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Correctly Handling the Word of Truth: An interview with Craig S. Keener


An interview with Craig S. Keener by John P. Lathrop.

I noticed that of the eleven books that you have had published that you have written three about the Holy Spirit. Is the Holy Spirit a subject of particular interest to you?

Craig S. Keener during an 2012 interview in Chicago.

Craig Keener: When I was a 15-year-old atheist, I argued with those who first brought me the gospel—then walked home so convicted by the Holy Spirit that I fell to my knees and surrendered to Christ. Two days later, I walked into a Pentecostal church and was so overwhelmed by God’s Spirit that when I began to pray it came out in tongues, though I’d never heard of that experience before. Two years later, at 17, I began to learn God’s voice in prayer and His deep love and yearning for us. Yes, the Holy Spirit is indeed a subject of great interest to me—and not only academically.


One of your more well-known books is the IVP Bible Background Commentary-New Testament. In this volume you give historical background information on the text of the New Testament. How crucial is historical background to understanding the Bible?

Craig Keener: The most important tool for Bible study, next to the Spirit’s guidance, is context—something we have available in the Bible itself. But after that comes background. There are some things that the biblical writers could assume that their first readers understood, which they didn’t need to explain to them. These include the Greek or Hebrew language in which they were writing; we have translations to help us with that barrier.

But what about cultural issues writers could simply assume, which are foreign to us? For example, we might be able to apply Paul’s passages on head coverings better if we recognized that those coverings were a sign of sexual modesty in his culture, and failing to wear them signified an attempt at seduction. Christians might not cover their heads in all cultures today, but we should avoid dressing or acting seductively. Sometimes missing the background can make a life-and-death difference. Nineteenth-century slaveholders abused Paul’s exhortations to slaves because they took verses out of context but also because they wrongly assumed that the kind of urban household servanthood he addressed was the same thing as the kind of systematic race slavery they advocated.

Because background is the least accessible tool for Bible study, I have focused much of my research over the years in making this available to the church. The Background Commentary, which provides background on almost every passage in the New Testament, has sold over 200,000 copies since it came out (over 30,000 of them in Korean, with other translations now becoming available).

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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2007

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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