The canonical and textual history of the New Testament has been a fascination of mine and much of my recent and current research reflects this interest. Among other things, I enjoy researching the early circulation of the New Testament writings, the emergence of the New Testament as an authoritative collection of writings, and the state of the text of the New Testament over the centuries. I recently completed a major study of the formation of the Pauline letter collection in early Christianity. This study allowed me an opportunity to develop a theory of how the individual letters of Paul were first brought together into a single collection and to explore the state of this collection in subsequent centuries.
Research experience and how research mentorship played a role:
I’ve been blessed over the years to have studied under a number of scholars who have taken a personal interest in me and have played a significant role in my academic journey. Over 15 years ago I took my first Greek courses as an undergraduate student at Liberty before continuing my studies as a graduate student. My professors exuded a love for the Scriptures that was contagious. Looking back, it is evident that their love for students and their passion for studying the New Testament in its original language played a role in fostering my own love for the study of the Greek New Testament. During my doctoral program, I worked closely with my supervisor as I researched the early canonical history of Paul’s writings. On numerous occasions, my opinions and theories were challenged and I was confronted with alternative viewpoints. As I work with my students I am reminded of these prior experiences and the unique opportunity I now have not just to disseminate information, but to encourage students in their scholarly pursuits as they develop their research skills.
What impact will this research have in your field?
The Greek manuscripts transcribed by my students will be consulted by the editors of a forthcoming critical edition of the Greek text of the Pastoral Epistles that will be part of the series known as the Editio Critica Maior (ECM). Overseen by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster, Germany, the ECM provides comprehensive information regarding the textual history of each New Testament writing. To date, volumes have been completed on Acts and the Catholic Epistles (James-Jude) with the remaining volumes projected to be completed by 2030.
What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of collaborating with students in a research experience?
Collaborating with students outside of the classroom in a research setting has provided a unique opportunity to help students build upon the progress that they have made in their formal studies. As a Greek professor, I have observed that the students who have excelled in Greek in the long-term have been those who possess a profound love for the New Testament and the Greek language. That being the case, it has been rewarding to watch students develop a greater appreciation and awareness of how the New Testament has been preserved over the centuries and a greater love for studying the New Testament in its original language.
The Greek Paul Project gives students who have been studying Biblical Greek the opportunity to examine ancient copies of the New Testament that were written by scribes. The job of the students is to identify what the ancient manuscripts say and to transcribe the texts into a digital format. Most of these ancient manuscripts are hard to read, so the hope is for the students to spend time studying these manuscripts in order to uncover what each text actually says. Right now, the project is focused on multiple ancient copies of 1 Timothy, and Elijah, Casey, and I get to examine five ancient manuscripts each.
– Nathan Holland
How did you get involved in research collaboration with a faculty mentor?
I got involved in research when, this past summer, Dr. Laird reached out to several students about the possibility of working with him and the Museum of the Bible Scholars Initiative on the Greek Paul Project. He described the work that would be involved and what would be required of us. I was eager for the opportunity to work with manuscripts and to learn more about textual criticism. Once we notified Dr. Laird of our interest, we received access to the Virtual Manuscript Room (an online resource). We began working on our transcriptions after we attended training sessions through video conference calls.
– Elijah Romick
What impact will this research have on your future academic and professional opportunities?
Taking part in the Scholars Initiative program can be invaluable to someone with an interest in Biblical languages, textual criticism, or paleography. The opportunity to work with and study Biblical manuscripts expands students’ knowledge of textual criticism and gives them precious experience in the detail-oriented task of transcribing. As I find myself becoming increasingly passionate about this field of study I find myself repeatedly thanking God for such an exciting opportunity! Should God direct me (or any of the programs’ students) into the realm of textual criticism, the experience gained here will prove to be a valuable opportunity to prepare for a very narrow and technical field of study.
Even more than simply preparing students for the field, involvement in the program also opens up the doors to a number of academic opportunities. The Logos Conference at Oxford (an annual summer course) is a prime example of this, as the conference is limited to students who participate in the Scholars Initiative. If not for the Scholars Initiative, the opportunity to be met and be taught by academic experts in the fields of history, theology, and textual studies would not be as plentiful.
– Casey Olson
What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
Transcribing the minuscule (style of Greek writing during the Byzantine period) manuscripts is an enjoyable task. The idea of “research” may sound like a dry or unappealing idea. However, it is extremely rewarding and has been extremely beneficial to my education. There is no better way to learn about manuscripts and textual criticism than handling manuscripts and seeing them with your own eyes. Dealing directly with these manuscripts is an exciting opportunity and it is fascinating to think about the generations who have studied these passages in centuries past. Contributing to the discipline of Biblical Studies through our transcriptions and research is extremely rewarding.
– Elijah Romick
What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
If a professor gives a student the chance to work on an extracurricular project, I would highly suggest it. This project has given me an opportunity that few people could claim. I have enjoyed studying my field beyond what is required for class. It’s exciting and has a sense of importance attached to it. If students are doing what they love, then they should readily accept the opportunity to engage in independent study with their professors. Working on this project has made me more enthusiastic about my field of study.
– Nathan Holland