dianoigo blog Fellowship of Christian Bloggers Christian Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Monday, 22 August 2016

My first publishing experience in biblical studies

This article is an anecdote about my first experience publishing in a biblical studies academic journal.1 I hope the reader will forgive any self-congratulatory exuberance inherent in writing about one's writing. (Perhaps I am betraying my greenhorn status by expressing excitement over an achievement that for professional biblical scholars is par for the course.) All glory goes to God, whose I am and whom I serve. My hope in writing this anecdote is that it will prove useful to other amateur biblical scholars who aspire to publish.

Over the past two years I co-authored two articles with Dr. Guy Williams, who specializes as a Pauline scholar.2 Both articles have been accepted by the Journal for the Study of the New Testament and published in the September 2016 issue, comprising 56 pages combined.3 Their titles are, respectively, Diabolical Data: A Critical Inventory of New Testament Satanology and Talk of the Devil: Unpacking the Language of New Testament Satanology.

I am a statistician by profession, and am also in the latter stages of an Honours degree in theology through distance learning (at King's Evangelical Divinity School in the U.K., which I highly recommend). I've long had an interest in marrying my statistical background with my interest in the Bible by applying statistical analysis to biblical texts. I've also long been interested in Satan as a theological concept, owing in large part to my upbringing in the Christadelphian sect, which has a unique interpretation of the biblical devil and Satan. In 2013-14 I engaged in some correspondence and online discussion with Christadelphians about the prevalence of Satan in the New Testament. My interlocutors had claimed that Satan is prominent in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts but marginal in the rest of the New Testament. This claim struck me as suspect, and I did some preliminary statistical analysis which confirmed my suspicions, publishing my findings on this blog.

However, one of the challenges I faced in conducting this statistical analysis was the uncertainty of the data set itself: how many references to Satan are there in the New Testament? One can easily count up the number of occurrences of the Greek words satanas and diabolos, but it is not obvious that every instance of these words does refer to Satan (e.g., John 6:70). Moreover, there are numerous other New Testament terms that do seem to refer to Satan, such as 'the evil one' (Matt. 13:19), 'the god of this age' (2 Cor. 4:4) and 'the ruler of this world' (John 12:31). I couldn't find any scholarly source that sought to identify all New Testament references to Satan, offering critical exegesis of uncertain cases. Hence, I resolved to create this data set, reasoning that this would not only assist me in my own statistical analysis but would be a tool for broader research Satan in the New Testament. This was the genesis of the research project that eventually resulted in these two articles.

By the end of 2014, I had a working manuscript where I had attempted to identify every reference to Satan in the NT, with recourse to the academic literature and my own exegesis to decide uncertain cases. I also included some statistical analysis of this data set. I had never published in biblical studies before and was then only a first year theology student. Knowing that most biblical studies journals have rejection rates in the 80% range, I knew submitting my manuscript to a journal would be a long shot. Enter Dr. Guy Williams. I had read his excellent monograph on The Spirit World in the Letters of Paul the Apostle (based on his Oxford University doctoral thesis) and had asked him some questions about it via email, and been impressed by his thoughtful replies. He had also humoured me by reading and commenting on some of my quasi-academic, but somewhat amateurish, online articles about Satan. I decided to send Guy my manuscript and ask him whether it looked remotely publishable to him, and if so whether he might be willing to collaborate with me to refine it into a publishable form. To my delight, he responded in the affirmative on both counts (while graciously offering to give feedback and still let me submit it myself). Better still, he had an idea for taking the project further by turning it into a two-part series which he would co-author. The first study would create the data set by identifying all New Testament references to Satan. The second study would then analyse the data statistically but also contextualize the analysis by looking at hermeneutical issues in New Testament Satanology. I enthusiastically agreed. In the end, I wrote most of the first article and Guy most of the second, but it really was a joint project as we offered each other useful input and suggestions at every stage of the writing and revision process. The effective collaboration we were able to develop despite sitting on separate continents and never meeting face to face is a testimony to the power of globalization.

We submitted both articles to JSNT4 in May 2015. We heard back after the peer review process in November and were thrilled to receive a positive response. Both articles were accepted pending some revisions, the most significant of which was that we needed to interact more with German scholarship in our exegesis. (This is a standard requirement of the major biblical studies journals, and understandably so.) My German is very limited, but Guy can read German fluently and I can read French almost fluently, so we decided to bolster our literature search by consulting additional works in both these languages. Doing so proved very useful, as it helped us to identify some probable NT references to Satan that we had previously missed. Another issue was that our articles were too long for the journal, so we needed to find ways to cut down on the word count. This was achieved primarily by reducing the bibliographic material. We submitted our revised versions at the end of January 2016.

The editorial process of preparing the articles for publication began in earnest in May. This, for me, was one of the best things about publishing. You get to have your work edited, copy-edited and proofread by experts for free. In the case of these two articles, the final versions are far superior to the original submissions in terms of style, compactness, and number of typo's and other errors.

All told, the experience of publishing has been tremendously rewarding and enriching. However, it has also been a tremendous amount of work. I wouldn't want to guess the equivalent number of forty-hour work weeks that went into this project, but it was not a few. My heart's desire for the two articles is that they will make some contribution to the body of academic - and ecclesial - knowledge about the New Testament, and that they will lead to other opportunities for writing and research.

I've already embarked on my next academic writing project - this time going solo, and on a completely different topic. We'll see how it turns out!


  • 1 I have been a co-author on a couple of other published articles/notes where my contribution involved probability and statistics, not biblical studies. See here, here and here.
  • 2 His publications include The Spirit World in the Letters of Paul the Apostles: A Critical Examination of the Role of Spirit Beings in the Authentic Pauline Epistles (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009); An Apocalyptic and Magical Interpretation of Paul's ‘Beast Fight’ in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32) (Journal of Theological Studies, 2006); Narrative Space, Angelic Revelation, and the End of Mark’s Gospel (Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 2013); article on Romans in The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible (Oxford University Press, 2011).
  • 3 The issue has not been printed yet as I write this, but the articles have been published online already.
  • 4 As an amateur biblical scholar, one would need to choose a journal with a double-blind peer review process in which the reviewers do not know the identity or qualifications of the author. The manuscript is evaluated solely on its own merits. That said, the double-blind policy is not intended as an invitation to submit substandard material. To avoid disappointing oneself and burdening editors, it is a good idea to collaborate with an established scholar, especially for one's first publication.

No comments: