Evangelical and Jewish Scholars Discuss Jesus at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Amy-Jill Levine, New Testament professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, discusses misconceptions about First Century Judaism during a session of Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Photo by Marilyn Stewart/NOBTS

Evangelical scholar Ben Witherington III and Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levine found many points of agreement regarding the “historical” Jesus during a dialogue at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. But on the issue of Jesus as Messiah, their views diverged.

Witherington, noted New Testament scholar and Asbury Theological Seminary professor, and Amy-Jill Levine, Vanderbilt Divinity School New Testament professor and a member of an Orthodox synagogue, spoke at the seminary’s Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum March 25 on the topic of “Christians, Jews and Jesus.”

Witherington is a frequent guest on radio and television programming regarding Jesus and the Gospels. His books “The Jesus Quest” and “The Paul Quest” were selected by Christianity Today as top biblical studies. Levine is general editor for The Jewish Annotated New Testament, a work that addresses the Jewish background and culture of New Testament times. Both Witherington and Levine are elected members of the prestigious SNTS (Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas).

The Greer-Heard Forum, made possible through the generosity of Bill and Carolyn (Greer) Heard, provides a venue in which respected scholars of differing opinions dialogue on issues of religion, science, philosophy and/or culture.

“We have this event to teach our students how to think carefully and how to engage in conversations with those who disagree with them,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said.

“In a world with such polarized diversity, the willingness and ability to talk with, and not simply about, those who disagree with you is a necessary skill if we are to introduce Jesus beyond the circle of those already transformed by His Gospel. We are NOBTS. We do conversations,” Kelley said.

The speakers modeled respectful dialogue and disagreement during the two-hour forum. They found many points of agreement as they discussed Jesus as a first-century Jew.

“The culture we live in has grown progressively more biblically illiterate,” Witherington told the audience of about 500 in speaking of the importance of seeing Jesus within His context. “And in that kind of culture anything can pass for knowledge about who Jesus was…. We need scholarship about the historical Jesus precisely because of where we are in our cultural history.”

Both speakers emphasized the value of friendship and Christians and Jews knowing each other better.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Marilyn Stewart