Rob Bell, Ben Witherington, & Re-Judiazing Jesus

Time magazine ran a piece on the differences between Rob Bell and Ben Witherington’s understanding of Judaism and Jesus called “Re-Judaizing Jesus.” It’s a confusing piece, but the main point is that this pastor (Bell) and scholar (Witherington) disagree on how Judaism should influence our understanding of Jesus and the New Testament. For some, this may seem like an esoteric discussion, but if it is entirely esoteric and academic, why would Time magazine pick it up as a Top Ten of future revolutions for 2008?

I tend to agree with Witherington’s conclusions and critique of Bell. At the end of the day, many of Bell’s re-interpretations of the NT rely on unreliable primary and “scholarly” sources, drawing from a Judaism that was not contemporaneous with Jesus’ time and teaching. This is anachronistic. However, it is highly commendable that Bell is trying to discern the influence of Judaism and the Old Testament upon the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. In this, he is exemplary. Witherington writes:

At times Rob seems too uncritical in his reading of sources like the truly dated works of Alfred Edersheim, and apparently he spends too much time listening to folks like Ray Vanderlaan, a local teacher in the Grand Rapids area who doesn’t really much understand the differences between medieval Jewish rabbis and the context and ethos of teachers in early Judaism of Jesus’ day. Rob needs to read some viable sources on early Judaism, for example some of the work of Craig Evans or George Nickelsburg or Jacob Neusner if he wants to paint the picture of the Jewish Jesus using the right hews, tones, and features.

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8 comments so far

  1. […] | Tags: ben witherington, Biblical Theology, judaism, mars hill, new testament, Rob Bell |   Here. […]

  2. Mike on

    Witherington’s comment on Rob’s sources is not exclusively Ray Vanderlaan. Are you familiar with the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research? Marvin Wilson, Brad Young, David Bivin, and Dwight Pryor amongst others is a group that has done years of research, centered in Jerusalem, where Rob pulls much of his material from. Witherington seems to deny that this work is not “scholarly.” I tend to disagree with him.

    And I’m pretty sure Rob has read many of those sources he mentioned.

  3. Mike on

    And I’m guessing N.T. Wright is not considered scholarly either, which I know also heavily influences his teaching.

  4. jdodson on

    Actually, N.T. Wright is an outstanding scholar, though you dont have to agree with him on everything.

  5. Mike on

    Agreed brother.

  6. […] Read this piece on Rob Bell, Ben Witherington, and Re-Judiazing Jesus […]

  7. jdodson on

    I know Marv personally and have read some of his book Our Father Abraham. It is top notch. However, the point that is most concerning for me is Robs heavy reliance uponf rabbinic scholarship that was well after Christ and the NT time (Mishna, Talmud).

    The Talmud (4th/5th C) provides some help in reconstructing the 2nd Temple period. However, Neusner questions the validity of the Talmud in historical-cultural reconstruction, partly because it is so late and removed from the NT. Later Jewish literature is even more suspect to error, i.e. Targums.

  8. […] 18, 2008 in Uncategorized Read the post at Theological that addresses some of the valid concerns about Rob Bell’s teaching and the recent piece in […]


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