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Interview: Nijay Gupta discusses “Matthew and Mark Across Perspectives”

We continue our LNTS 2016 interview series with Nijay Gupta, discussing a volume he co-edited with Kristian Bendoraitis entitled Matthew and Mark Across Perspectives: Essays in Honour of Stephen C. Barton and William R. Telford

This set of essays is a fantastic resource for anybody working in NT, and especially Matthew and Mark. Throw your hat in the ring and help push the LNTS 2016 series to publication by ordering your pre-pub copy now. We’ll feature more interviews in the coming weeks, so stay tuned here at theLAB for more on the LNTS 2016 collection and enjoy the interview below.


What brought you and Kristian together to produce this collection of essays? And how did you go about selecting the admittedly excellent roster of contributors?

Kristian and I are good friends – we went through our doctoral program at Durham together, and our families are also close. One of the most exciting things to do in scholarship is work with your friends, so this was a treasured opportunity. As for the contributors, it was actually pretty easy, because many scholars were eager to honor Stephen Barton and Bill Telford, both of whom are charming and erudite NT scholars. We focused on people that knew one or both of the honorees well, whether as students or colleagues.

There is a notable concern in this work to carry forward the great work of theological interpretation that both Stephen and William made central to their work. How do you envision the biblical studies moving forwards beyond the sometimes deep divide between so-called theological and critical readings of the Gospels, in particular?

When we hatched the plan to honor both of these Durham scholars in one volume, what became immediately clear was that they operated with different methods when it comes to the Gospels. Stephen gravitates towards spiritual/theological readings and social-scientific analysis. Bill has long focused on traditio-historical criticism, but is fascinated by the reception of Jesus in film. So, we thought it appropriate to focus the festschrift on the value of many perspectives and methods for studying the Gospels. What unites Stephen and Bill is an endless fascination with the Gospels and with Jesus, and a willingness to look at the Gospels from many angles. What helps unite scholars beyond divides is simply a willingness to sit at a table of discussion together, open our eyes and ears, and have a great conversation. Stephen and Bill were wonderful models of this, at the Durham NT seminar, but of course in their scholarship as well.

What are the unique contributions of both Stephen Barton and William Telford, for our readers who might not be familiar with their work?

Stephen has done great work in interdisciplinary study, especially bringing the insights of theologians to bear on biblical criticism. But he is also much appreciated in Europe for being a master-editor—for example of the Cambridge Companion to the Gospels.

Bill is one of the world’s leading experts on the Gospel of Mark; there is hardly a soul out there that knows more about this text. But anyone who knows these two gentlemen will attest that they are just wonderful human beings—warm, good-natured, eager to learn from their students, humble, and witty.

You provide a helpful bibliography of works for both Stephen and William. If you had to recommend one work from each scholar, what stands out?

Gosh, that’s tough! Well, I think Stephen’s Spirituality of the Gospels is a classic—eminently readable and spiritually refreshing. Bill’s The Theology of the Gospel of Mark (NTT series) is outstanding. These are two “must have’s”.

Nijay, you contributed an excellent essay discussing the concepts of “spirituality” and “faith” in Matthew. Can you give us a quick teaser of your argument, including your helpful framework of three types of faith?

The NT language of “faith” (in Greek, pistis, pisteuo) is pervasive, but often not examined closely as a subject in its own right. I wanted to see how Matthew developed a rich theology of “faith” that contributed to his understanding of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. Pistis is a remarkably dynamic and elastic word, able to carry many different nuances. Sometimes, it has the sense of being a social virtue—like loyalty (“loyal faith”). True disciples, according to Matthew, ought to live lives of fidelity. This kind of faith amounts almost to an activity, a lifestyle of obedience.

Another way Matthew uses faith language pertains to what I call “seeking faith.” You have characters who are outside Israel, who know little or nothing about the Jewish “messiah,” but nevertheless have some kind of special insight into the significance of Jesus and his power. They are attracted to a Jesus who often repels people. They see something in him that others do not. Matthew teases the reader into figuring out what this is.

A third type of faith in Matthew is what I call “trusting faith.” This is the holistic faith (“trust”) that Jesus wants from his disciples. Jesus calls them “little faith-ers”—they are often too hesitant or “thick” to fully trust Jesus. Matthew’s Jesus challenges them to place their whole trust in him and follow him.

Seeing Matthew’s faith language with these categories in mind (however artificial they may be) reinforces the dynamic nature of faith language.

What is the value of this collection for a pastor or seminarian who is in the midst of preaching from Matthew or Mark?

My hope is that students of Matthew and Mark learn to use many tools in their study of the Gospels. This collection demonstrates how a variety of methods can open up fresh insight to texts that either we gloss over (assuming we fully understand it) or ones that we feel that are too opaque to understand.

What are you up to now in terms of teaching, preaching, and publishing?

I am teaching a course on hermeneutics in the spring (2019) called “The Use and Abuse of the Bible.” I also regularly teach Greek and supervise master’s and doctoral students. In terms of writing projects, I have a few things coming in 2019: a monograph with Eerdmans called Beyond Belief: Pauline Faith and the Divine-Human Agency Debate, a reference work called the Zondervan Critical Introduction to 1-2 Thessalonians, and a co-edited volume (with Scot McKnight) called The State of New Testament Studies. I am also part of a team (editors: Lynn Cohick, Scot McKnight, and myself) that has begun the process of revising and updating the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, but it will be a few years before that volume hits the shelves!

Thanks, Nijay!

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Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is the editor of Word by Word's Lecture Hall and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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Written by Tavis Bohlinger