Ben Witherington, III. Biblical Theology: The Convergence of the Canon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. 495 pages. $34.99 (paperback).
Ben Witherington, Amos Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY, may be the only living scholar who has written commentaries on every book in the New Testament. In this capstone volume, Witherington brings together all of his scholarship in form of a Biblical Theology (BT). At one place or another, the author manages to discuss just about all the biblical passages and topics relevant to his discussion in a very creative and integrative fashion that should prove stimulating to many.
BT is a hot topic today, so Witherington’s volume is timely. There are many competing definitions of BT, and scholars differ in their presentation of the Bible’s theology. Thus, there is need for methodological clarity and the kind of inductive, descriptive approach that Witherington employs. He contends that BT ought to be first and foremost trinitarian (chaps. 2–4) and closely traces the biblical narrative (chaps. 5–6). He then covers various topics in thematic fashion in the remainder of the volume.
On the whole, the work is well written but still rather advanced. Its inclusion of technical language may limit the audience primarily to doctoral students and the author’s scholarly peers. Witherington is an original thinker at the intersection between critical and more conservative evangelical scholarship. Some of his views (such as that Lazarus may have been the author of John’s Gospel) can fairly be described as idiosyncratic. The discussion of Jesus the Sage and God’s Wisdom, which draws on the author’s earlier work, will likely draw dissent as well.
Regarding the subtitle, “The Convergence of the Canon,” Witherington explains that, “Like parallel lines, the closer you get to the end of the biblical stories, the end of the canon…the more the trajectories of discussion about Father, Son, and Spirit and their work to save, sanctify, and glorify their creatures and creation converge.” (p. 5). Not only do matters become more and more trinitarian, but, as Witherington seeks to demonstrate, “the various theologies of the Bible converge and can be said to produce a single and singular biblical theology” as well (p. 5). Witherington’s trinitarian orientation and affirmation of the Bible’s unity in diversity can certainly be applauded.
While the volume is well conceived overall, however, the flow and structure of the book could be improved. For example, Chapters 2–4 could be collectively labelled “Part 1: God” and chapters 5–6 “Part 2: Story.” Otherwise, it seems awkward to discuss Jesus in chapter 3 and the Holy Spirit in chapter 4, only to start back at Genesis in chapter 5. Chapters 8–10 (all on covenant) could constitute “Part 3: Theology,” while chapters 11–12 could be labeled “New Perspective” or a similar title. Also, the order of chapters 13 (eschatology) and 14 (ecclesiology and ethics) could be reversed. These concerns notwithstanding, those with an interest in BT will want to digest this volume written by one of the foremost NT scholars of our day.
CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Dr. Andreas Köstenberger, who serves as research professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and the director of the Center for Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary