Monday, February 27, 2006

A Preview of What's Next

Coming off my sabbatical, I am now back to being buried teaching Johannine Literature, Exegesis of Romans and NT Theology and doing the usual seminary stuff. Some of you have asked as to what is coming next on the publishing front, and I guess this will be my most productive year, in terms of books. Here's the scoop.

In late April Smyth and Helwys (yes the Baptist Press in Georgia) will be publishing my Gospel of Matthew commentary. It is a hardback multi-media commentary with a CD Rom included and many paintings, charts, and drawings. It is about 600 pages or so and I am trying something different. I have read the whole Gospel through the lens of Jewish Wisdom literature because I am convinced this is what the Evangelist wanted us to do. It leads to some interesting insights. For example, have you noticed how the title Son of David shows up much more in Matthew and in connection with healings? Why-- especially since David was not a healer and there was no strong tradition in early Judaism about a healer messiah? The answer is that early Jews believed that healing took place through having wisdom from God as great as Solomon. There were even traditions about Solomon being taught how to cure demon possession. Thus when Jesus is called Son of David, it at least in part refers to his having the wisdom of cures, like Solomon.

In May I will be preaching in the National Cathedral and Eerdmans will be releasing a volume of my sermons to coincide with the occasion (May 21). The volume is entitled Incandescence. Light Shed through the Word and includes 25 of my sermons as well as an introduction by Ellsworth Kalas and spiritual formation exercises based on the sermons.

Next fall, in time for the SBL in D.C. in late November, there will be three books released. The first will be my book on Christian origins for Harper-Collins called "What Have they done with Jesus?" It is in part a critique of revisionist historians like Pagels, Crossan, Borg, Ehrman and the like, but done in a positive way. I have chosen to focus on the inner circle of Jesus, both women and men and show how all the NT books can ultimately traced back to this inner circle-- Mary, Peter, James, the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene and Joanna/Junia, Jude, Paul, or to one of their co-workers or fellow evangelists/missionaries. What I demonstrate is that the theory that high Christology is late is false, that the idea that there were many different Christianities at odds with each other in the first century is false, that Gnostic Christianity already existed in the first century is false... but I am giving too much away. This book is supposed to be out in October.

In late November Eerdmans will publish my socio-rhetorical commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians in which among other things, I argue for the Pauline character of 2 Thessalonians, and examine closely the anti-Imperial rhetoric used in these documents. There is a very full exposition on 1 Thessalonians 4-5, which shows among other things that there is no 'rapture' theology there, if by 'rapture' one means being caught up into heaven before or during the millenium.

Also in late November InterVarsity will release a 600 page volume entitled Letters and Homilies Vol. One--- this will be part of a three volume series with one volume per year for the next three. Vol. One is the Pastoral Epistles and the Johannine Epistles; Vol Two is Hebrews and James; Vol. 3 is 1 and 2 Peter and Jude. Each of these are socio-rhetorical commentaries. This will bring to completion my commentary projects covering all the books of the NT. There are several others still in the works, such as one with A.J. Levine on Luke for Cambridge, and one on Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon for Eerdmans. Dat's all folks.

Thereafter I have to do a huge 2 volume NT Theology for Inter Varsity...

If there is any gas in the tank, this rapidly aging English lit major hopes to publish some archaeological thrillers--- yes I mean novels.

Das ist Alles,



Ben Witherington said...

Right.... the to do list keeps getting longer....

::aaron g:: said...

Congratulations on these remarkable accomplishments!

Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kevin said...

Wow Dr. Witherington, that is quite the achievement!

This may seem like an odd question, but what is your work ethic like on an average day when you are preparing a new book. How many hours do you spend reading or doing research? How many hours do you spend writing?

I am always impressed by the quantity of quality works put out by contemporary scholars such as yourself and N.T Wright among others. I can only dream of one day being productive like that.

Ben Witherington said...

Lots of people ask me these questions Kevin and part of the honest answer is that I am a workaholic. Another part of the answer is that I was blessed with a good mind that retains a lot of stuff and can do several things at once.

Also I have been a writer since I was little and have an English lit degree, so not a lot of need for revising the way things are written.

The reason things are coming to a climax now is partly because I have been working with the whole NT for decades (taught both the whole NT and the whole OT at Ashland Seminary for over a decade, now I am just down to teaching the NT at Asbury).

Another part of this is our children are out of the house and we have an empty nest (except for the cats-- but they don't slow the writing process down). I also have a wife who is an academic and she is a lot of help, and has made a lot of sacrifices through the years so we could be in the position we are in now. I owe a lot to her.

I also teach at a school that allows me a half year off every three and half years so I can write. As I say, I am blessed in many ways, and long ago I promised the LOrd if I could stay healthy that I would try to write a commentary on the whole NT. In my Evangelical tradition at least, that has never been done.

Blessings, Ben

Unknown said...

I hope you will post the day your commentaries and books are released. I am looking forward to your work on Mathew. I have a good commentary on Mathew by William Hendrickson, but he did not take as much of a literary approach as I was hoping. I wish more NT scholars would take a literary approach as well as theological. I am just a layman, so I may have no right to complain against such wonderful scholars.

Ben Witherington said...

The Matthew commentary is already listed under my name on Amazon, and you can pre-order it if you like. And yes, I do a good deal with a literary approach, arguing this is an ancient biography.

sam andress said...

Ben...your a machine! My gosh, if I can publish one of those sort of books in my life I will smile:).

Blessings as you research and write!

Mason Smith said...

Dear Sir,
Good luck on the novel project.

I love reading scientific reports of Biblical archaeology, and I'll admit that I'm a fan of archaeological fiction too.

I'm sure you can do a lot better than Dan Brown. I just hope you make as much money!

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

J. B. Hood said...

Prof Witherington,

Thank you for the info on your Matthew commentary--I've posted this news on my website; I trust that's okay. I've also nominated you for the "Neusner Award" for biblical research output!

Gordon Hackman said...

I can't wait to read "What have they done to Jesus?" As a non-specialist in biblical studies, I follow the whole historical Jesus debate with great interest. I'm always thrilled to see orthodox scholars of a high caliber (like yourself and N.T. Wright) engaging with the views of the more liberal proponents of the historical Jesus quest. I'm also thrilled to se it's on Harper, since they publish so much crap like the works of Spong, et al., and because they are more mainstream and hopefully the book will reach a wider audience.

Ben Witherington said...

If we are talking about where Cain and Abel's wives came from there are various theories. In my view the Bible is simply the story of the origins of God's people who became Israel, not all people, necessarily. So God certainly could have created others at the same time.

Adam's sin affects the whole human race due to God's curse, not due to seminal transmission of fallenness.

There are of course prohibitions of incest in the OT, and we have stories like that of Tamar to punctuate this point. There was a strong taboo against incest in the OT.

Another theory of where those other folks came from is that the story of Adam and Eve is the story of God starting over with a particular people, but this does not match up with the Genesis account.


Ben W.

Questing Parson said...

When do you eat?

Ben Myers said...

I'll be holding my breath for your 2-volume NT Theology. After that, you might need to write a few novels just to relax!

Ben Witherington said...


You ask a very important question. Here is what I can say. Unfortunately, one of the things that has happened to Evangelicalism in the last 20 years, and this is partly due to cultural drift and also due to the waning influence of the church, is the growth of dogmatism.

There are certain forms of Evangelicalism more prone to this dogmatism, namely the more confessionally based traditions and the less charismatic ones, and the result has been unfortunate.

Just look at my blog--- I have people arguing until they are blue in the face about issues where reasonable persons will say that there is no knock down argument either way that can prevent a person from accepting position A or position B.

The recent discussion about women in ministry is an excellent example of this phenomenon. The recent book entitled "The Closing of the American Mind" has things to say about this phenomenon which are apt.

What I myself have noticed is that Evangelical scholars who have been trained in the U.K. are less likely to be so dogmatic, because British Evangelical Biblical scholarship is not much that way. It has always had to interact with other opinions, even very liberal opinions, as it is a tiny minority phenonemon. Many Evangelical Scholars trained in very Conservative instittuions over here have not had to stretch as much, nor have they been forced to deal in depth with other viewpoints and actually consider they might be wrong about something.

For example, I had to rewrite my whole doctoral thesis because, while they said there was no problem with the research or conclusions, they wanted me to write it as if I were trying to convince a non-Evangelical audience, rather than just preaching to the choir. I am thankful I had to do that.



Brett Royal said...

It is important to attempt to put yourself in the cultural mindset of those for whom the scripture was written. While it has application for everyone everywhere, I think the one true meaning is tied to how it was understood when it was written. I look forward to your next work.

masonbooth said...

Dr. Witherington,

regarding Asbury's PhD program. is there any idea what the cost may be and if there will be any scholarships or work study programs to aid in the cost?


mason booth

e-mail address is

Jeremy Pierce said...

Ben, I'm not sure where the idea of a curse on humanity comes from. I don't see it in the text. There's a curse on the snake, and there's a curse on the ground, but God never curses humanity. I'm more inclined to think of the consequences of the fall as consequences of having sinned period. There are even indications in the text that the consequences were there before God pointed them out to them, in particular in how the man and the woman related to each other even before God appeared.

Jeremy Pierce said...

J: I think you're misunderstanding the point. It's not that somehow people genetically closer to you are contaminated more than others are. It's that the mutations in their genes are likely to be some of the same ones you have, and when you then have them combine it's more likely that the good genes won't kick in to counterbalance them. Many of our genes are redundant. We've got a copy from each parent, and if one is defective the other one kicks in. When the mutation in question is in both parents, however, it can be dangerous because it's going to manifest itself with no help from a healthy redundant gene. That's why incest from close family members makes defects much more likely.

For the record, a study was done in the last couple years about first cousins that showed that the prohibition on first cousin marriage is not warranted. The likelihood of genetic problems is very low from such a union, much lower than people previously thought. This is an interesting confirmation of something already encoded in the Torah or ancient Israel.

I don't think we should assume that this is the only factor in the ban on incest in the Torah. For instance, there's also the prohibition on a man sleeping with his father's second wife (who is not his mother and thus not necessarily genetically close at all). I think there are other issues there. But the prohibition on sleeping with a brother or sister is easily justified in terms of the harmful results in children of such a union when that might not have been the case if earlier humans didn't have as many harmful mutations that could cause such trouble.