Below is Part 1 of the handout I give them, the opening instructions and then the specific directions for each week’s paper.  (Part 2 will do the same for the rest of the semester’s weekly sessions)

So hey, go at it yourself!  But, well, I won’t be grading yours….

(NTHI =  my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings)



Reli 104


For basic instructions on Position Papers (purpose, grading, etc.) see the syllabus.

Please double-space your paper, in size 11 font, and submit it on “Assignments” before the recitation begins.

NOTE: On occasion you will want to make a reference to a passage of the New Testament.  There is a standard format for doing so.  When referring to a biblical passages, first give the name of the book (or an abbreviation of it), then the chapter number, followed by a colon, and then the verse number.  A semi-colon is used to separate one chapter and verse reference from another; a comma is used to separate two or more verses that occur within the same chapter; and a hyphen is used to indicate two or more verses that occur in sequence within the same chapter.  Thus Matt 2:7; 7:4, 9; 19:8-11 would refer to Matthew chapter 2 verse 7; chapter 7 verse 4; chapter 7 verse 9; and chapter 19 verses 8 to 11.


Recitation One: Getting Started

 Blessed are the neophytes!  For this your first position paper you have just one assignment.  List the three most important questions that you want to have answered in this course.  These should be things that you are most curious about with respect to the New Testament or early Christianity.

There are no dumb or wrong questions to ask here.  We’re simply interested in knowing what you’re interested in.


Recitation Two: Jesus and the Other “Divine Men”

Your first task for this position paper

is to read the following selections (found on Sakai under Resources) taken from David Cartlidge and David Dungan, Documents for the Study of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994).  These passages are all drawn from ancient sources that relate the words, deeds, and experiences attributed to persons who were thought to be divine by some people living in the Greco-Roman world.

Now read the Gospel according to Luke, chaps. 1-2; 4-5; 7-8; 21-24.

For your paper, you are to list three specific ways in which Jesus as portrayed in Luke is similar to other people who were thought to be divine. (Give exact chapter and verse references when referring to passages in Luke.)  Are there ways in which Jesus appears to be different from other divine men?  How do you explain these similarities and differences?


Recitation Three: Jesus According to Mark

Pretend that you know nothing about Jesus, that you’ve never heard any stories about him and have never read anything about him.  Now, in your complete ignorance, read Mark 1-6.

Write a brief position paper in which you describe the portrayal of Jesus in these six chapters.  According to Mark’s account (based only one what you read here), what was Jesus like?  What kind of person was he?  Who was he?

Resuming now your own knowledge of Jesus, how does Mark’s portrayal of Jesus (in the first six chapters) differ from the views of Jesus that you personally have held or heard?  What is different?  What is missing?


Recitation Four: The Resurrection of Jesus in Mark, Matthew, and Luke

As indicated in the textbook, the Gospel of Mark originally ended at 16:8 (later scribes appended an ending because the account seem to conclude too abruptly).  For this position paper you are to compare the descriptions of Jesus’ resurrection in Mark 16:1-8 with (a) Matthew 28:1-20 and (b) Luke 24:1-56 and Acts 1 (Acts is a continuation of the story by the same author who wrote Luke).

Read through each of the accounts carefully, a couple of times each.  Then do a careful comparison of them.  On what points do all the accounts agree with one another?  On what points do they differ?  Do any of the differences seem to you to be irreconcilable?  Look very carefully:  (As examples:  What do the women do once they learned Jesus has been raised?  Where are the disciples if/when they see Jesus?  Do they go anywhere else?  There are lots of other interesting contrasts.  Find them!)

How do you explain the similarities and differences between these narratives?  What is each account, in your opinion, trying to emphasize?


Recitation Five: Redaction Criticism of Luke

Review the method of studying the Gospels known as “redaction criticism” from NTHI ch. 7 and recall how this method was applied to the Gospel according to Matthew in NTHI ch. 8.

Now engage in a redactional study of your own, but this time on the Gospel of Luke (which, like Matthew, used Mark as one of its sources).  Your study is to be based on Luke’s account of Jesus’ Trial Before Pilate in 23:1-25 (cf. Mark 15:1-15).

To do the redactional study, you will first have to do the following: (a) indicate what Luke has added to the story he took from Mark; (b) indicate what Luke has omitted from the story; and (c) indicate what Luke has changed in the parts of the story that he and Mark both have.

Finally, based on all this information, comes the payoff: Discuss what the additions, omissions, and changes that you have found in Luke can tell us about his overarching concerns in his portrayal of Jesus.


Recitation Six: Jesus, Nicodemus, and the Samaritan Woman

Before doing your position paper, review the “comparative method” discussed at the beginning of NTHI, ch. 9.  For this paper you will be applying a comparative method not between Gospels, but between passages within the same Gospel.

Read carefully the discussions that Jesus has with Nicodemus in John 3 and with the Samaritan woman in John 4.   Then engage in a comparative analysis of the two passages.  That is to say, identify all of the things that make the two accounts similar and all of the things that make them different.

Taken together, what do these two passages, found only in John, indicate about the identity of Jesus (who was he?) and his theological importance (what role does he play in human salvation?)?  Are these portrayals of Jesus unique to the Fourth Gospel, or do you also find them in the other Gospels we have studied to this point?


Recitation Seven: The Gospel of Peter and the Synoptic Gospels

Read through the Gospel of Peter (in The New Testament and Other Christian Writings) carefully, several times, noting its prominent themes.  Now reread the passion narratives of Matthew 27-28, Mark 14-15, and Luke 23-24.  What specific things does the Gospel of Peter have in common with these canonical accounts of Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection?  What is different about it?  Based on your analysis of these similarities and differences, would you say that the Gospel of Peter is literarily dependent on one or more of the others?  That is, do you think that the Gospel of Peter used any (or all) of these accounts as a source for its account?  Or, conversely, does it seem to you that one or more of these accounts used the Gospel of Peter for one of its sources?   What evidence would you cite in support of your views?

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2022-10-21T12:40:28-04:00October 16th, 2022|Christianity in the Classroom, Teaching Christianity|

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