Interview with Ben Witherington III

For the first interview of the new year is Ben Witherington III. He was gracious enough to respond very quickly with some great answers to my questions. You can check out his blog here. Thank you, Dr. Witherington for taking part in this.

Some of his works include The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, The Paul Quest: The Renewed Search, and Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper.

What motivated you to enter your field of study? What keeps you going?

Lots of things, but key for me was that I loved literature and languages and history and archaeology and studying the Bible and when I discovered you could do all those things as New Testament scholar, I was sold. I had a wonderful college Bible prof at Carolina, Bernard Boyd, and he inspired me to go to seminary.  They say you become what you admire.

What issues have you had to overcome along the way?

Other than the obvious financial ones, the big obstacle is of course how much study is required and how many fields you must be familiar with to become an expert in the Bible.  In addition for me, there was the fact that I am an Evangelical Christian, but in my denomination there was in the 1970s-80s considerable bias against such persons teaching in United Methodist schools and seminaries. I had two deans of two seminaries tell me in essence that they would never hire someone like me, simply because of my theological views.  It was challenging.  I am happy to report that things are much more open these days in Methodist schools.

What is your favorite passage of scripture?

I don’t really have a single favorite passage of Scripture—I love it all.  But I suppose if I were pressed it would be either John 3.16 or Rom. 8.28

Can you divulge any information on any new publication or project on which you are working?

Just this month my book Jesus and Money. a Financial Guide for Hard Economic Times (Brazos/Baker Press) has appeared, and the second volume of my magnum opus  The Indelible Image, (IVP)  will be out some time this year. In addition I have a little book on a theology of worship coming out with Eerdmans this spring entitled We Have Seen His Glory.

If there is one author/theologian that you believe everyone should read, who is it?

Actually there are many of them.  I especially enjoy reading the works of my friends, not surprisingly—folks like Richard Hays, Tom Wright, Scott McKnight, Darrell Bock, Craig Keener, Margaret Mitchell and many others.

What do you think are the biggest problems facing New Testament scholarship today?

There are too many to name, but perhaps the biggest overall problem is that in the preparation of students in seminaries and grad schools many of the programs are being dumbed down and watered down, which is precisely the opposite of what is needed when we are dealing with a historical source as complex as the Bible.

What areas do you think New Testament scholars will have to focus on in the next ten years?

I am not a prophet or a son of a prophet, but I suspect orality studies, studies in rhetoric, archaeological studies,  social history studies, social scientific criticism studies, narratology studies, canonical studies will continue to be important.

Where do you believe are the best places for a student to study the New Testament either as an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student?

This is a moving target. Departments and schools wax and wane, rise and fall.  At present the place where I am sending doctoral students in the U.K. is Durham which clearly has the best and best rated divinity faculty.  In the U.S. much depends on whether one’s goal is to teach in a secular or an Evangelical institution. If it is the former then still an Ivy League degree or a Duke degree will serve the best.  Unfortunately, not too many Evangelical seminaries that are free standing have done a top drawer job with doctoral students.  I have seen personally what a challenge it is to generate such a program in such a school, as Asbury is now doing on its own.

Lastly, if there is one piece of advice you could give to someone entering New Testament scholarship, what would it be?

Be prepared to think critically about all that you read and study, including your own work.  Be intentional about learning from those you disagree with. Be open minded about when and where and from whom you can and should learn things relevant to the study of the Bible, but as my granny used to say— don’t be so open-minded your brains fall out.  My own approach has been that of Anselm— fides quaerens intellectum— faith seeking understanding.

Thank you again, Dr. Witherington for taking time out of your schedule to participate in this blog interview. It is incredibly kind of you to do so.

To my readers, remember to let me know your thoughts on this interview as well as who you would like to see featured here in the coming weeks and months.



4 thoughts on “Interview with Ben Witherington III

  1. Thanks for this interview, Matt. I’m actually reading his first volume of the Indelible Image (good stuff).

    I noticed he recommends the reading of some NPP guys. Cool. 😉

    1. No problem, T.C. Thanks for reading it. I haven’t read any of his works yet, but plan on getting his commentary on Mark.

      Yes, those NPP guys he names are pretty cool. 🙂

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