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What's in the Word

Rethinking the Socio-Rhetorical Character of the New Testament

Ben Witherington III

Publication Year: 2009

Written in clear, and at times colorful, prose, Ben Witherington’s What’s in the Word explains how the recognition of the oral and socio-rhetorical character of the New Testament and its environment necessitates a change in how the New Testament literature is read. Expanding on the work in which he has been fruitfully engaged for over a quarter century, Witherington challenges the previously assured results of historical criticism and demonstrates chapter by chapter how the socio-rhetorical study shifts the paradigm.

Taken together, the chapters in What’s in the Word coalesce around three of Witherington’s ongoing academic concerns: orality and rhetoric; New Testament history, including issues of authenticity and canonicity; and the exegesis of given words in their canonical and socio-cultural contexts. Always unpredictable, this book never fails to pique interest and proffer instruction.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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Invitation to the Dance

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pp. 1-5

Paradigms are powerful things. Sometimes they hang on long past their usefulness, like an old sports star who just cannot bear to retire and will not accept that he has passed his prime. And in academic disciplines, it seems that paradigms are especially tenacious and very hard to shift or change. When one talks about a paradigm...

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1. Oral Examination: How Did "Oral" Texts Function in a Rhetorical Culture?

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pp. 7-17

Ours is a text-based culture, a culture of written documents. You need look no further than your computer screen to verify this assertion. An Internet age could exist only with widespread literacy, which in turn leads to widespread production and reading of texts. It is thus difficult for us in a text-based culture to conceive...

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2. Canonical Pseudepigrapha: Is It an Oxymoron?

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pp. 19-32

The issue of pseudepigrapha2 within the canon of Scripture is a critical one from an exegetical, theological, and hermeneutical point of view. Do we really have documents in the New Testament that are falsely attributed to one apostolic figure or another? If we do, what does it say about their authority? Are deception or...

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3. Rethinking and Redescribing Scribal Culture

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pp. 33-47

There are, however, two odd things about this discussion. First, it has failed to take into account adequately the effect of such reflections on the issue of calling one document or another a pseudepigraphon, a matter we discussed in the last chapter; second, the discussion has taken place in a sort of New...

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4. The Question of Sermons and Homilies in the New Testament

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pp. 49-60

Jesus did not say, "let those with two good eyes, read." He said, "let those with two good ears hear." One of the implications of taking seriously the dominantly oral and rhetorical character of first-century culture is that some New Testament documents, upon reexamination, turn out to be not letters at all but rather...

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5. Romans 7:7-25: Retelling Adam's Tale

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pp. 61-76

There is no more controverted text in all of ancient literature, and no more commented on text, than Romans 7. This is the stuff of which whole theologies, not to mention dissertations and scholarly careers, are made. One trait that has characterized the discussion of this text in the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries...

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6. What's in a Name? Rethinking the Historical Figure of the Beloved Disciple in the Fourth Gospel

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pp. 77-87

Earlier in this study, we pointed out at some length that the environment in which the New Testament was written was both oral and rhetorical in character.1 We stressed the fact that texts, especially religious texts, functioned differently in a culture that was 90 percent illiterate and in which even the texts that exist...

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7. What's in a Word? Part One—Eidolothuton

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pp. 89-101

"In the beginning was the Word"—but some students of the Bible seem to think when it comes to the study of New Testament words that "in the beginning was the dictionary." Words, however, even NT words, only have meanings in contexts. Dictionaries do not define words, they record their meanings. Lexicons are just...

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8. What's in a Word? Part Two—Porneia

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pp. 103-111

In our last chapter, we discussed the terms eidolothuton and porneia, though clearly the focus was on the former word.1 Here, we shall concentrate on the latter term, with regard to its use in an early Jewish Christian source—namely, the Gospel of Matthew. If we doubted that social location and social situation affects...

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9. What's in a Phrase? "No Male and Female" (Galatians 3:28)

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pp. 113-120

Unfortunately, Galatians 3:28 has become the perfect example of the problems with reader-response criticism—namely, that overly active readers often read their own meanings into texts, at the expense of what the author was trying to convey. Some scholars have urged that this text is a sort of emancipation proclamation...

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10. "Christianity in the Making": Oral Mystery or Eyewitness History?

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pp. 121-142

The very long and notable tradition at the University of Durham in England of having world-class New Testament scholars stretches back now some one hundred fifty years and includes the likes of J. B. Lightfoot, B. F. Westcott, A. Plummer, H. E. W. Turner, C. Cranfield, C. K. Barrett, J. D. G. Dunn, and now J. Barclay, F. Watson...

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11. The Rise of Canon Consciousness and the Formation of the New Testament

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pp. 143-164

One of the notable trends in New Testament studies over the last couple of decades is the revision of what many, perhaps most, scholars think is the case about the development and closing of the NT canon. This sea change in opinion is clearly reflected in what is perhaps the best of all recent books on the canon, L. McDonald's...

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12. Signposts along the Way: On Taking the Less-Traveled Path

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pp. 165-169

In the powerful movie Gone Baby Gone, the narrator begins to tell the listening audience that sometimes people feel that the choices they do not make are what most determine who they are—where they were born, which family they were born into, their house and neighborhood and neighbors where they were...


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pp. 171-188

Scripture Index

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pp. 189-192

Index of Subjects and Authors

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pp. 193-195

E-ISBN-13: 9781602585119
E-ISBN-10: 1602585113
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602581968
Print-ISBN-10: 1602581967

Page Count: 203
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1