New Testament/Early Christianity

This field of study is meant for students who want to pursue graduate studies at the M.A. and Ph.D. levels with a primary focus on the texts of the New Testament and other Christian writings of the first through fourth centuries c.e. Attention is also devoted to the religious, social, and political aspects of the development of Christianity in this period with to the Hellenistic, Roman, and Jewish contexts and to both literary and material cultures. Ability to work with ancient texts in their original language and with reference to their historical location is a key component of the graduate program. Consideration of the diversity of early Christianity, attention to canonical and non-canonical texts, and hermeneutical, theological and historiographical issues are also important aspects of this field of study.

New Testament Studies at McGill

In mid-century Germany, Ernst Käsemann protested the alienation of historical criticism and theological exegesis:

"[t]he tension between Gospel and Scripture is the indispensable presupposition of all theological interpretation and the inner meaning of those problems of Scripture of which historical criticism takes account. Whatever motive may have caused the taking over of historical criticism into the exegetical sphere, any retreat from this criticism in the present must necessarily make the problems of Scripture more obscure, reduce the diverse utterances of Scripture to a single level, remove the tension of Gospel and Scripture and endanger the proper historical character of revelation. ...In [historical criticism’s] attainment of independence this connection has been forgotten, the servant function has become the final objective of exegesis… The validity of this process must be questioned."

Käsemann Ernst. New Testament Questions of Today. [German: 1957, 1962] London: S.C.M., 1969. 9-10.

At McGill University that necessary tension between candid historical criticism of the earliest Christian texts and their appropriation in theological engagement has been vigorously professed. The first regularly-appointed professor in New Testament Language and Literature in the Faculty of Divinity was George Bradford Caird (1950-1959), who served simultaneously as the Principal of the United Theological College. Trained in Latin and Greek at Peterhouse, Cambridge and in Theology at Mansfield College, Oxford, Caird taught Old (sic) Testament Language and Literature at St. Stephen's College, Edmonton, before coming to Montreal. From McGill he returned to Oxford, eventually becoming Principal of Mansfield College, a position he reluctantly left to become Dean Ireland's Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture in the University of Oxford.

Caird’s career was characterized by deep respect for the complex integrity of Scripture and for each of its languages. Among many contributions to more strictly New Testament scholarship, it is thus perhaps Caird’s The Language and Imagery of the Bible (1980) for which he is best remembered. Caird did not live to complete his masterful New Testament Theology, posthumously edited and completed by Lincoln Hurst (1994), in which Caird imagined the unity and diversity of New Testament theology as that of "an apostolic conference on faith and order," neither monotonous nor chaotic.

Continuity and healthy dialogue in New Testament Studies were ensured by the appointment in 1956 of John C. Kirby and by the succession of George Johnston in 1959 to Caird’s position, Kirby serving until 1979 and Johnston until 1981. Johnston was trained in Glasgow and Cambridge. His international reputation rested especially on his work on John’s Gospel (notably, The Spirit-Paraclete in the Gospel of John (1970)), but his academic and pastoral career cohered around the tension between Spirit and Scripture within the life of the Church (from The Doctrine of the Church in the New Testament (1943) to Discovering Discipleship (1983) and Opening the Scriptures (1992)). Johnston served as Dean of the Faculty of Religious Studies (1970-1975), as a Governor of the University (1971-1975) and, in his turn, as Principal of the United Theological College.

Appointment of Frederik Wisse in 1980 and of Nicholas Thomas Wright the next year maintained the strong duality of church engagement and uncompromising scholarship. After early formation in Engineering in the Netherlands, Fred Wisse pursued theological studies at Calvin College, Michigan, and doctoral research in Claremont, California. His primary expertise was in New Testament textual criticism, as a key proponent of the Claremont Profile Method for classifying manuscripts. Wisse also built a significant research programme in Coptic literature, from the Nag Hammadi codices to the on-going international project editing and translating the works of Shenoute “the Great.”

N.T. “Tom” Wright served at McGill from 1981-1986 at an important juncture in his own development and in that of the Faculty, before returning to the U.K. and a series of posts deliberately spanning Church and Academy. Wright’s output in Pauline studies, Historical Jesus Research and more popular apologetics has been too massively influential to need summary here.

In 1988 the Faculty appointed Ian H. Henderson, trained in classics (Manitoba), theology (St. Andrews), Judaism and Christian origins (McMaster) and New Testament (Oxford). His research and teaching begin from issues in Gospels literature and Historical Jesus Research, and in the study of Greco-Roman religious rhetorics (Jesus, Rhetoric and Law (1996)).

Following Wisse’s retirement in 2004, Ellen Bradshaw Aitken was appointed in the broadened area of Early Christian History and Literature. From 2007 Aitken served in addition as Dean of the Faculty of Religious Studies until her untimely death in 2014. (In 2014-2015 Henderson served as interim Dean.) Aitken was trained in classics and in folklore studies at Harvard University (BA, ThD), and taught on the faculty of The Divinity School. Along the way she found theological education in St. Andrews, Scotland, and at the University of the South (DMin). Her research investigated the relationship between Greco-Roman hero cults and ancient Christian attempts to make sense of Jesus (Jesus’ Death in Early Christian Memory (2004); her work on Philostratus with Jennifer Berenson Maclean, 2001, 2003), intentionally crossing boundaries between classics and New Testament studies, history of religions and theology.

Most recently, the School of Religious Studies together with the Department of History and Classical Studies has recruited Heidi Wendt to a joint position, even more explicitly linking early Christian studies with studies of the Greco-Roman world. Wendt completed an MA in Classics and PhD in Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean at Brown University, after an MTS in New Testament and Christian Origins at Harvard Divinity School. Before coming to McGill she taught New Testament and Christian Origins at Wright State University and Wesleyan University. Her research focuses on situating Jewish and Christian actors and phenomena in their Greco-Roman milieu (At the Temple Gates: The Religion of Freelance Experts in the Roman Empire (2016)).


Ian Henderson

Fields of interest: New Testament/ Early Christianity.
Teaching: Gospels, Historical Jesus Research, New Testament Exegesis; Early Christianity.
Research interests: Historical Jesus and Gospel Traditions; Greco-Roman and Modern, Rhetorical Theory and Poetics; Religious Discourse in the Greco-Roman World; Synoptic Literary Criticism.

Heidi Wendt

Fields of interest: Greco-Roman World, a joint appointment with the Department of History and Classical Studies

MA Requirements

In addition to the published admission requirements for the M.A. in the Faculty of Religious Studies, students are required to show proficiency in an ancient language, normally ancient Greek (classical or Koine), assessed in terms of their having acquired at least 6 credits in the language at the undergraduate level. Prior study of other ancient languages (especially biblical Hebrew and Latin) is also an asset, but is not required. Students will also normally be required to show evidence of having taken basic course work at the undergraduate level in the historical period of the formation of the New Testament canon as well as courses in exegetical method.

In Course Requirements: To receive the M.A. in New Testament/Early Christianity, students must demonstrate competence in ancient Greek, as demonstrated by a mark of B+ or better in RELG 583 or the equivalent (e.g., by examination).

In addition, reading knowledge of one modern scholarly language, normally French or German, is required, as determined by examination.

Throughout their program, students will be expected to continue work in ancient Greek and other ancient languages in conjunction with their seminar work. Seminars will enhance students abilities in exegesis, as well as assist the students in developing a broad knowledge of the history and literature of first- through fourth-century Christianity. Seminars are chosen in close consultation with their supervisor. Six seminars (including RELG 602) are required for the M.A. with thesis.

All M.A. students are required to take RELG 645 Methods in Religious Studies.

The thesis topic will be determined in consultation with the supervisor and will normally be submitted for approval to the Graduate Policy and Program committee no later than the end of their second term in residence.

All students must obtain a minimum of 65% in all courses.

PhD Requirements

In addition to the published admission requirements for the Ph.D. in the Faculty of Religious Studies, students will normally have completed an M.A. in New Testament or early Christianity and will have demonstrated an ability to interpret New Testament texts.

Students are required to show proficiency in ancient Greek (classical or Koine), assessed in terms of their having acquired at least 12 credits in the language at the undergraduate or graduate level. Prior study of other ancient languages (especially biblical Hebrew and Latin) is also an asset, but is not required. In addition, evidence of reading knowledge of French or German (or both) at a scholarly level is required.

In Course Requirements: In addition to the requirements set out in the Graduate Studies Manual, to receive the Ph.D. in New Testament/Early Christianity, students must demonstrate competence in ancient Greek, as demonstrated by the completion of the Greek New Testament translation examination portion of the New Testament Major Comprehensive examination. Competence in a second ancient language, the choice of which is to be determined by the supervisor, is also required; this requirement is to be satisfied by 12 credits of study of the language at the undergraduate or graduate level with a mark of B+ or higher or by passing of an examination set by the supervisor.

In addition, reading knowledge of two modern scholarly languages, normally French and German, as determined by examination is required.

Competency in additional ancient or modern languages pertinent to the dissertation topic may be required at the discretion of the supervisor.

All students are expected to choose their course of studies in Ph.D.1 and Ph.D.2 in conjunction with their supervisor and according to the requirements set out in the Graduate Studies Manual.

The structure and content of the Comprehensive Examinations in New Testament and Early Christianity are described in the Graduate Studies Manual.

The thesis topic will be determined in consultation with the supervisor and will normally be submitted for approval to the Graduate Policy and Program committee normally during a student's second or third year in residence and after completion of the Comprehensive Examinations

Graduate Students


Victor Gavino, (co-supervising with Patricia Faison Hewlin, Desaultels Faculty of Management.

Brad Rice, The Star of Bethlehem as Christ in Early Christian Interpretation.


Completed Phds & MAs

Phd Dissertations

Ryan Bailey,The Acts of Saint Cyprian of Antioch: Critical Editions, Translations, and Commentary. 2017

Dean M. Brady, ‘Now, Concerning the Things of the Spirit’: The Representation of Personal Religious Experience in the Letters of Paul. 2012

Heidi Epstein, (co-supervised with M. Morris), Melting the Venusberg: A Feminist Theology of Music [Dean’s Honour List] 2000

Alyda Faber, (co-supervised with K. Skerrett), Wounds: Theories of Violence in Theological Discourse [Dean’s Honour List] 2001

Marc Debanne, Enthymemes in the Letters of Paul. 2001

Lesley Fast, (co-promoted with L. J. de Vries) Persuasive Speaking and Bible Translation: A study of the Gospel of Mark and its reception in Græco-Roman and Lovangai environments. (Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam) 2014

Nicola Hayward, The use of funerary art for commemorating social identity and memory: the case of the Via Latina’s Samaritan Woman. 2020

Karl J. McDaniel, (co-supervision with E. Aitken) Prospection, Retrospection, and Emotive Effect: Suspense, Surprise, and Curiosity in Matthew's Gospel. 2010.

Aaron Ricker, (co-supervised with Alain Gignac, Université de Montréal) Romans 12-15, Social Identity, and the Purpose of Romans: An Association-Epistolary Approach. 2018

Jonathan Thiessen, (co-directed with Laurent Pernot) Les lettres de l’apôtre Paul et la rhétorique du discours figuré : Fondements méthodologiques et études de cas. (Université de Strasbourg, École doctorale des humanités; Centre d’Analyse des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité) 2020

Philip Tite, (co-supervised with F. Wisse) Valentinian Ethics and Paraenetic Discourse: Determining the Social Function of Moral Exhortation in Valentinian Christianity. 2005

MA Dissertations

Catherine Aldred, “Rhetoric, Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning: Innovations in First Nations’ Language Bible Translation” 2013

Amalinda Berube, Tragedy in the Gospel of Mark 2003

Stephen Casimir, A Critical Review of Characterization in the Fourth Gospel’s Structure of Anonymous Disciple Allusions 2004

Eric Farr, "The narrative and discursive references to children and audience duality in The Gospel of Mark" 2011

Lesley Fast, Rhetorical Dimensions of Speech Representation (Dean’s Honour List) 2003

Marla MacDonald, “Ancient Athletics and Memorializing the Dead in 1 Corinthians 4:9 and 9:24-27” 2015

Sarina Meyer, “Aseneth in Alexandria: the ethics of wealth in ‘Joseph and Aseneth’ in the ancient ascetic context” (co-supervision with Gerbern Oegema) 2016

Madison Robins, ‘And I will surely hide my face:’ Pseudo-Writing in LXX Esther and Second Maccabees (co-supervision with E. Aitken) 2010

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