Ancient History

Becoming Doctors of the Church

I feel extremely blessed to be doing further studies at Northern Seminary under Dr. Scot McKnight. For friends, family and members of my church, I’m excited to share some glimpses along the way into what I’m learning.

I’m part of a new, one-of-a-kind Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program with a historical focus on the Jewish background of the New Testament. Most DMin programs tend to be focused more on sociology of leadership and the dynamics of church ministry today. Research projects tend to have students digging solely into the current day best-practices and leadership philosophies for churches and pastors.

McKnight is charting new waters with this program, giving pastors like myself a chance to explore the social-historical-cultural world behind the New Testament — the fascinating world of Second Temple Judaism (400 BC – 70AD) — in order to bring rich contextual discoveries and realities to our current day church teaching and experience.

Instead of reading our modern assumptions and perspectives back into the faith of Jesus and the Apostles and the early church, we are learning about the world that shaped the faith, teaching and spiritual practices of the early Jesus movement. What ancient practices have we lost through the ages that our churches would benefit from if recovered? How can a richer grasp of the historical context of the NT enliven a preacher’s sermons today?

The final Research Project for the DMin combines Jewish literature, the New Testament literature (Jesus, Paul, Peter, John), with a view toward local church ministry. Students may, for instance, choose a project focusing on families in the local church in light of both how family life occurred in the Jewish context and how that helps frame what Jesus or Paul or Peter or John teach about family life. Or, another example might be studying the significance of Table Fellowship in the ancient world and early church, and how table fellowship might be retooled and utilized in church life today.

Let me demonstrate how unique this program is compared to others. In most Doctor of Ministry program there’s usually a course entitled “Becoming Doctors of the Church”, and (I’m guessing) typically explores the best practices of and significant challenges facing today’s teachers and preachers in the church. I am just beginning the coursework for own unique version of this course, and wanted to share the description, requirements and reading list below (for those who are interested).

In our version of “Becoming Doctors of the Church” we will research what learning, teaching, education, reading, etc. looked like in the ancient world of Judaism, Jesus and the early church. Here’s the syllabus (and please know that what may sound painfully boring to you made my heart leapt with excitement when I first read about this next course and reading assignments):


When it comes to the Scriptures, who is the expert and what should that mean for the church today?  By considering the influence of scribes and prophets during Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity and the dialectical relationship between texts and oracles, we are going to study the role of the teacher in New Testament times.  In particular, our study will include a historical description of the scribe, their role in early Judaism, their relationship with Jesus, and their influence in the early church.  We will also consider the silence of the prophetic voice during the interbiblical period, the re-emergence of the prophet in the ministries of John and Jesus, and the role of the prophet in early Christianity.  Questions regarding literacy in the ancient world, the privileging of texts in Judaism and Christianity, and the emergence of expert interpreters as guardians of oral tradition will help us determine the differences and similarities between the teacher then and now.


  1. Describe the roles of scribes and prophets during the Second Temple period.
  2. Compare the level of literacy among different populations of Jews and Christians during the Second Temple period.
  3. Determine the influence of texts in an aural culture.
  4. Locate Jesus within the prophetic and scribal traditions.
  5. Describe the ways the apostle Paul established the importance of teaching the Scriptures in his churches.
  6. Compare the challenges of teaching illiterate Jews and Christians during the Second Temple period to those who are biblically illiterate today.
  7. Determine to what extent the prophetic voice exists today.
  8. Describe what it means to be an expert in the Scriptures today.


In preparation for the seminar, after reading the required textbooks, write a 1,200 word essay answering each of the following questions (3,600 words total):

1.  By comparing and contrasting the role and influence of the scribe and the prophet during the Second Temple period, to what extent was Judaism a “religion of the book”?

2.  Did Jesus act more like a scribe or a prophet (or both)?

3.  After describing the “teachers” in Paul’s churches, to what extent did literacy play a role in the spiritual development of Paul’s converts?

During the seminar, be prepared to share your research and participate in the discussion as we consider the following topics:

January 15 – The role of scribes and prophets in Second Temple Judaism

January 16 – Literacy in the days of Jesus and Paul

January 17 – The teaching/preaching ministry of Jesus

January 18 – Paul, leadership, and the early church

January 19 – Teachers, preachers, biblical illiteracy, and the church today

After the seminar, you will write for this course a 6,000 word research paper on the following question: “In light of the role of scribes and prophets in Jesus’ and Paul’s day, when it comes to the Scriptures, who is the expert and what should that mean for the church today?”

REQUIRED READING (please read in the following order)

Snyder, H. Gregory.  Teachers and Texts in the Ancient World:  Philosophers, Jews and Christians.  London and New York:  Routledge, 2000. 352 pp.; $45.95; ISBN: 978-0415217668

Horsley, Richard A.  Scribes, Visionaries, and the Politics of Second Temple Judea.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox, 2007. 224 pp.; $30.00; ISBN: 978-0664229917

Keith, Chris.  Jesus Against the Scribal Elite:  The Origins of the Conflict.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Academic, 2014. 208 p.; $24.00; ISBN: 978-0801039881

Aune, David E.  Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983. 522 pp.; $49.50; ISBN: 978-0802806352

McKnight, Scot.  Sermon on the Mount.  The Story of God Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III & Scot McKnight.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing, 2013. 320 pp.; $29.99; ISBN: 978-0310327134

Clarke, Andrew D.  A Pauline Theology of Church Leadership.  Library of New Testament Studies, ed. Mark Goodacre.  London:  T&T Clark, 2008. 220 pp.; $39.93; ISBN: 978-0567060136

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