Here are a few important things I recommend doing in preparation for a New Testament PhD:

  1. If you are currently in seminary or another MA program and are planning to just go straight through, get lots of rest before you come.  Recharge those batteries before jumping in again.  It’s better to hit the ground running than to be run into the ground before you start.  I had a 3 year break, so that wasn’t an issue for me. 
  2. Read through the entire NT in Greek–Here’s a proposed reading list from easiest to hardest I got from Dan Wallace.  We do surprisingly little Greek reading in seminary (in the grand scheme of things), even at DTS–I can only imagine it at other seminaries.  Get Zondervan’s Reader’s Greek New Testament.  This has revolutionalized my Greek reading, making it so much easier.  I’m about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through, and I spend about 3 hrs a week (~1 chapter a day) just trying to make it through this goal.  But I wish I were doing that directly in my area of study and not just the basics first.  Tools I use: RGNT, a parsing chart, a note card with prepositions, and an analytical lexicon.  (Parsing chart: I use one from BibleWorks that has the Greek verb paradigms on one side and the Hebrew on the other, always free at their stand at ETS or SBL.  Prepositions: has those that use multiple cases or hard to remember (e.g.,  περι).  Analytical lexicon: I’ve got one that’s 20 yrs old, but it’s got every inflected word in the GNT and it gives its parsing, etc.  It’s for those oh so frequent irregular verbs.)  I’ve gotten to where the Analytical Lexicon is not as necessary, but it’s good to use it up front when you don’t know a word/form.  You’ll just keep seeing over and over again, so you might as well understand it.  Also getting down into the 10 (or even 5) word occurances in the NT would be helpful, see Trenchard’s list or even better–buy a PDA and use PDA Scholar’s flash cards–there are several lists that come with the program (Greek, Hebrew, German, French, Arabic, etc.).  It would be well worth your money.
  3. Learn German, at least get the basic paradigms and grammar down so you can read with a dictionary.  There’s just so much NT study (esp. in Pauline studies) that’s in German, and you’re only hobbled by your lack of ability to work with those texts up front.  We’re using Manton’s Intro to Theological German.  It’s a totally horrible format for lots of things, but it does get through the major points in a quick manner.  A couple of students here have recommended April Wilson’s German Quickly, noting that although it is humanities based, it has quite a few theological texts to translate.  Once you go through that, Ziefle’s Modern Theological German: Reader and Dictionary is really helpful to get you through some texts (biblical and theological).  I did some self-study before coming to the UK with Reading German (Coles & Dodd)–recommended by the German teacher at DTS.  It was helpful, but I could see it as a good follow-up to Manton’s book because it goes into a good bit more detail.  Also, it’s not focued on Theological German.  Again PDA Scholar is a must for vocab. Here is an extensive list of German-English Vocab that I pulled together.
  4. Do as much primary text background reading as you can–OT and NT Apocrypha, DSS, OT and NT Pseudipigrapha, Apostolic Fathers, Mishnah, Josephus, Philo, Nag Hammadi, Plato, Greco-Roman historians, etc.  These texts inform so much of the general knowledge of the biblical scholar, it would help so much more to have a good idea of some of these writings in advance.[Update: I did a post ranking various texts in order of priority. See also Mike Bird’s recommendations for getting up to speed on Greco-Roman backgounds.]

So far that’s about it.  You could always read more, but you’ll get time for that when you’re here.  That’s why you’re coming, right?

p.s. I had planned to do more with the German and Greek, and wasn’t disciplined enough.  Write out a plan and give it to somebody to keep you accountable.  Heck, do what I did–go with less $$ for a few months and only work 4 days a week, so you can have an extra day to beef up your language skills.  (One caveat, get your spouse’s approval first.)  That way you can take full advantage of your study time here, and not have 20%+ of your study time filled with preparing-to-study-time.  Also, moving overseas, if that’s in the plans, does take a bit of preparation, so that extra day a week also helps in that area as well.