Book Review: The Indelible Image

Book Review: The Indelible Image by Ben Witherington III

The Indelible Image: The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament

Volume I  –ISBN 9780830838615

Volume II –ISBN 9780830838622

Published by IVP Academic; InterVarsity Press

This is a monumental work. Published by the academic arm of InterVarsity Press and written by Dr. Ben Witherington III, The Indelible Image comes to us from trusted sources. IVP Academic has been producing quality resources for the church and universities for over fifty years and Dr. Ben Witherington is known and respected as one of the top evangelical scholars in New Testament studies. His qualifications for a work of this magnitude are many. He has written prolifically, producing published works on every writer of the New Testament, and commentaries on every book of the New Testament in addition to many, many other written contributions, publications, papers, and lectures covering almost every feasible topic from the New Testament writings. The Indelible Image comes to us in two volumes; volume one speaks to us from the individual voices of the NT writers and volume two is the collective voices of the writers “singing” together the “common” message of the New Testament.  Each of them, contends Witherington, speaks to us in their own vernacular with a common ethic… the New Testament is all about Jesus Christ.

I have not read either of these volumes cover-to-cover; each of them exceeds eight-hundred pages in length. These volumes are serious theological reference works, but I did not find them difficult to read. I’m not a language scholar, so I appreciate there are not lengthy portions of original manuscript in either book. Where there are original text references, there are understandable explanations as well as annotations for those references should the need exist to pursue additional study from them. Before I proceed further with my review, I should share what the purpose of this collection is. Here Dr. Witherington’s own words follow:

The New Testament, says Ben Witherington, is “like a smallish choir. All are singing the same cantata, but each has an individual voice and is singing its own parts and notes. If we fail to pay attention to all the voices in the choir, we do not get the entire effect. . . . If this first volume is about closely analyzing the sheet music left to us by which each musician’s part is delineated, the second volume will attempt to re-create what it might have sounded like had they ever gotten together and performed their scores to produce a single masterful cantata.”

What the New Testament authors have in mind, Witherington contends, is that all believers should be conformed in thought, word and deed to the image of Jesus Christ–the indelible image.

Aside from the purpose and content of the two volumes themselves, I am enjoying these works in ways I had not anticipated. The subject or topical index of each book has provided me with a reading plan of sorts if I want to seek out “What does Jesus say about…?” answers to my questions or thoughts. Since these works are compendiums for the collective thoughts of entire New Testament, I have found that I get a fairly comprehensive overview of whatever topic I pursue. Additionally, the references and commentary have pointed me in the direction I need to further my personal study when seeking more input and other points of view. I don’t believe this usage was one of the intended purposes, but I am finding it quite beneficial in this regard.

A second and very nice feature I am gleaning from is the exhaustive Scripture index at the end of each book. In recent weeks I have been involved in a few in-depth Bible studies. I have found the Scripture index a very helpful tool providing me insight that I was unable to gain from any of my other library resources. Similar to the topic index (mentioned above), I was also directed to other resources or presented alternative ideas that helped me to move on to the “next level” of my study.

The last point I’d like to cover in this review is likely one of the greatest benefits of this theological reference set. As pastors, teachers, and theologians we often get caught up in the orthodoxy (right thinking) of our studies. We also have a tendency to get caught up in the hair-splitting of our doctrinal differences. A resurgence of sorts in the last decade has pushed hard to move our orthodoxy to orthopraxy (right practice), and this is, after all, what we desire most. We want the teachings of God to take root in us, so we might fully become his disciples in every way as Witherington contends; so “all believers should be conformed in thought, word and deed to the image of Jesus Christ–the indelible image.” The research and understanding of the “mind” of the writers, understanding (as best we can) their cultural and historical families of origin… the socio-political settings that shaped their thinking help us to get a more comprehensive understanding of the message dictated to us through the New Testament. Ultimately, an accurate interpretation of that message helps us to transcend the generations to make accurate application of the teaching in our own world and in our personal lives; orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

I hope the magnitude of this work is not underestimated. Personally, I do not think a work of its nature has been produced in modern history. Ben Witherington stands alone in qualification to produce such a work and I think, even if you disagree with his conclusions, the sheer academic contribution of this work will be worth your time and investment. I am grateful to have The Indelible Image as an ongoing resource in my library and it is my contention that you will be too. Most highly recommended.

About the Author:

Ben Witherington III (Ph.D., University of Durham, England) is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is the author of many books on the New Testament, including Women and the Genesis of Christianity (Cambridge University Press), Jesus the Sage (Fortress Press), The Jesus Quest(InterVarsity Press) and The Paul Quest (InterVarsity Press).

With Hershel Shanks he is coauthor of The Brother of Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco), a book on the controversial James ossuary. A frequent contributor to, Witherington has also appeared on numerous TV news programs such as Dateline, 60 Minutes, 20/20 and the Peter Jennings ABC special Jesus and Paul–The Word and the Witness.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Intervarsity Press to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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