Dr. Ben Witherington wanted a career that combined language, literature and history. The only subject meeting those criteria was the Bible, so Dr. Witherington went to seminary to prepare for ministry as a pastor and professor. For the past 23 years, he’s taught at Asbury Seminary at the graduate and post-graduate levels, preparing the next generation of leaders to preach without compromising academics.
“I don’t water down the Gospel,” Dr. Witherington, Jean R. Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies, said. “I boil up the people. And I don’t insult their intelligence, but tease their minds into active thought. Challenge the socks off them. They can always put their socks back on.”
Dr. Witherington jokes that taking his class is like drinking from a fire hose on full throttle. He’s committed not only to stretching students’ minds, but also to practically preparing them to deal with crises and problems within the local church.
“I try to take a pastoral approach [in my class] without compromising the academics,” he said.
Dr. Witherington believes that one of the best ways to learn is to visit the social and historical settings found in the Bible. For the past 20 years, he’s led trips to Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Israel or Italy. These trips visit a combination of countries to maximize the time and facilitate learning.
“A text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean,” Dr. Witherington said. “I enjoy helping students contextualize the biblical text and watching students light up and say, ‘Oh! This is where it happened. It’s not just a story in the Bible.’”
Although Dr. Witherington is not an archaeologist, he believes it’s part of his job to analyze its bearing on biblical studies. For example, at the dig in Laodicea, Dr. Witherington and his group learned that John’s reference to that church as “lukewarm” was based on an illustration the people could understand from their daily lives.
By ancient standards Laodicea was a huge town that had a real water problem. At one of the houses, archaeologists found the ancient version of a Brita filter, designed to remove excess limestone from the water. For many, these trips bring the Bible to life in a fresh way.
“Most of the people who go on the trip say it was life-changing and worth every shekel,” Dr. Witherington said.
As a prolific author, Dr. Witherington has written more than 60 books and a commentary on every New Testament book, fulfilling what he believes was God’s call to write these commentaries from a Wesleyan Evangelical perspective. He and his wife, Ann, have two children. Ann teaches at Asbury University.
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