Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Casting pearls before boars

My latest little post has caused a herd of drunken wild bores…uh, make that boars…to trample my priceless pearls of wisdom underfoot.

Michael Spencer has posted the following link:


I think a question to ask regarding Witherington's Romans commentary is "Who is his audience?" I can tell you, it's not Reformed Baptists. I don't think it is elitist to say that Witherington's audience is probably more along the lines of SBL members rather than ETS members. Because of this, he isn't going to interact with Piper, Schreiner, or even Carson. He's going to interact with E.P. Sanders, Ernst Kasemann, and others who have contributed to the scholarly community's study of Romans. (Note: I am not saying that Piper, Schreiner, or Carson aren't "scholarly". They are but they aren't writing for the same audience as the people I have mentioned).

Another reason for not interacting with Mr Hays' coterie of Calvinist scholars is that they don't appear to focus on the kind of socio-rhetorical commentary that Witherington is known to write. Maybe I'm wrong -- maybe these guys have written volumes about Romans' historical context, but if they have, I haven't read it. And I would be willing to read it, so put the rocks down.

The socio-rhetorical focus is Witherington's M.O. when it comes to commentaries. It seems to me, though, that we human Christians get a little too uptight when we don't see our heroes' names in others' bibliographies. I am totally guilty of that. I check out bibliographies and if I don't see Wright, Witherington, Green, and a handful of others, I turn up my nose, too. It's my loss and I'm learning to move past that attitude.

Here are a couple of RBL reviews (.pdf) of Witherington's commentary. Neither gets after him about his apparent snub of the Reformed community (although the second guy isn't happy with Witheringtons's dismissal of the NPP, so that ought to score him points, right :-)?

Posted by Matthew Johnson at December 13, 2005 06:24 PM



Generally speaking, commentators don’t target a particular audience, do they? The job of a commentator is simply to present his interpretation of a Biblical book, regardless of the potential reader. After all, he has no control over who will read his commentary, and is presumably not going out of his way to snub perspective readers.

Indeed, the reason commentators write commentators is because they think their interpretation is right on the money, and they want to persuade the reader to agree with them. So a commentator is not narrowly targeting readers who already agree with him, but trying to win them over.

That, indeed, is an explicit motive of Witherington’s commentary. If you read his preface (xi-xii), he wants to turn the ship around. He thinks the Reformed tradition has been too influential in the exegesis of Romans—even framing the debate for commentators of non-Reformed persuasion.

Why would the SBL be especially interested in Käsemann? He antedates the socio-rhetorical school. He was a liberal Lutheran in the Bultmannian tradition.

For that matter, Witherington interacts extensively with Barrett, Cranfield, Dunn, and Wright, although none of them belongs to the socio-rhetorical school.

Steven Baugh is a Presbyterian, not a Reformed Baptist. John Murray was a Presbyterian, not a Reformed Baptist. Gregory Beale is a Conservative Congregationalist, not a Reformed Baptist.

Yes, Piper and Schreiner are Reformed Baptists, but there’s nothing especially Baptistic about their interpretation of Romans.

Witherington is at liberty to snub anyone he pleases. But prejudice is not a scholarly virtue.

Matthew Johnson rushes to his keyboard and dashes off this fact-free defense of Witherington’s commentary. Most impressive!


To judge by these two titles, Witherington’s scholarship is a study in insularity and obscurantism.

That's quite a sweeping statement to make based on reading two books, one of which was based for a more popular audience.

Believe it or not, many if not most scholars have little interest in the sources you cited because they themselves tend to be insular and obscurantist. And do you really think a world-class New Testament scholar is going to interact with John Piper in a scholarly work? He's not even on the radar in the vast majority of the academy.

How about dealing with Witherington's arguments instead of trying to find a way to be able to ignore what he has to say without having to actually deal with it?

# posted by Keith : 12/13/2005 6:04 PM


Ah, another masterpiece of reasoning.

Actually, I’ve read more than two books of his. But these two have the most bearing on his case for Arminian theology.

Apparently Keith is unaware of the fact that Piper has a doctorate in theology from the University of Munich. His monograph on Romans is a work of serious scholarship—something Keith would know if he’d every bothered to read it.

Moo, in his commentary on Romans, thinks that Piper is worth his attention. I guess that makes Moo a second-rate NT scholar. Fitzmyer, in his commentary on Romans, thinks that Piper is worth his attention. I guess that makes Fitzmyer a second-rate NT scholar.

Did Keith pick up his radar equipment at a garage sale?

How about dealing with Witherington’s arguments? Hmm. There’s a novel idea. Let’s see, now. I began by commenting on Witherington’s XToday interview about his forthcoming book, followed by a three-part review of his book.

Here’s another novel idea. Why doesn’t Keith dust off his unused brain by interacting with my detailed interaction with Witherington’s arguments?

Perhaps Michael Spencer would make me an honorary Tavernista. It would be a very relaxing change of pace to write for a blog in which a zero balance of intellectual content generates such a handsome rate of rhetorical interest.


  1. Steve,

    It is amazing to me that anyone wastes any amount of time reading the sheer pablum and drivel(!) that is posted recurrently at the BHT.

    What an embarrassment they are.

  2. Don't take a German pseudonym if you can't spell it.

  3. Ooh, Josh, good one! *That'll* do as a reply to Hays's arguments!

    Steve, it is just amazing: you'd think that at a group blog like BHT, *someone* there would be able to get their facts straight, instead of posting the piffle they have over the past day or so.

  4. The word is spelled correctly - the "e" following the "u" transliterates the umlaut as per standard practice.

    The insolence of the ignorant never ceases to amaze me.

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  6. Wrong word Edsel. Thanks for the object lesson vis-à-vis the obstinately ignorant though.

    Try typing in "Der Fuersprecher" at the LEO online German Dictionary:


    If that's not sufficient for you, try looking up "Der Fürsprecher" in the Harper Collins German Unabridged Dictionary.

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  8. Dear Steve: Are you a Christian?

  9. The quote from "Keith" is not from a member of the BHT. There has never been a Keith at the BHT. No one at the BHT has ever questioned Dr. Piper's credentials.