Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Durham Tradition and its Exegetes-- an Encomium

We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, especially when we are dealing with the life of the mind. And of course there have been many great schools of Christian thought and of Christian scholarship, but when it comes to Biblical Interpretation there are few if any institutions from the 19th century until now that can claim to have had a grander series of exegetes of the New Testament than the University of Durham, the resting place of the Venerable Bede and Cuthbert and many after them.

My own personal interest in the Durham exegetes began in the 1970s when I was doing my divinity degree in Massachusetts and kept running into the works of various of these scholars over and over again, scholars that my teachers kept referring to as the authorities on this or that or the other NT subject. It was one of the things that led me to study at Durham where I had the privilege of studying under C.K. Barrett, C.E.B. Cranfield, John Rogerson, T.H.L. Parker, Stephen Sykes and others. But before any of these scholars of the 1950s-1980s darkened the doors of Durham, there was B.F. Wescott, there was the amazing J.B. Lightfoot, there was Alfred Plummer, there was H.E.W Turner, and after my time at Durham there has been J.D.G. Dunn and now John Barclay in the Lightfoot Chair in the theology department. There are other names I could gladly mention as well. My point is this-- Good exegetes are not born, they are made and molded, and the process is more helpful and less painful if you are learning from the best.

If it is true that you become what you admire, then there can be little doubt of the great debt I owe to all of these persons whom I have named, and whose works I continue to read with profit long after my time in Durham, and long after many of these men have retired or died. There is a living legacy of scholarship nurtured over generations in the same place which like a clear stream which continues to have it specific places where fish can best be caught, continues to be a place to which I return again and again with profit to get clear answers, intellectual stimulus, spiritual succour, and food for thought.

Hail to Durham whose Norman Cathderal will reach its second millennium birthday perhaps in my son's lifetime, and hail to its new bishop-- my friend Tom Wright who himself now carries forward the wonderful rich tradition of Durham exegetes. To all of us who stand in this tradition I bring reminder of the words of J. Bengel, whom Wesley was wont to quote in his own notable Notes on the NT--- "apply the whole of the text to yourself, apply the whole of yourself to the text." I am proud to be a Durhamite.

10 comments:

James Petticrew said...

I'm interested was James Dunn there when you studied or is there a reason for his omission from the list of scholars? You came to the UK to study, I came to the US, what a strange world. I think Joel Green got the better deal because he got to study in God's country :-)

James Petticrew

Ben Witherington said...

Hi James:
Actually I do mention Dunn in that post--- you simply missed it. Nope Dunn came well after my time as Barrett's replacement. As for God's country, actually I got the better if it than Joel. I get to play golf at St. Andrews since I am on their doctoral faculty.
Blessings,
Ben

ben said...

Dr. Ben,
If you are ever looking for a fourth for your St. Andrews golf trip, I am in Asheville NC, your homestate. Help a pastor out...:)

James Petticrew said...

My failing, I'm a West Coast man when it comes to Scotland so can't speak to the relative merits of Aberdeen and St Andrews, we do plan to return to plant a church in Edinburgh next year.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Ben Thomas:

Aye laddie, ye may come a golfin with me at St. Andrews for only a few Scottish pounds (with Jack's picture on them no less), but ye have some luvly courses near ye, including one where I used to pastor at East Flat Rock UMC in Hendersonville. I miss the becks and birns of N.C.

Bless your blog,
May it never be a bog,

Ben W.

James Petticrew said...

I think I may be the only one qualified at Asbury to use a Scottish accent!

Clay Knick said...

Ben,

Thanks for sharing what you
learned in Durham (UK).

I love going to the "other"
Durham and doing my continuing
ed there at the Divinity School.
Even though I am a Tar Heel
fan. I love the Carolina Blue.

Blessings,

Clay

Rev. Clay Knick
Word Merchant

ConradGempf said...

Fair enough -- hail Durham!

It should be said though, that the willingness to take the text seriously and openness to other scholarship, even if it's evangelical, is a regular feature of most of British academia and contrasts with universities in both the States and Germany, where, to caricature, you only take seriously the guys with whom you broadly agree.

Excellence can pop up all over these Isles. To my mind the three towering giants are -- FF Bruce in Manchester (I'd think it'd be wrong to claim him for Aberdeen, though I'm tempted), IH Marshall in Aberdeen, and Donald Guthrie here at London Bible College (now London School of Theology). The willingness of British non-evangelicals to recognize the scholarship of such guys and factor their work into their own has kept some of the folks you mentioned 'honest'.

So hail Durham and all her sisters as well.

Ben Witherington said...

You are so right Conrad, and I was blessed to get to spend a bit of time with each of those three folks you mention at Tyndale House.

Blessings on the good work at LST as well--- and by the way--- your blog is colorful!

Ben

Rob said...

Thanks for your tribute to Durham. I'm applying to do my third degree there so I completely agree with you!!! (Alas, not in theology I might add).