This post is written for young men and women who are considering a life of scholarship in the Church. This isn’t how to get accepted into a good PhD program; it is about the path that will give you the most likelihood of success.
NT scholarship is a funny animal. In my previous field, engineering, there couldn’t be too many engineers with PhDs. NT scholarship is very different than that. The church only needs so many, let’s say four hundred in the world. I don’t know a real number, but not many relative to the number of Christians. At the moment there are around 20 PhDs for every job. Most of the fundamental research has been done. Most topics have been covered almost to exhaustion. It pays almost nothing. Essentially, you shouldn’t try to get a PhD in NT unless you cannot bear to live without one.
First, I wouldn’t recommend even attempting this path unless you have very strong faith in Christ as, most likely, your church experience has not prepared you for the questions raised by critical scholarship, and many fall away.
Second, in academia the school you got your PhD from is huge so aim to get into a school like Harvard or Oxford as early as possible. As an example, Wayne Grudem got his undergrad from Harvard and his PhD from Cambridge. You can go to a less respected school and still get into a top school later, but it is very difficult as these schools tend to prefer their own and “lesser” schools probably aren’t going to prepare you for elite work. For example, I did as well as possible in Greek at seminary and wouldn’t be able to pass the undergraduate entrance exam of the Cambridge classics department.
Third, for your undergrad I would suggest you major in philosophy and minor in classics. You must understand the history of philosophy if you are going to be successful and it is very difficult to catch up if you don’t have that background. I thinks it’s very important that you are fluent in Greek before starting a masters as you will have several other languages to learn – at minimum Hebrew, German, and French.
Fourth, grades are huge so don’t get less than an A. Top schools expect you to have a 3.8 before they will consider you for admission.
Lastly, learn to write well. Your GRE score is very important and the writing section is the part that can’t be faked. I know that to my cost.
This isn’t the most encouraging post, but I figure it is better to know reality instead of blindly pursuing a course of study in which you will fail (while also suffering financial ruin). The church does need scholars. Liberal scholars continue to find ways to attack the Bible and must be refuted. We also need those who know the Bible well and can train the next generation of pastors. If you want to do that please consider my suggestions.