Today I have the honor of presenting you with an interview with Dr. Richard Bauckham. He was a professor at the University of St. Andrews until 2007, when he retired to do further research. Some of his titles include Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, 2 Peter and Jude (Word Biblical Commentary), and Jesus and the God of Israel. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to present this interview to you, so I won’t take any more time. Please enjoy!
First, tell us a little about yourself.
Two years ago I took early retirement (in the UK we have a statutory retiring age of 65 and in universities one must retire at that age; so you can tell that I’m younger than 65) from the position of Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and moved to Cambridge, England. I retired from my post, but not in order to stop working. Rather I’m concentrating on research and writing (and doing a little teaching at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, where I am Senior Scholar). I was in St Andrews for 15 years, and before that spent 15 years at the University of Manchester, where I taught Historical and Contemporary Theology. I grew up in north London. The fact that my teaching, research and publications range widely across theology and biblical studies derives, partly at least, from finding myself interested in so many things and always wanting to research them for myself, rather than being content to receive the received views. I have always understood my theological and biblical work as a vocation from God. I’m an Anglican, not married, have no children but a lot of books. I shall be setting up a personal website fairly soon, where information about my publications and so forth will be available,
What is your favorite passage of scripture?
I don’t think I have a single favourite passage. I got to like James a lot when I worked on it. The stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs in Genesis have long intrigued me, especially the very varied stories of their encounters with God. In a period of illness when I couldn’t work for most of a year I made Psalm 62 a regular focus of prayer.
Can you divulge any information on any new publication or project on which you are working?
I have almost finished a book that will probably be called:
Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation.
I shall soon be writing Jesus: A Very Short Introduction for Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series.
I am also planning a short sequel to Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.
With my St Andrews colleague Jim Davila, I am editing a project ‘More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha’ which will result in two large volumes, like J H Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, of more texts of that kind. (For a description of the project, see the St Andrews University website.).
Some of your readers will be disappointed I’ve not listed NT Christology or John’s Gospel here: those projects are still very much in view, but not active just now.
If there is one author/theologian that you believe everyone should read, who is it?
Maybe not everyone, but everyone with a serious interest in theology, should read some of Jürgen Moltmann’s work. As long as I’ve been reading theology, I have found his work the most stimulating and worth engaging with, even when I disagree. He has influenced my thinking a lot.
All children should read Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books, and all parents should read them to their children.
What do you think are the biggest problems facing New Testament scholarship today?
A difficult question. One problem is that there is too much being published and people are therefore tempted to be very specialist in order to keep up with the literature in their field. PhDs usually have to be quite narrowly focused, but it is imperative that scholars then broaden their interests and fields of research. One cannot get far in understanding a topic by isolating it from its wider context, and one can easily get one’s specialist topic out of proportion if one knows nothing else. Another aspect of over-specialization is the proliferation of methodologies and approaches that seem to go off in different directions quite independently of each other. Many of them are useful but not in isolation. There is a natural tendency for people to want small pools in which they can be big fish, but that doesn’t produce good scholarship.
I don’t know whether those are the biggest problems. There are lots of others!
What areas do you think New Testament scholars will have to focus on in the next ten years?
I notice a growing focus on the second century – which sounds like abandoning the NT, but I think it is where the issues of the nature of early Christianity are increasingly being contested. Questions such as how diverse was Christianity in the second century, whether one can speak of something like a mainstream version of the faith or only of many legitimate versions, react back onto how we read the NT.
I have come to the conclusion that the form-critical approach to the Gospels was almost entirely a mistake. If so (and I sense there are a good many people coming to agree with me) that pulls the rug out from under a lot of what has been done in Gospels studies for a century. There is a huge amount of work to be done on a fresh understanding of how the Gospels came about.
Where do you believe are the best places for a student to study the New Testament either as an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student?
I’ve advised individuals about the UK scene, but I wouldn’t want to make a general, public statement because singling out some institutions is bound to be unfair to others. For doctoral students, key features to look for are: a supervisor suitable for you and your topic, and a good community of other NT doctoral students. For undergraduates, check the syllabuses carefully: they can vary enormously, and you want to see you’re going to get the sorts of courses and options you want.
Lastly, if there is one piece of advice you could give to someone entering New Testament scholarship, what would it be?
If you mean someone embarking on becoming a NT scholar, I would say: beware of careerism. The world of academic theology being what it is, I know that young scholars must think about how they can get jobs, but I’d say: Please try not to let that completely dominate your work. If you work only to get on, the work will become a dreary chore. If you wanted to do NT scholarship out of love of God and desire to serve, and out of excited interest in the NT, keep those motives in view. Pray about your work. Take an interest in other students’ projects as well as your own.
My thanks go out to Dr. Bauckham for taking time on this interview for such a blogger as me. I can’t possibly express my appreciation enough. To those who may be interested in learning more about Jürgen Moltmann, here is a video where Dr. Bauckham discusses Moltmann. Remember, let me know what scholars you would like to see featured here and I will do what I can to make that happen.