Young man leaning back in library chair

Transitioning to Doctoral Studies – Part 2

By Brian LePort

Brian LePort is a former Western Seminary student who is now working on a Ph.D. under the supervision of Drs. David Wenham and Craig A. Evans. Considering this, Transformed blog was interested in hearing from Brian about the transition from Th.M. to Ph.D.

In my previous entry I wrote about my experience as a Th.M. student at Western Seminary, explaining what I think I did right while taking note of some of the things I would do differently if I could go back in time. In this entry I’ll say a bit about what I’m doing now as a current Ph.D. student who went through the Th.M. program

I am in my third year at the University of Bristol. The affiliated Anglican college—Trinity College Bristol—is my facilitating institution. I am being supervised by Dr. David Wenham, an expert in the similarities and differences between Pauline Christianity and the traditions exhibited in our earliest Gospels, and Prof. Craig A. Evans, whose breadth of knowledge regarding formative Christianity and it’s relationship to Second Temple Judaism is beyond impressive, if not somewhat intimidating! These two have made a great team. Evans is like a human Google, always knowing what sources I need to explore for my research. Wenham is a writer’s best friend, pointing out small and large changes that need to be made in order to compose a good thesis.

My research is an exploration of John the Baptist’s prophecy regarding “the one who…is coming” who was predicted to baptize “in holy spirit” or “in holy spirit and fire” according to our sources (see Mk. 1:8/Mt. 3:11/Lk. 3:16). I am interested in this subject for two reasons: (1) John’s prophecy is vague. It doesn’t say “who” is expected – it only describes the figure by his baptism and other actions that appear related primarily to judgment. What sort of figures did Jews of the Second Temple Period associate with these characteristics? Why didn’t John name this figure instead of merely describing him? (2) Why did the early Jesus-Movement adopt the prophecy to describe Jesus? How did they use it to argue for Jesus as the Christ and why did they find it important to convince others that Jesus is the one to whom John was referring?

This research has implications for our understanding of formative Christianity in a few ways. First, it tells us about their Christology. If Jesus is “the one who…is coming”, and this prophecy described this figure as being a certain being who had the authority to do certain things, then what did the early Christians intend to say about Jesus? Second, it tells us about early Christian pneumatology. Why was there a need for a figure who would serve as a conduit for the outpouring of the Spirit? Third, it helps us better understand the relationship between John the Baptist’s Movement and that of Jesus, especially as the first seems to have faded while the second became stronger. Fourth, it should help us better understand how sayings by John, or Jesus, or others were preserved, relayed, reinterpreted, and reapplied over the first couple of centuries.

This subject became an interest of mine while I was a Th.M. student and I’m thankful to the faculty and staff there who helped me formulate my earliest thoughts on the matter!

 

Brian Leport is a Ph.D. Candidate in Religion and Theology at Trinity College Bristol, University of Bristol. In 2009 he earned a MA (Biblical and Theological Studies) and in 2012 a Th.M. (emphasis in New Testament) from Western Seminary.