The New Testament is one of the fundamental texts of Western civilization. It is difficult to argue that any other writing has exerted more influence over the progress of Western culture, either as a philosophical text or as a piece of literature. Due to its significance, there is no shortage of rich, complex dissertation topics on the New Testament. In fact, the real challenge might be focusing on one specific subject, given the wide array of available options.
Like any piece of classic literature, the New Testament was born out of its historical context in response to a patchwork of competing influences. According to Jennifer C. Lane, assistant professor of religion at Brigham Young University, an amalgam of Eastern deities, Roman mythology and Greek philosophy shaped the ideas that form the backbone of New Testament thought. You might consider writing a dissertation on one or more of these precursors to the New Testament, detailing how that influence is both incorporated and transformed.
Relation to the Old Testament
The New Testament explicitly presents itself as a revelatory sequel to the Hebrew Scriptures, commonly referred to as the Old Testament. In the “Gospel of St. Matthew,” Jesus himself explicitly draws attention to the close thematic connection between the two, insisting that his mission is not to “abolish” the law in the Old Testament but to “fulfill it.” A detailed examination of the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament would make for an interesting dissertation topic.
The Debate Over Interpretation
Since the New Testament is an anthology of writing, pieced together over time by a collection of different authors, there is lots of scholarly debate regarding the best way to interpret it. According to Thomas Pangle, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, some theologians argue that the best approach is to begin with the assumption that the Bible cannot be understood as a coherent whole. Others contend that, even though the New Testament unfolded over time in fits and starts of composition, it is still held together by a unified perspective. Thus, you might find a dissertation topic by investigating the dominant theories of New Testiment interpretation.
St. Paul's Letters
St. Paul’s letters make up nearly 1/4 of the entire New Testament and are generally dated prior to any of the Gospels. Scholars often look to the Pauline letters as a source of clarity for comprehending Christian ideas since St. Paul seemed intent on shaping Christian belief into a doctrinal system. In fact, St. Paul’s writing may be seen as a further development of the teachings left by Jesus. Nevertheless, there is considerable debate among scholars, often very contentious, over the extent to which St. Paul’s letters are faithful to the meaning of Jesus’ original message. Many hypothesize that his attempt to codify Jesus’ moral perspective departs from Jesus’ actual intent. A strong dissertation topic could compare these competing views of St. Paul’s theology.
- Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center ; Jews and Greeks: The Broader Context for Writing the New Testament”; Jennifer C. Lane
- The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version; Gospel of St. Matthew; 5:17
- Political Philosophy and the God of Abraham; pg. 21; Thomas Pangle
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