Part 1 of my review can be read HERE.

Concerning the Author’s Approach

One of the things I really appreciate about Witherington’s approach and honesty concerning his presuppositions are helpful in evaluating the data presented and provide a framework within which his conclusions might be evaluated. Witherington acknowledges his assumption that “The Bible is both the words of human beings and, in and through those words, the living word of God.” He goes on to state his opinion that it is impossible for a person to deal with New Testament Theology and ethics without “a concept of divine revelation” (2003, p.29). Therefore one should not be surprised by his argument that, “what is historically false cannot be theologically true” (2009, p.32). It would appear that Witherington believes the New Testament to be both theological and ethical in nature while also completely historically accurate.

Witherington seeks to not only establish the historicity of the New Testament but also how the historical context informs ones understanding of the theology and ethics of the New Testament. In the opening two chapters of this volume, a large amount of time is spent dealing with various issues relating to historical Jesus studies and other matters relating to the historical criticism of the New Testament. Many of the issues which Witherington has addressed have been foundational in forming the current approach to New Testament studies (2009).

Despite his concerns that certain elements of New Testament historical study have led to a diminishing of the relationship between New Testament theology and ethics, Witherington believes a person’s understanding of the New Testament must be grounded in its historical context.[1] Otherwise, one’s conclusions will amount to nothing more than subjective hypothesis rather than objective understanding. As he notes:

New testament theology or ethics is also not properly done if we simply assume that our modern worldview and presuppositions are obviously better and more correct than those of the authors of the New Testament itself.” (2009, p.45)

In Witherington’s mind, the historical context provides an understanding of the context into which the theologising and ethicising of the New Testament took place. Perhaps too much ethicising and theologising is not grounded in an understanding of the New Testament witness and for far too long those responsible for the task of New Testament Studies have either demythologised the message of the New Testament to the point of irrelevance or constructed a New Testament ethic based on their own presuppositions.

[1] I will discuss the issues surrounding the historical critical in my critique of the book in upcoming posts.