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Recap of the British New Testament Conference 2018

Last Friday morning at 6:45 am I boarded a train in SE London for a 1.5-hour journey to West London, where there lies a quaint, little town called Twickenham. There, at St Mary’s University, I was to meet a somewhat large gathering of biblical scholars attending the British New Testament Conference (BNTC). BNTC is arguably the highlight of most UK-based NT scholars’ summer conference calendars. But it is also well-attended by scholars from outside England, as every year we get a number of people making the trip over from the United States, not to mention Europe and further afield.

While other conferences can boast of impressive locations throughout Europe or exotic local foods and cultural experiences (that’s not an intentional jibe at English food, as we were provided tasty meals throughout the conference), BNTC stands apart for its combination of small size, big names, and exceptional papers. This is the conference that New Testament doctoral students look forward to eagerly every year, because here lifelong relationships are made with one’s peers, and with one’s idols. You might very easily find yourself, without introduction, seated next to Helen Bond at dinner and then chatting over a glass of wine with George van Kooten, and then forgetting everybody else’s name by the next morning.

Not only is the networking opportune, but if you are lucky (and brilliant) enough to get a paper accepted into one of the various sessions, you’ll be presenting your research in front of a highly specialized audience that includes the heavyweights of British biblical scholarship. Imagine presenting a paper in the Paul section, and having John Barclay ask you a question as Eddie Adams and Peter Oakes listen in (with scowls on their faces). Imagine speaking on Jubilees under the discerning gaze of Philip Alexander, as Susan Docherty slowly moves her head side to side, frowning. Or, if that’s too scary, imagine sitting in audience at one of these sessions thanking God that your paper wasn’t selected so that you wouldn’t have to answer any questions from anybody.

In the photo essay that follows, you’re going to get a small taste of what it was like to be at BNTC 2018 without any intimidation. I sadly wasn’t able to capture the entire event, but what is included below is some of the best of the event; at least the Paul seminar. And lest anyone reproach the editor for only attending the Paul session, there is a heavily enforced policy at BNTC that begs attendees, very politely, not to “seminar hop.” So I didn’t. (You can see other sessions by following the official hashtag #bntc2018 at Twitter and Facebook.) 


The grounds at St Mary’s are beautiful, especially on a sunny day, but if you are struggling to make the move across the pond to do a British PhD then they have great options for distance study.
Hyungtae Kim (University of Durham) presents a paper on “Rethinking the Context of Childbirth in Rom 8:19-23 in Light of its Allusion to Gen 3:16-19,” in which he employed solid intertextual work to make his case.
Matthew Sharp (University of Edinburgh) presents a paper on “The Voice of God in Rom 9.6-18: Paul, Plutarch, Pausanias (and others) on deriving a god’s character from his oracles,” which made good use of the Classics for a plausible comparative study.
A bench. Beneath a cornerstone, on the beautiful campus of St Mary’s. Zoom in for details.
Dorothee Bertschmann (College of the Resurrection, Mirfield) introducing the new Microsoft 11. No, actually, Dorothee co-leads the Paul seminar with Peter Oakes (University of Manchester).
Barbara Beyer (Humboldt Universität Berlin) presents a paper on “Circumcision and Baptism as Metaphors in Paul’s Letters,” which generated a very healthy discussion on the role of metaphor in Paul and how they affect interpretation.
Un Chan Jung (University of Durham) presents an fresh piece of research on “Paul’s Letter to Freed-Casual Labourers: Profiling the Thessalonian Believers in Light of the Roman Economy,” keeping his head as Peter Oakes and John Barclay attempt to pick apart his thesis.
Ethan Johnson (University of St. Andrews) presents a paper on “Sacrilege and Divine Anger: 1 Corinthians 5 and Greco-Roman Concepts of Pollution,” after which he admitted to reading copius amounts of Classical literature every afternoon during his doctoral research. We were all very impressed, and slightly bitter.
On the campus of St Mary’s sits the famous Strawberry Hill House, which is white (not red with white polkadots as we all expected); doesn’t sit on a hill of any sort; has no strawberries growing around it; and is actually a castle.
Tommy Wasserman (Ansgar Teologiske Høgskole, Norway) happened to be in the area in order to participate in a review panel on the Edito Critica Maior: Acts.
Nick Moore (Cranmer Theological College, Durham) enjoys some down time between sessions in the publishers hall with another attendee, thankfully in close proximity to the fire alarm.
The Wipf & Stock display. Some exciting new works are on offer from this prolific publisher.
Baker and the other publishers (Brill is to the right) were busy during the tea and coffee breaks. In the foreground, Tommy Wasserman attempts to engage Ian Paul, who is about to take a nap (we have photographic evidence #bntc2018). If anybody can identify all the people in this photo, I’ll send them a free book.
Grace Emmett (Kings College London) presents a paper titled “‘You Weakened Him’: Jesus’ Masculinity in Mary Magdalene.” She showed film clips of the movie, which portrays Jesus differently than other portrayals in the history of film. The beard on the screen belongs to Joaquin Phoenix.
Helen C. John (University of Exeter) drew upon her anthropological work in Owamboland, Nambia, to challenge the idea of magic in the NT. Her paper was entitled, “The Extended Person and Extended Personal Agency in New Testament Healing Narratives.”
Todd Still (Baylor University, George W. Truett Theological Seminary) was in town for lectures and a PhD viva at St Mary’s, so he decided to drop in on BNTC as well and give an astute paper on “Paul and ‘the Good’.” (We eagerly await the book.)
The wine reception was originally scheduled to be held inside, but the last of the summer sun was out, so we frolicked on the grass near the chapel and toasted our brilliance in a self-deprecating manner, and spoke of all the new peer-reviewed articles we’ve published this year alone.
Susan Docherty (Newman University) opens a review panel of Jamie P. Davies’s, “Paul among the Apocalypses?” with Crispin Fletcher-Louis and Elizabeth Shively.
Jamie Davies (Trinity College Bristol) presents the basic outline of his book, “Paul Among the Apocalypses?” during the panel review.
Crispin Fletcher-Louis during his critique of Jamie Davies’s book, which was forthright but gracious.
Elizabeth Shively (University of St Andrews) pulled no punches in her analysis of Jamie’s book, but had high compliments nonetheless.
Although the panel had its heated moments, the mood was jovial.
The inside of the chapel provided a striking visible reminder of why we gathered together again this year to talk about all things New Testament (and British).

If you missed out on this year’s BNTC, I hope these photographs have placated any residual disappointment you might have, as well as and whetted your appetite for next year’s conference. See you in Liverpool in 2019 and Durham in 2020.

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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