Research for Recovering the Lost Legacy

The search for the lost legacy, for what happened to first century expectations for righteousness and behavior, was performed as part of the Doctor of Ministry program at Andover Newton Theological School. The three year program was supervised by professors Mark Heim and Robert Pazminio. The program included coursework at Andover Newton and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, joint classes with Christian and Jewish professors and students at Andover Newton and Hebrew College, and independent study with professors from Andover Newton and Gordon Conwell.

Several principles guided the research. The project was intentionally designed to be

  • multidisciplinary – combining perspectives and work from New and Old Testament biblical studies, Judaic studies, hermeneutics, theology, ethics, and church polity
  • applied rather than theoretical – focusing on the provisions of moral law, the scriptural elements which show their current applicability, and the ways that this understanding of moral law can be incorporated into current conflicts in our denominational life
  • integrative – drawing on existing ideas and practices from multiple sources, Christian and Jewish, to form a coherent perspective for Christians and their pastoral leaders
  • actionable – providing specific practical direction and tools for discussion in our current conflicts over moral law

The goal was to develop a theology of Jewish moral law as it applied to Gentile Christians in the first century. The steps involved uncovering the understanding of moral purity and law for Gentiles current at the time; finding the reflection of these ideas in Jesus, Paul, and the Pauline churches; and considering the place of this thinking in the theology of the Reformed tradition. The approaches that were used in the research included:

  • historical research – to understand topics including law for resident aliens and concepts of purity and impurity in early Judaism (Hebrew Bible); law for the children of Noah (Mishnah, Tosefta, and Babylonian Talmud); Pharisaic and early rabbinic traditions and disputation (Josephus, Mishnah, Talmuds, and early commentaries on scripture); and Jewish Messianic expectations (Dead Sea Scrolls’ Rule of the Community and Damascus Covenant).
  • exegesis from Greek – to interpret critical New Testament passages (Luke 1:5, 36; portions of Acts 15; 1 Cor. 4:17; Sir. 45:23-25) and portions of Acts 15 in Codex Bezae.
  • exegesis from translation – to uncover the teaching of Jesus and Paul’s letters on moral law
  • theological reflection – to integrate this perspective on law with Reformed theology (uses of law, role of ethics and conflict in formation/sanctification)

The joint Christian and Jewish courses with general and rabbinic students at Hebrew College were particularly helpful in evoking differences in the way the common base of scripture is interpreted. The three joint courses that were included in the program were:

  • Sacred texts from a Christian and Jewish perspective with Mark Burrows and Steve Copeland, a class which considered and compared alternative interpretations of scripture
  • Views of the Messianic Age in Judaism and Christianity with Mark Heim and Or Rose, which explored the different expectations of the identity and role of the Messiah
  • The Song of Songs with Greg Mobley and Nehemiah Polen, which considered the ways in which the nature of the relationship with God is viewed through the different understandings of the metaphor in the scripture.

Matching Christian and Jewish study partners allowed unexpected and nuanced insights to emerge. For example, the rabbinic perspective on the arguments between Jesus and the Pharisees over healing on the Sabbath showed those interactions in a very different light when compared with the decision in the Mekilta of Rabbi Ishmael.

Seminary courses which included research and writing assignments included:

  • The Jewish World of the New Testament with Sean McDonough of Gordon Conwell, which provided a detailed view of the groups operating within Judaism at the turn of the era and a solid introduction to the primary source materials available from the period
  • Historiography with Garth Rosell of Gordon Conwell, which introduced ways of writing religious history through the ages, including exposure to Greek, Roman, and New Testament writers of history as well as techniques of historical research
  • Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles with Simon Lee of Andover Newton, which offered a general overview of Paul’s career and letters as well as background for the different populations and cultures he served

There were also independent studies under the direction of professors from Andover Newton and Gordon Conwell which involved extensive reading and analysis of original source documents. These included:

  • Directed Study in New Testament with William Herzog of Andover Newton, which covered Paul’s background, education, and character and the understanding of law that he would have brought to his conversion experience from his background as a Pharisee
  • Reformed Implications of Paul’s Understanding of Law with John Jefferson Davis of Gordon Conwell to bring the understanding of law from the New Testament into a Reformed context and explore possible applications

The extensive libraries at Andover Newton and Gordon Conwell provided reference materials from the Christian and ancient secular perspectives, while the collection at Hebrew College provided ancient and modern material from the Jewish perspective. Worldcat.org made information about resources worldwide available, and the reference librarian at Andover Newton was able to obtain relevant materials from many sources and locations.

Portions of the research were presented to the New England Regional Meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2010 and 2011.

There were several assumptions made as foundation for the research. These included:

  • In the context of a covenant relationship between God and human beings, scripture is inspired by God, reveals God’s actions, and provides guidance for present living.
  • The teaching of Jesus and the apostles as portrayed in scripture is valid and relevant for all Christians.
  • The new covenant in Christ came into the context of existing covenants with the people of Israel.
  • The Book of Acts and the Pauline letters are genuine and reliable as a sources of information about the early church.

Because of the broad range of issues included, it was decided to define the boundaries of the project. The scope of the project specifically did not include research into:

  • the theory of natural law, what it contains, and the extent to which it is effective
  • the “new perspective” on Paul from late twentieth century scholars and its implications
  • the understandings of the early church after New Testament times
  • the reactions against Jews and the Mosaic law during the Reformation
  • integrating the conclusions of the study into the postmodern cultural context
  • specific provisions of the moral law within the general categories discussed
  • currently active disputes within the area of sexual ethics

The final result was validated under oral examination and accepted as part of the degree requirements at Andover Newton.