Nov 16, 2009

Review of Ben Witherington's Indelible Image, Volume One

Thanks to Adrianna Wright at InterVarsity Press for this review copy.

Ben Witherington III, The Indelible Image: The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament, Volume One: The Individual Witnesses (Downers Grove, IL, 2009), 856 pp.

Ben Witherington III has just published the first of two volumes on New Testam
ent theology and ethics (which he sees as inseparably intertwined). The first volume, and the volume under review here, is analysis of the individual New Testament witnesses (i.e. Jesus and the NT authors). The second volume will apparently be a synthesis or a presentation of the collective witness of the New Testament. In a very real sense both volumes are or will be a culmination of sorts of Dr. Witherington’s prodigious literary output, including published commentaries on every book of the New Testament (p. 13). Witherington argues that a new comprehensive work on New Testament theology and ethics is needed for three reasons (p. 15). (1) The relationship between theology and ethics has not often been treated adequately. (2) Some key terms in the NT are both ethical and theological (e.g., love). (3) One unfortunate side effect of the Reformation was the subordination of ethics to theology. Whether one agrees with these three reasons are not, I suspect that these volumes will provide academic food for New Testament students to sample for years to come.

In general, The Indelible Image, is what one comes to expect from a book authored by Witherington. The book is academic and yet accessible; informative and yet interesting. Matter-of-fact assertions are juxtaposed with rhetorically effective and culturally current turns of phrases. As one might expect, there are echoes of Witherington’s earlier literary work (e.g. The Christology of Jesus, Paul’s Narrative Thought World, etc.). Furthermore, as I noted in a previous post (see here) I especially appreciated the equal time given to other, less well-known, voices in the New Testament (e.g., the General Epistles). Each chapter is concluded with a helpful “Short List” bibliography for those who need/want help for further study. The subject, name, and Scripture indexes in the back of the book appear to be thorough and complete. By the way, the reader may want to begin by reading the “Rewind” section (pp. 813-18) at the end of the book. This section deftly summarizes what the author has sought to argue in the volume as a whole and may help to provide helpful orientation for the reader.

Here is the table of contents for the book:


The Overture: The Grand story in Miniature
Prologue: Blueprints and Bylaws
1 Jesus: The Alpha and Omega of New Testament Thought
2 Paul the Paradigm Setter

3 The Kinsmen and Their Redeemer; Peter and His Principles

4 The Anonymous Famous Preacher

5 Beloved Theology and Ethics

6 One-Eyed Gospels
7 The End of All Things and the Beginning of the Canon

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