Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Living Word of God (in an Age of Truth Decay)

The third volume in my little trilogy on the Protestant 'sacraments' (baptism, the Lord's Supper, the Word of God) is now out, and honestly I think it is one of the best and most practical books I have ever written. I have tried to make it a sort of one stop shopping kind of book which you can see from scanning the table of contents:


CHAPTER ONE: SEEKING THE WORD OF GOD ( here I explain the subject of the book and why I am taking the particular approach I take. The subject of this book is the 'truth' about what sort of truth claims the Bible actually makes, and in the case of this particular book I am focusing on the NT and its truth claims)

CHAPTER TWO: INSPIRATION WITHOUT AN EXPIRATION DATE (in this chapter we look at questions like, how was inspiration viewed in Biblical times? Did the NT writers think they were inspired? How did inspiration actually work? Was it a matter of mechanical dictation, or not? What did the phrase 'Word of God' mean when used by Paul and other NT writers?)

CHAPTER THREE: THE ENDS OF ENNS (Here I am critiquing a particular recent study on the Bible and its authority and inspiration-- the book by Peter Enns in which he tries to suggest that the Bible is analogous to the classic Nicean notions of two natures of Christ, one of which was human, one of which was divine. I am dealing with the problems with this whole approach, particularly problems with taking a pass on historical truth claims that the Bible seems to be making).

CHAPTER FOUR: TRUTH TELLING AS AN ART FORM (here we deal with the whole question of how genre affects truth claims. What sort of truth claims should we expect to be made in the context of using forms like the ancient biography or Hellenistic history writing, or rhetorical discourses and sermons, or ancient letters, or an apocalypse? The issue here is that genre is the key to understanding what sort of information a Biblical author is trying to convey)

CHAPTER FIVE: CAN THESE THINGS BE TRUE? ( here I am discussing problems of various sorts-- historical, ethical theological, exegetical etc. that various texts raise for us. I am saying that there are reasonable explanations for what we find, provided we interpret the material in the proper contexts and ways)

CHAPTER SIX: DID THE CANON AND ITS TRANSLATORS MISFIRE? (here the subject is coming to grips with the process by which the NT books became part of the canon. How did this happen, were their mistakes made, and what do we make of the fact that these books were translated into numerous languages long before English came along. Is the Bible the Word of God in translation, or is it only the Word of God if we have it in the original languages? Why is it often said that every translation is already an interpretation?)

CHAPTER SEVEN: HOW TO PICK A TRANSLATION WITHOUT LOSING YOUR RELIGION (this is intended to be a practical chapter to help one see that differing translations and Bibles serve differing audiences and functions, and one should therefore be prepared to ask the question what one intends to do with the Bible before deciding which Bible or translation to go with. We also discuss thorny issues like the inclusive language debate)

CHAPTER EIGHT: RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH ( here we offer a basic survey of the various rules usually used to guide how we ought to interpret the Bible e.g. Scripture is its own best interpreter and so on. There we also discuss how to move from proper interpretation to application, and how not to jump the gun by going straight for application without properly understanding the meaning of the text. This is one of the major problems in the misuse of 1 Cor. 14.33b-36 and 1 Tim. 2.8-15 to prevent women from being involved in pastoral ministry of various sorts).


( this chapter deals with how post-modernism has affected Biblical interpretation, and also comes to grip with Miller, Bell, and McClaren who all are often thought to reflect post-modern approaches to the Bible).

AFTER WORDS: THE SACRIFICE OF THE INTELLECT? ( Here I am stressing that it is not the sacrifice but rather the sanctification of the intellect which is required to study and understand the inspired Word of God)

APPENDIX-- BIBLE Q AND A-- (having been the Bible Q and A guy for Beliefnet website since that most viewed of all religious websites began, I hear reprint by permission some of the more interesting questions and the ways I tried to answer the questions).

It is not necessary to have read the previous two books on baptism and the Lord's Supper to benefit from this book, as it stands on its own and can be read as a self-contained argument.

Let me know what you think when you check this one out.


Nick Norelli said...

Dr. Witherington,

Sounds like a good read... Any chance of getting a free review copy? :^D

Ben Witherington said...

Try Baylor Press's website and contact someone there. The answer is probably yes if you are reviewing it for a journal or a class you are teaching.

Ben W.

Marc Axelrod said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marc Axelrod said...

Sounds very interesting. I'll buy it off of Amazon.

Didn't Peter Enns write a book not too many years back on inspiration and infallibility? I remember checking it out of the Trinity library and liking it at the time, but it was a while ago ... I'll read your critique with great interest.

IH Marshall had a good little book on biblical inspiration. I read it years ago at Ashland in one afternoon. I also remember thinking that Millard Erickson's categories of inerrancy were helpful.

I also like Enns's commentary on Exodus in the NIVAC. Until Douglas Stuart's terrific NAC offering came out, Enns was the best evangelical offering on Exodus.

yuckabuck said...

Hey, I asked you a year and a half ago on this blog to write a book about the authority of Scripture, so if anyone should get a free copy, it should be me! :-) (Just teasing!)

Seriously, I'll add this book to my Xmas list. As I recall, there was a discussion about inspiration on this blog, and I expressed dissatisfaction with the blurb on Tom Wright's "The Last Word," which purported to give a fresh way of looking at the topic, but to my mind fell somewhat short. I was heavily influenced by George Ladd and Gordon Fee (Gospel and Spirit) and wondered if somebody would write something clear for the layman that would go beyond common Fundamentalistic misunderstandings.

I always thought the genius of Ladd's phrase that the Bible is "the word of God given in the words of men in history" was that it went beyond the two-natures analogy by adding "in history" as a third leg to the stool. I haven't read Peter Enn's book yet, but I am interested to see what's in your chapter 3.

God bless you!

Falantedios said...

Two friends of mine have collaborated on a series like yours within the context of the American Restoration Movement (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ).

John Mark Hicks wrote two books called:
Come to the Table - Revisioning the Lord's Supper
Down in the River to Pray - Revisioning Baptism as God's Transforming Work

and he and Bobby Valentine together have written two more:
Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Libscomb and James A. Harding
A Gathered People - Revisioning Worship as Transformative Encounter

When I see you writing for your tradition and my friends writing for ours in the same vein, I think it is an interesting time in Christianity.

in HIS love,
Nick Gill
Frankfort, KY

Michael Haney said...


Looking everywhere...

Where can I purchase the book? Is it not in any stores yet? Thanks, Michael

Ben Witherington said...

You can get it from Amazon asap.


Marc Axelrod said...

Amazon says that it won't be available until January 15th, but that if we pre-order it, we can get a 5% discount.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Marc:

I think if you will go directly to Baker, you can get it in a heartbeat. Just tell them you will do a review on Amazon :) and it may even come free.


JD said...

I've gotta be honest, the title of ch.3 is pretty dumb. It sounds like the kind of thing a group of 7th graders would use to tease an ill-named kid (I speak as one with such a name). I'm serious about that.

One thing I know many have found disappointing about criticisms of Enns (e.g. Beale, Carson) is the unwillingness to engage the actual historical/textual topics he does. Usually they devolve into doctrinal debates and skip the "problems" that drive his book.

Personally, I think the question of whether the incarnational analogy works or not is quite irrelevant. It doesn't actually answer any questions, though perhaps it provides a comforting posture with which to think through them (or to a point anyway). But ultimately, whether one uses it as one's model or whether one rejects it entirely, the issues remain.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi JD: I understand the frustration of their not dealing with problem texts. I do deal with various of the NT ones in this book, since this book focuses on the NT as the Word of God. In addition some of that also gets done in the Bible Q+A segment.



N.W. said...

Sounds like a great book but what really concerns me and I think should concern us all is the fact that mainstream archaeology has over the past 30 or so years made the historicity of large chunks of the Old Testament incredibly dubious. The repercussions of this for the New Testament student are obviously vast. If there was no Moses, what happens to the meta-narrative? Where do we pick up? With the prophets? Personally I think this is an issue that someone needs to address and I feel like it's probably the last thing that anyone wants address. It's a critical issue nonetheless and I personally am unsure of how to synthesize what the good book tells me and what the facts say.

Ben Witherington said...

Mr. N.W.: First of all, it is nonsense to say that OT archaeology in the last 20 years has either proved or refuted the historical material in the OT. This is entirely an argument from silence, that is, from what has NOT been found. And silence most of the time implies nothing one way or another. I know of no archaeological find in the last 20 years that has even made any crucial aspect of the OT material even dubious, never mind discrediting it. We do not have any archaeological evidence one way or another about Moses, for the very good reason that the Israelites in the wilderness were not building cities, or even castles in the sand in the Sinai. They were nomads and pilgrims! What little archaeological evidence we have from the conquest period supports the idea that there was a conquest at the requisite period of time, and furthermore, we have some archaeological evidence from the Davidic monarchy period. Lastly, we now have literary evidence for the existence of the prophet Balaam during the requisite period. Pay a little more attention to some of the archaeological updates in ASOR and in BAR. Lastly, if anything has been discredited in the last 20 years, it is the minimalism of the Dever approach to OT archaeology.


N.W. said...

Well sincerely with all due respect Dr. Witherington from what I gather Dever is not considered an extremist by others in his field by any stretch. I think most scholars in his field wouldn't describe him as a minimalist but rather as a representative of pretty widely held views. His publisher is Eerdmans...this isn't crazy stuff he's proposing. And unfortunately the belief that the Israelites didn't slaughter the Canaanites but in fact WERE the Canaanites...has more concrete support for it than the Exodus/Conquest does...which as you're well aware...doesn't have really any and does have a fair amount against it. Like many Christians I am not happy to learn that when it comes to anything a non-biblical explanation has more evidence supporting it than a biblical one, but I can't just read Kenneth Kitchen and pretend that it isn't so or say "the exodus as described in the Bible is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" because it seems to me that it has pretty much been proven false or at the very least greatly exaggerated. But I guess my difficulty with this is something that I have to wrestle with, and it's not the subject of this blog entry of yours. Anyways I'm looking forward to the new book.

Ben Witherington said...

Dever does call himself a minimalist. And actually there are plenty of non-minimalists when it comes to Exodus Sinai, and there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever that Israel were the Canaanites but there are destruction layers! And lastly Eerdmans publishes all sorts of stuff, not just conservative stuff, so that provides not a single clue to his point of view on the spectrum.


William said...

So I just received the book in the mail and have been very impressed with it. I am a college pastor at my church and was wondering if you have thought of possibly creating a manual for the book. I am thinking about possibly doing somekind of study on the "Word of God" using your book as a guide-line.

C Bovell said...

I was very anxious to read your new book. The issue is a truth one, you say, but I'm not sure what it is that you're trying to say even though you comment upon a good number of authors in your book in an attempt to express how your view makes up for others' deficiencies.

The Bible is true, evangelicals just don't know yet precisely in what way, but there is minimally a theological, ethical, and historical dimension to biblical truth--that's what I here you saying--but when enough exegesis has been done, the conservative position will be vindicated. I have published Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals (Wipf and Stock) as a reflection on my own exposure to conservative biblical studies, conservative theology and evangelical philosophy. The disciplines individually recommend incommensurate views of Scripture it seems to me. I'm wondering if you might help me understand how you mean that Scripture must be "true" and how believers must insist upon the "truth issue" after enduring the six recognitions, for example, that I recount in my book. I could arrange for a copy of the book to be sent to you. I would be really interested in your response. Thanks.

dopderbeck said...

As a person interested in the intersection of faith and science, I found Enns' book extremely helpful. Most people, evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike, who consider faith-science questions find the notion of accommodation very important.

How, for example, do you explain Gen. 1-11 without an idea of accommodation? There really is no way to fit the traditional figures of Adam and Noah, for example, into what we know about early human history. It seems to me that without a notion of accommodation, the only alternative is a fable such as young earth creationism. How do you propose to address that problem?

Unknown said...

Dr. Witherington,

I'm reading this book now. Thanks for your work. I'm prompted to write now for disappointment over chapter four, namely your unbalanced characterization of dispensationalism and the pretribulation position; and your weak refutation of it.

There's no doubt that its easy to find poor examples of scholarship and exegetical integrity among pretribulationalist. Actually, bad exegesis is found in all theological camps. But, for you to pick out popular expressions like the Left Behind series or someone like Jack Van Impe (I realize you didn't cite him specificially, nevertheless he is an example of your reference to those that see all modern Middle East events as connected to a prophetic timetable.) and then pick off these poor examples from your scholarly perch is just not fair. It would be more honest of you to interact with reputable scholars representing this position (hold your tongue!) rather than easily discredit the worst examples as if they represent the mainstream, and so therefore you have refuted the whole position. Take for example Charles Ryrie, Renald Showers, or Michael Stallard. Frankly, I'm disappointed in your own method of interaction and refutation in this regard. It is not convincing.

Neither is your argument convincing in the NT passages you cite. In fairness, it should be pointed out that none of the names mentioned above would disagree with your interpretation of Rev. 4:1-2 and Matt. 24:36-43. However, I do find your interpretation of 1 Thes. 4:16-18, based as it is on supposed imagery, to be extremely weak. This interpretation is wholly based on a nuance of this supposed imagery - the entourage going back from whence the greeting committee came.

Another unconvincing argument is your refutation of the Jerusalem temple being rebuilt. You go to Rev. 21 which describes the eternal state. Of course we should not find require or even expect the earthly temple here. But how do you deal with Daniel 9:27 ("an end to sacrifice") and abomination of this verse that is then picked up by Matt. 24:15. I would connect this with 2 Thess. 2:4 where the man of sin is "in the temple of God." All other issues aside, how do you refute the existence of a temple where sacrifice will be ended?

I could go on, but I'll just say that I am disappointed in your level and method of scholarship. Vern Poythress is not much better in his "Understanding Dispensationalists" which might better be called "Almost Un..." or "Misun..."

You also speak of mistakes "from the right of dispensational fundamentalists" and the left of those who believe the Bible is riddled with errors. Given those extremes you set yourself up well. One thing is appears clear: You either have an agenda against dispensationalism, which is marginalized as an uncredible interpretation, or you are sincerely do not understand it (like Poythress). Please pick a good example, like Ryrie's "Dispensationalism."

TheThinker said...

Finished reading "The Living Word of God" around 4 this morning. Fantastic!

Question: Regarding your Q&A appendix. In one question you refer to Jesus seeing the chained angels who rebelled, pronouncing His victory.....and then you supply Genesis 6 in parentheses or brackets. Are you one to believe that rebellious angels are the sons of God in Genesis 6? If so, from what biblical evidence do you come to the conclusion that angels are like men in that they can have relations with humans. Or maybe a better question is, why do you find this to be a more satisfactory answer than the one proposed by others, including Daniel P. Fuller in his book The Unity of the Bible, that these sons of God are descendents of Seth and the daughters of men were daughters of Cain?