Reflection: The Indelible Image: The One-Eyed Gospels

Witherington’s latest work is an 800 page masterpiece. In order to help me keep track of my thoughts on this book, and in part to showcase more of the book than a review, I am posting ‘reflections’ on each chapter.

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While I may not understand Witherington’s notion that Lazarus wrote John’s Gospel – something he never fully explains – I can understand, not agree with, his insistence that a ‘Q’ existed. He tends to be moderate to conservative in his understanding of the Synoptics, authors and audiences. The author returns to a more conservative stance than he had with John with these gospels, bringing to light the focus on context.

For Mark, Witherington helps to make a solid point about the supposedly shorter ending, stating that for Mark’s purpose, and indeed, for most of ancient literature, a shorter, ‘secret’ ending simply wasn’t possible. While his arguments may seem week to some, and a little undocumented, I believe that they make more sense than leaving the idea of the Resurrection unaccounted for, especially given that by the time Mark was written, Rome was issuing orders about removing bodies from tombs. For Mark, through Witherington’s eyes, ethics comes down to eschatology, so leaving such unanswered questions is, well, out of the question.

One thing that I am catching on to is Witherington’s scheme of looking at these books in some sort of chronological order.

For his views on Markan ethics, he continues his dialogue with Dale C. Allison. It is interesting to note his take on marital ethics in Mark 12.18-27, and goes further than others whom I have read, but still doesn’t fully answer the questions his statements and viewpoints necessarily create. BW3 goes on then to tackle the issue of money and the government, not really breaking any new ground here, but centralizing the Gospel account to the social sensation. He doesn’t fully, at least in his dialogue with Allison, explain the sexual ethics found in the Gospel. He does try to put off the sense found throughout the Gospel, although it is difficult to say how much of this has been influenced by modern eschatological thinking, that Christ simply didn’t think that end of the world was right around the corner (pg623).

Witherington is able to present a balanced view on Mark as well as Matthew whom he sees as the most important eyewitness gospel, and interprets it in such as a way as to showcase the sapential description of Christ which he has thus for engineered. Perhaps engineered is a strong word, as Witherington is not the first person to see such an application by the Gospel writers to Christ, nor will he be the last, but he does so in a manner which draws easy to see parallels between the Gospel writers and the Wisdom writers who separated but by a few generations. BW3 draws much his ethics for the Synoptics from this parallel, often times unable to see past it; however, with such a compelling case not to, the author has no need.

His treatment of Luke-Acts is a great recovery from his treatment of John’s Gospel, showcasing the rich depth of the Lukan account, and the ancient writer’s theologia crucis. Witherington takes his time in developing his short commentary on Luke, highlighting the generally missed details which makes Luke’s gospel a central element in understanding the universality of the early Church, as well as alluding to perhaps Luke’s position as physician. Luke is not merely a redactor, but one who has a care of history and a theology all his own. One notable fact, is that Witherington rarely cares to over theologize or mythologize such things a the birth narratives and tries to break into the audience’s seating to hear how the Gospels would have first been received. It is during his discussion on Luke, that Witherington returns with force to the discussion of theology and ethics.

Our author withholds nothing from the discussion, but as he does with the Sermon on the Mount, builds the picture of Luke’s ethics around the Sermon on the Plain. They rest, I believe, on Luke’s vision of the universal church, in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ breaks down ethnic and cultural barriers to unite all into one new community. There are discipleship requirements, of course, but it is unlike anything before, in that membership is a free gift.

His work on Acts is short, only really focused on the work of the Spirit.

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