I’ve got a pretty cool interview for everyone today. It’s with Daniel Wallace. Yes, the guy who wrote the book that you used to learn intermediate Greek. He was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions I sent his way late last week. It’s been tough not posting this early, but I managed to hold out until this appointed time.
Anyway, for those of you who do not know much about Dan Wallace, he is professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has written many articles for publications such as JETS, Christianity Today, NTS, and BBR. Some of his books include Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, NET Bible (Senior New Testament editor), Reinventing Jesus (co-author), Dethroning Jesus (co-author), Granville Sharp’s Canon and Its Kin, and several others.
In addition to this, Dr. Wallace is also Executive Director for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. Dr. Wallace touches on what they do there in the interview. I highly recommend going to their website and learning more (and consider contributing in some way to their important work). Now, on to the interview.
First, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a fourth-generation Californian. Grew up in Newport Beach as a surf bum (not board surfing, just body surfing; I couldn’t afford a board). Been married for more than 35 years and it’s getting sweeter every year. My wife, Pati, is a marvel. We have four grown sons, two beagles, and one Russian Blue cat. We like the beagles.
I made a radical commitment of my life to Christ at age 16. I decided then to prepare for full-time Christian ministry. I thought I was going to be a pastor. I actually did pastor for a year and a half before I went to Dallas Seminary for my master’s degree, and have done pulpit supply and interim pastoring since. But the Lord had different plans for my life. He led me into an academic ministry. I’ve been teaching at graduate schools for more than 27 years now. But I see myself as a churchman first. Seminaries only exist to help the Church, God’s program for this age. One way I give back to the Church is to speak at churches throughout the country on weekends. Another way is to mentor a select number of students each year, preparing them for doctoral studies. I spend over 100 hundred hours each year with three or four students, pouring my life into them. This has been my single greatest joy in my academic career.
What motivated you to enter your field of study? What keeps you going?
When I was 16, after making that commitment to Christ, I would purchase New Testaments for 25 cents apiece from an Arian (someone who does not believe in the deity of Christ) in southern California. I would then drive up and down Coast Highway, picking up hitch-hikers, sharing the gospel, and giving them a NT. The Arian and I had many excellent talks. But he challenged my faith; I wanted to know if I had made the right decision to give my life wholly to Christ. I wanted to know if he really was God in the flesh. So, I started learning Greek in college to know what the NT said about him. I can honestly say that far and away the largest motivation for me to study Greek has been my devotion to Jesus Christ and my questions about who he really is.
What keeps me going? We have but one life to live. We can sleep when we get to heaven. Right now, there is much work to be done. I have no hobbies (though I do indulge in watching the History Channel and reruns of Twilight Zone every night). Studying the NT, examining and discovering NT manuscripts—these are my hobbies. But I spend a great deal of time with my family, even though all of our boys are grown.
Can you divulge any information on any new publication or project on which you are working?
I’m under contract for half a dozen books right now. Some are academic; others are for a general audience. Some deal with learning Greek and studying ancient Christian sources; others discuss how we can know what the historical Jesus was like. Sorry I can’t be more specific than that right now. But I can tell you that they involve textual criticism, canonicity, Apostolic Fathers, and the historical Jesus. I’m also working on three commentaries, which won’t be finished for a couple of decades most likely.
In the same strain, what is the status of the revision to Blass-Debrunner-Funk? Is there still hope for this to come out?
It’s dead in the water. Robert Funk died, then Daryl Schmidt died. These were the two key men for the BDF revision. We are trying to get it resurrected in the next few years, and finish the project. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
What about your Exegetical Syntax? I’ve heard rumors of a new edition. Is there any credibility to that? If so, what should we expect in the new edition?
It’s still a ways off. But the new edition will have a comprehensive syntax of the Apostolic Fathers with hundreds of references to the AF, and will bring up to speed what has happened in Greek grammatical studies in the last fifteen years. I recently completed a Workbook for the grammar with Grant Edwards. It’s really a great tool that helps students to master syntax, really master it. They learn how to translate, syntactically analyze, and think through exegetical implications of several key NT passages. Those professors who have used it have found that their students know Greek syntax two or three times better than previous students who didn’t use the Workbook. Last year, Zondervan also published New Testament Greek Syntax Laminated Sheet. It’s a six-page laminated insert for a three-ring binder. It covers all the basics of Greek syntax and is extremely helpful in jogging one’s memory of the myriad of syntactical categories.
Please, tell us about some of the current work being done by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts? What expeditions are you planning for the near future?
CSNTM has its own website, www.csntm.org. There, we have posted nearly 100,000 images of Greek NT manuscripts that we have photographed. Begun in 2002 as a non-profit organization, CSNTM is committed to the digital preservation of all Greek NT MSS. We went to ten different countries in 2008–09, over a period of 40 weeks. To date, we have discovered scores of MSS. The institute in Muenster, Germany, which catalogs all NT MSS, is working with us to get these new discoveries catalogued.
We will be going to eastern Europe this spring. I can’t tell you where yet, because we’re still in negotiations. But the expeditions look to be very promising.
Also, as of yesterday (Friday, Feb 12), we received our custom-made Graz Traveler’s Conservation Copy Stand. This was specially made for CSNTM to help us in photographing manuscripts. It does the job more efficiently and in a way that is more aesthetically pleasing than we could do before. The cost for us to photograph one Greek NT manuscript is now reduced to $2200 (before the Copy Stand, it was $3300). We are hoping to raise the funds for a second one, too (they cost $13,500!). So, if any of your readers wants to contribute to a worthy tax-deductible project, we won’t turn them away. Have them contact me at email@example.com.
What do you think are the biggest problems facing New Testament Greek scholars today? What areas do you think New Testament Greek scholars will have to focus on in the next ten years?
Perhaps the biggest problem is a philosophical shift in how western society thinks. Postmodernism has changed our worldview in significant ways. Some of these are bad, some are good. One of the problems with postmodernism is that it tends not to be self-critical. Many postmodern scholars regard every viewpoint as equally possible—except the evangelical viewpoint. This is affecting not only the academy, not only the church, but all of society. A new wave of frontal attacks on evangelicalism is taking place, and to such a degree that what used to be viewed as good, moral, ethical values are now treated as downright evil. Some atheists are saying that religion—no matter its particular stripes—is inherently evil. Others are decrying the exclusivistic claims that marriage is to be reserved for heterosexual relations. Pro-life advocates are getting pounded on as if their view is the worst atrocity ever foisted upon civilization. And Jesus, of course, is viewed as not unique, not the Son of God, just someone ahead of his time.
There are also key areas in NT study that are heating up, issues that need to be honestly examined in the next couple of decades by all sides. Among these are the relation of the Apostolic Fathers to the NT (in terms of quotations from the NT, emerging canon consciousness, ecclesiological developments, the Fathers’ view of grace, and whether the AF and the NT reflect the earliest form of Christianity or just that form that became the dominant one).
Another area is pneumatology: What does the NT really say about the Holy Spirit? As strange as it may sound, work in Second Temple Judaism is key here.
A third area is textual criticism. This has emerged as one of the most hotly debated NT topics in recent years. There are those who say we can’t get back to the autographs—the wording of the original NT documents. But some new technologies, along with a better collection of the data (e.g., through digital photographs, made accessible to scholars through the Internet), are helping to get us through this impasse.
Finally, the historical Jesus, Christology, and soteriology are becoming major areas once again. Some genuine breakthroughs in historical Jesus studies are taking place right now, and with it, a fresh look at what Jesus taught about himself, God, social activism, salvation, etc.
Where do you believe are the best places for a student to study New Testament Greek either as an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student?
It depends on several factors. But in broad strokes, the NT department in any graduate school that doesn’t have a Synoptic Gospels scholar in its ranks is not worth its salt. And those schools that require very little Greek are making themselves irrelevant from the get-go. Further, any department or scholar that is closed-minded to the possibility of God acting in history has become politically incorrect in the worst sort of way: they foist modern western ways of thinking on all cultures of all times. Though such scholars may call themselves ‘liberal,’ they are nothing of the sort. They are simply fundamentalist on the left side of the theological aisle.
As for Dallas Seminary (where I teach), we have so much breadth and depth in the NT department that it’s truly astounding: Members of the Society of New Testament Studies, a Humboldt scholar, people who have published extensively, and scholars who are equally at home in the church and the academy. We have ten full-time faculty members who have a combined total of eleven PhDs. There are four who wrote their dissertations in Greek grammar, three who wrote in the Synoptics, one who wrote in Greco-Roman backgrounds, two who wrote on Paul, etc.
Lastly, if there is one piece of advice you could give to someone entering New Testament Greek scholarship, what would it be?
Work on your languages hard. Without a solid foundation in Greek and Hebrew—and for doctoral students—German and French and/or Latin, Coptic, and Syriac—you can’t have an influence on biblical studies. It’s imperative that you take language acquisition and maintenance very, very seriously.
Thank you, Dr. Wallace, for this excellent interview. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. I sincerely hope that the revision to BDF does come about. I think it would make such an incredible tool (it already is, but even more so with updates).
To my readers: What did you like about this interview? What sticks out to you? Who would you like to see interviewed in the future?