Today I have the privilege of presenting my interview with Jeffrey Weima. He is professor of New Testament at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has published two books, Neglected Endings: The Significance of the Pauline Letter Closings and An Annotated Bibliography of 1 and 2 Thessalonians (co-written with Stanley Porter), as well as contributed to academic journals.
First, tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Canada in a Dutch-immigrant, staunchly Christian home that shaped me more than I realized at the time. I started off my college studies in Radio Broadcasting but hesitantly felt a call to ministry. After graduating from Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I decided to pursue Ph.D. studies with Dr. Richard N. Longenecker at Toronto School of Theology. During my studies I also served as an interim pastor in vacant churches and taught half-time at Redeemer College, a Christian liberal-arts college in southern Ontario. In 1992 I was appointed at the ripe old age of 31 as Professor of New Testament at my alma mater, Calvin Theological Seminary, where I have been every since. The past 17 years I have been busy teaching, writing, preaching twice almost every Sunday, giving inspirational addresses to various groups, leading study tours of Paul’s missionary journeys to Turkey and Greece, teaching at various third-world seminaries, and leading two-day preaching seminars to pastors throughout the U.S. and Canada. I exercise regularly (run & weight resistance), and especially enjoy waterskiing and bare footing (Why not? Jesus walked on water!). My wife and I have been married 26 years and have four children (two married, one at Seattle Pacific University, and one still at home).
What motivated you to enter your field of study? What keeps you going?
I believe it is important to be ruthlessly honest about both your strengths and your weaknesses. This self-reflection led me to realize that I would best serve the church and the kingdom of God in a teaching ministry, though I spend a lot of time in the church as well. In fact, I feel especially called to try to bridge the gap between the academy and church. I am especially energized by students and others in the church who are eager to learn more about scripture and its relevancy for their lives and world. It is immensely satisfying and motivating to teach, preach or speak the truth of the gospel and then see how that message has power to transform people’s lives. As Paul puts it to the Corinthians, “the kingdom of God is not just a matter of talk but of power” (1 Cor 4:20).
What issues have you had to overcome along the way?
There are all kinds of issues that come into play in pursuing a Ph.D. degree: surviving financially as a married student with a growing family, having to move repeatedly to serve various churches as an interim pastor, the isolation that one feels at times working on your doctoral thesis. But the greatest challenge for me during my Ph.D. days was facing head on the challenges of classic liberalism as an evangelical and Reformed Christian. The issue was figuring out how to honestly evaluate and respond to a lot of data that challenged my convictions about scripture and especially its historicity. There is a fair amount of pressure in the academy to capitulate to the so-called “accepted” positions and agree to the claims of one’s professors. Even today there is a strong bias in the academy against evangelical Christians who are perceived as being fundamentalists who do lousy scholarship and have nothing worthy to say. Unfortunately, the fact that some evangelicals do, in fact, have such poor work does not help the cause. Nevertheless, this academic and spiritual struggle was a good one for me to go through. Jesus’ words about being “wise as serpents, but gentle as doves” were ones that I often reflected upon during these days of study.
What is your favorite passage of scripture?
Every part of scripture has its unique qualities and features that make it stimulating to study. Yet I continue to be impressed with the apostle Paul and especially his persuasive abilities. Within the Pauline corpus, I have found myself most often in the Thessalonian letters and 1 Corinthians. The Thessalonian letters illustrate well in a variety of ways the epistolary skills of the apostle. 1 Corinthians deals with many fascinating (and often embarrassing) issues which continue to be of great relevance for the church today.
Can you divulge any information on any new publication or project on which you are working?
I have been working for far too long on a commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians for the Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament series (BECNT). Happily, after writing some 700 double-spaced pages, it is almost finished. Next, I have long planned to write a user-friendly introduction to “Paul, the Letter Writer”—a volume for students and lay people that spells out not only the various epistolary conventions used by the apostle in his letters but also how the knowledge of how Paul employs these letter-writing conventions is significant for interpretation and yields a rich, exegetical payoff.
Where do you believe are the best places for a student to study the New Testament either as an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student?
There is no single answer to this question, as it will vary from person to person and their specific needs and abilities. Some of the key issues that one should consider include (these are listed generally in order of importance from the greatest to the least): a supervisor who will support you in every step of your doctoral program, the reputation of this supervisor, the reputation of the school, amount of scholarship support, the requirements of the program, family considerations (where spouse can find work, children can attend school, distance from relatives), whether the kind of place where you ultimately want to teach would judge your school of choice favorably, local church connections where you can get ministry experience along with your academic degree. Yet, as important as your choice of school may be, good work (that is, what you yourself ultimately write and produce) will always open the door to publication and a job.
Lastly, if there is one piece of advice you could give to someone entering New Testament scholarship, what would it be?
Know the difference between “shouting” and “whispering.” There are lots of subjects that the scriptures treat often and address clearly, and these are the things that we should “shout.” But there are also some subjects that the scriptures do not treat very often and, when they do, are not so clear, and these are the things that we should “whisper.” Faithfulness to scripture requires that we speak as loudly or quietly as the biblical evidence demands.
Thank you, Dr. Weima, for taking time out of your schedule to contribute to this series of interviews. I appreciate it greatly. To my readers, let me know what you think of this interview and who you would like to see featured here in the future. I will do what I can.