After reading Ben Witherington’s Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper, I’m prepared to say that, in my opinion, Witherington is one of the most winsome, thought-provoking, and helpful New Testament scholars writing today. This book is the second in a trilogy of books he’s writing for Baylor University Press. I reviewed the first book on baptism here. The third will be on scripture. This book takes its place in the trilogy in a more than worthy manner.
Witherington reminds me a bit of N.T. Wright in terms of (a) his impressive output of published works, (b) his evangelical heart and scholar’s mind, and (c) his ability to speak to people where they are. He is an accessible and popular guide through the occasionally murky waters of New Testament scholarship but a formidable presence in the guild of New Testament scholars as well.
This book does a masterful job of laying down a biblical theology of the Lord’s Supper. Witherington makes a compelling case that the supper was intended to be a radical and gospel-fueled vehicle for the re-stratification of society. It encapsulates as a meal what the gospel is in reality: peace, joy, and a new social order in Christ.
Witherington is great at using historical backround to illuminate the text. He does this very effectively in his detailed descriptions of both the Jewish Passover meal and the components of the Greco-Roman meal. His description of the latter helped me understand something that has always been a bit muddled in my mind: the love feast or the wider meal that Paul and Jude speak about of which the Lord’s Supper was a part. Furthermore, Witherington’s helpful description of first-century worship in the home helped me understand a few aspects of the Supper as well.
His excursis on the idea that Lazarus (not John) was, in fact, “the beloved disciple” was, frankly, brilliant and compelling. I’m steeped enough in the popular notions concerning John being “the beloved disciple” to want to do some further thought on this, but Witherington’s arguments have placed a tremendous burden on my own assumptions here.
I believe I’m going to do what I actually seldom do: re-read a book immediately after finishing it. I have the sense that Witherington has hit on something here that is poignant and timely. The Lord’s Supper is, in my own Baptist tradition, woefully underappreciated. This book will serve as a very helpful guide in any efforts to see it restored to its rightful place.