Ben Witherington III
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Ben Witherington III (born 1951) is an American New Testament scholar. Witherington is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, and an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church.
New Testament History : A Narrative Account (2001)
- The term "history" can refer to a variety of things. "History" can refer simply to the flow of events in the past that are perceived to have had some sort of ongoing significance. It is taken for granted that not everything that happens in a human life is of "historic" significance.
- No one who begins a biography of Jesus with the words "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" or concludes an account with "these things have been written so that you might believe" is attempting to be neutral about the subject matter. The question that should be raised about such accounts is not whether they amount to a form of advocacy—because of course they do—but whether the interpretation of Jesus offered illuminates or obscures the historical subject matter that is being treated.
- When dealing with ancient sources, we cannot be content to know the religious and social settings out of which these sources have come. We should also know something about how the ancients viewed the writing of history and biography, for in the Gospels and Acts apparently we are dealing with three ancient biographies and one two-volume historical monograph (Luke-Acts).
- The problem of anachronism is a serious one when it comes to evaluating materials in the Bible because there is a widespread assumption in the conservative Christian community, ever since the Reformation, that God's Word requires only a good, clear mind, an open heart, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be understood.
- In contrast to modern historiography, the ancients were much less concerned with (1) chronological precision; (2) exhaustive or comprehensive accounts; (3) value-free commentary; (4) ascribing all events to purely natural causes; (5) the avoidance of rhetorical devices and effects. Indeed, almost all good ancient historians would expect these five features to regularly characterize their works. Ancient historiography was a rhetorical exercise to some extent, and it was undertaken to persuade someone about something. History was not discoursed on for its own sake. It is not a surprise that Luke's rhetorical skills are most in evidence in the speech material and in his famous prologue (Luke 1:1- 4). Otherwise, he is rather constrained by the narratives he found in his source material.
- Aware of the sort of primary sources we will be dealing with and what their limitations and orientations are, we are now prepared to undertake the task of chronicling New Testament history, a task that immediately takes us first to source material we have not even mentioned yet, sources both Jewish and pagan about the events that transpired between the time of Alexander the Great and the birth of Jesus.