Posted by: chuckbumgardner | January 30, 2012

Ben Witherington, Is There a Doctor in the House?

Is there a Doctor in the House?: An Insider's Story and Advice on becoming a Bible ScholarBen Witherington, Is There a Doctor in the House? An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Bible Scholar (Zondervan, 2011)

A quick and enjoyable read.  Witherington gives a straightforward, candid look at the academic doctorate in biblical studies, offering succinct advice in the way of both encouragement and warning.  Below, I offer some notable quotes:

“If languages are not your gift, or at least not something you are prepared to work hard on, then abandon any hope at becoming a good biblical scholar, or a good graduate or post-graduate level teacher of the Bible. You cannot get around the language requirement.” (42)

“It is not enough to know the Bible well. Greater minds than ours have reflected on the Bible before we ever thought of doing so, and our reading of the Bible will only be enriched if we read the classic Christian works and so end up reading the Bible with the saints.” (72)

“The lifeblood of a good scholar is, of course, good researching, and then conveying what he or she has learned through good writing and giving good lectures based on the research.” (81)

“Without question a prerequisite to becoming a better researcher is being able to work with the three major research languages — English, French, and German. . . . Anyone wanting to be a good scholar has to deal with the primary and secondary sources in various languages. Period. Exclamation point!” (85)

“There are some acquired skills that can help make research less onerous and time consuming For example, there are shortcuts. You should start by reading through New Testament Abstracts and its English summaries of articles, monographs, and commentaries. You should look for seminal articles, monographs, and commentaries and read the footnotes carefully to see what sources these writers consulted. One should concentrate on the major NT journals everyone is expected to read: Novum Testamentum (NovT), New Testament Studies (NTS), Journal for Biblical Literature (JBL), Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft (ZNW), to name but four. You should start by reading those who have labored long in the Pauline vineyard or the Johannine vineyard and who are experts in these areas. They will survey the landscape for you and help you figure out quickly the most helpful resources.” (85)

“With the professionalization of ministry, including the ministry of teaching and of doing scholarly work on the Bible, one of the tendencies has been to judge a person’s fitness to teach purely on the basis of their knowledge or talent. Paul frankly would have found this tendency profoundly troubling. A person needs to grow up in the Christian faith, and indeed grow in faith, and as he or she does, that person is better able to rightly use the spiritual gifts and knowledge God has given. I have known Christian people of enormous intelligence and with good teaching gifts who nonetheless were not mature Christians, who were not growing in faith and in largeness of soul. Paul would have had some issues with that person being given free rein, without accountability, to teach God’s people as they want.” (98-99)

“As Jerome once put it: “’Defend the Bible? It needs about as much defense as a lion!’” (130)

“There is, in fact, no purely objective, value-free scholarship. It is just that some do a better job of admitting this and owning up to their presuppositions and inclinations. I dare say that those who are aware of their own commitments and take them into account and even correct them are those who really ought to be called critical scholars, whether they are persons of no apparent faith, agnostic, or of ardent faith A critical scholar is one who is capable of being self-critical and self-corrective, as well as being able to cast a discerning eye on the biblical text. A critical scholar is one who is honest about the text and about what they do and don’t understand about the text.” (131, original italics)

“One of the important things to say about graduate work, if you really are strongly led to be a teacher, is that you must learn all the biblical languages and take exegesis classes in both OT and NT to build a good foundation.” (146)

“. . . here is a list of twenty useful monographs for New Testamentlers that you might want to start with, and read them long before you get to the doctoral process:
Adolph Deissmann: Light from the Ancient East
Edwin Judge: The First Christians in the Roman World
Joachim Jeremias: The Parables of Jesus
E. P. Sanders: Paul and Palestinian Judaism
N. T. Wright: Resurrection and the Son of God
Richard Hays: The Faith of Jesus Christ
Ben Witherington: The Christology of Jesus
Anthony Thiselton: The Two Horizons
Gerd Theissen: The Historical Jesus 
Richard Bauckham: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses
Gordon Fee: God’s Empowering Presence
Raymond Brown: The Death of the Messiah
Craig Hill: Hebrews and Hellenists
Murray Harris: Jesus as God
Allen Culpepper: Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel
R. Tannehill: The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts
Christopher Bryan: Render unto Caesar
Margaret Mitchell: The Rhetoric of Reconciliation
John Barclay: The Obedience of Faith
Ben Witherington: New Testament Rhetoric” (147-148)


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