New Testament

Joel Marcus, convener

The Ph.D. program in New Testament is intended to prepare students to do research in this field and to teach in an academic setting (usually a university department of religious studies or a theological seminary). Areas of strength in the Duke program include Paul, the use of the Old Testament in the New, the Synoptic Gospels, the Jewish cultural context of the New Testament, and biblical theology. The faculty has expertise in historical, exegetical, literary, and theological methods of interpretation.

Requirements for the Major


  1. Modern: Students must pass competency exams in German and French before taking their preliminary exams. Depending on interest, a reading knowledge of other languages such as modern Hebrew and Spanish may also be acquired.

  2. Ancient: Students are expected to have or develop good to excellent biblical Hebrew and ancient Greek, and to demonstrate competency in both languages. They may also study rabbinic Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, Latin, and/or other languages during their doctoral years. See Guidelines for Preliminary Examinations.

Internal minor

In another field in the Graduate Program in Religion (GPR). The most frequent internal minor is Judaic Studies; other possibilities include Hebrew Bible, early Christianity (post-New Testament), and Theology. Students will meet this requirement according to the guidelines established by the field in question; it normally ranges from two to four courses, and may include language requirements.

External minor

Two to four courses in a department or program other than GPR, either at Duke or at UNC Chapel Hill. The most common external minor is Greco-Roman History, Religion and Culture. Requirements are decided by the Preliminary Examination Committee in consultation with the student. Students with special interests within the GPR and a strong background in previous academic work may petition to substitute a second internal minor for the external minor.


Students entering with a Master's degree or equivalent will take 3-4 courses per semester for two years, for a total of 12-16. Of these, at least six must be advanced courses in New Testament. Students entering without a Master's degree take 3-4 courses per semester for three years, for a total of 18-24; their program may in the first year include basic language courses or undergraduate/Divinity School courses.

Preliminary examinations

Preliminary examinations, normally taken in the third year (fourth year if student enters without a Master's degree), will consist of five parts:

  1. New Testament introduction (history, authorship, chronology, etc.)
  2. New Testament thought/theology
  3. Internal minor
  4. External minor
  5. Oral defense

The student, in consultation with the examiners, will compile a reading list for each exam. Exams 1-2 will normally be four hours long; exams 3-4 will normally be three hours long. The oral defense usually lasts about one-and-a-half hours. See Guidelines for Preliminary Examinations and Bibliography.


After prelims a formal proposal will be submitted to the dissertation committee, which will consist of four to five members, of whom three must be members of the Graduate Faculty in Religion, and of whom one will be designated the chief supervisor. This committee will meet with the student one or more times to discuss the proposal with him or her. The proposal must be approved by the committee within six months of the completion of prelims. Once the dissertation is completed, the candidate will defend it orally before the dissertation committee. See NT dissertation guidelines.

Requirements for a Minor

Students minoring in New Testament must be able to translate selected parts of the NT and to have studied at least one major part (the synoptic Gospels, John, the Pauline letters, etc.) in detail. A student who has no Greek must take at least one year of New Testament Greek. In addition, the student should take two or three graduate courses or seminars. Those who begin with adequate Greek will usually (depending on previous study) be required to take three advanced graduate courses. All students must prepare a reading list and pass an examination.