opportunity and I'm sure you'll make the most of it.

I can't comment from any experience whatsoever, but I'm thinking as a prospective student: what would I want to learn about?

I think the biggest thing would be to get excited about the NT. I agree with your comment that superficiality may be unavoidable, but I think that's okay. I say let them embrace the mystery, make them want to know more, leave them hanging, dangle a carrot (okay, enough now!)...

Probably more than what they learn, finding a desire to know more will push them to go on. And I have a suspicion that you might be just the guy to give them that desire.

Go for it, and have fun. I'm sure they will too.

Rafael said...


I'd be interested in seeing your syllabus, if you're comfortable sharing it. If not, what decisions have you made regarding your questions? I don't teach an Intro to the NT course per se, but I am suggesting that my school add one to their curriculum. Any thoughts?


Albert Vickers said...

We teach the humble. We preach to those who think they already know enough! Albert Vickers. Spain.