CoCoGraduate School of Theology professor Dr. Jeff Childers traveled to Princeton University at the end of January to participate in an exclusive conference regarding the works of a historic church father.
Childers, Carmichael-Walling chair of New Testament and early Christianity, is one of only a handful of experts worldwide when it comes to studying Jacob of Sarug, a 6th-century theologian from modern-day Turkey. Childers, along with seven other internationally known scholars, attended the Princeton conference from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 to establish a firmer footing of who Jacob was.
“He’s sort of the next big thing in church fathers because he’s left hundreds and hundreds of works and not many of them have been studied or translated or edited,” Childers said.
The weekend forum included experts from the U.S., Israel, Germany and Holland. The eight attendees presented material unique to their fields of study, answered questions and led discussions.
Childers’ primary research area is the Syriac language. Many of Jacob’s works were written in Syriac manuscripts. At the Princeton conference, Childers presented his research on Jacob’s use of the New Testament in these ancient writings and sermons.
Childers and other experts around the world are working to translate all of Jacob’s writings into English. Hundreds of works exist, and the GST professor is working on several of them.
Dr. Ken Cukrowski, dean of the College of Biblical Studies, said conferences such as this are vital to church growth and understanding.
“His surviving works number into the hundreds and his legacy left a deep impact on Christianity in the region,” Cukrowski said. “Our knowledge of Jacob is still at an early stage.”
Childers said Jacob of Sarug’s impact on the modern church could compare to that of St. Augustine of Hippo or St. Basil the Great.
“Jacob is a preacher; Jacob is a poet and a theologian,” Childers said. “Every time something of his gets translated into a language that more people can read, like English, people get excited about him because he does theology a little differently.”
Childers said this means Jacob presents his ideas differently than many early theologians.
“When they want to talk about their belief systems, they paint pictures,” Childers said. “In this 21st century era, that resonates with a lot of people. They want to see imagery and drama rather than definition and formulas.”
Childers said he believes knowledge of Jacob of Sarug holds benefit for all Christians, not just those studying Church history. He hopes the outcome of this research will be relevant to everyone.
“After working on this kind of material, it really is spiritually enriching,” Childers said. “I like to find things that connect with what we teach here but also connect with the kinds of careers and ministries that students are going to have.”