Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, Ben Witherington, #4

WitheringtonThis week, I am concluding the reading, for my New Testament devotions and study, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, by Ben Witherington III. In the final chapters of this book Witherington discusses the influence of Jewish wisdom literature on Paul’s letters and the Gospels of Matthew and John. He then concludes with some summarizing thoughts. I am posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

In chapter 7, Paul the Apostle: Sage or Sophist? Witherington looks at the wisdom content in Paul's letters, especially 1, 2 Corinthians and Romans. He asserts that wisdom themes are an important part of Paul's presentation, but not the only theme. Paul has combined wisdom and prophetic themes. The wisdom that Paul presents is mainly a "mystery" that has been revealed in Christ through the Gospel and is applied to people through faith in Christ. This removes any pride in one's knowledge or wisdom and reminds us of our total dependence on God. This is what all human wisdom and even torah were pointing to all along. In Christ, God's wisdom, righteousness and justice are completed.

He will present the Gospel in a sapiential way so as to offer a different sort of Wisdom to his audience. Paul offers a revelatory Wisdom, a Wisdom that must be called a musterion for unless it is revealed it could never be known; it is not the sort of Wisdom one could deduce from close scrutiny of the world or human behavior. He offers a Wisdom that squashes individualism, elitism, and human pride and counters factionalism in the congregation. 304

Whatever the Corinthians may have been looking for in terms of divine knowledge or Wisdom, Paul’s assertion is that they will find it in Christ. 1 Corinthians 8.10, 10.4, 316

The real aim of the Law, the righteousness of God, is Jesus Christ.” The point is then that one will find the crucial things one has been looking for in the Law (Wisdom, righteousness and the like) only in Christ, not least because Christ rather than personified Wisdom or even personified Righteousness (cf. 10:6) is what Torah has been pointing to all along. Romans 10.4, 326–327

Paul reads the Hebrew Scriptures with Christ in mind, but he often allows earlier sapiential ways of handling the text to guide the way he will use it to point to Christ. Paul does not equate Christ with Torah, but he does believe that Torah, rightly interpreted, points not to itself but to Christ as the locus of God’s Wisdom. 331

Chapter 8 is entitled The Gospels of Wisdom: Matthew and John. In this section Witherington shows that the gospels of Matthew and John are not only portraying Jesus as a wisdom teacher, but also as the very embodiment of God's wisdom. He sees both gospels as a product of teaching schools for training disciples in the wisdom and way of Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus is Immanuel, God present with us, who is the greater Son of David, the one "greater than Solomon," the ultimate teacher and embodiment of wisdom. The disciple is expected to learn this wisdom and pass it on to others. In John, Jesus is the Logos, the embodiment of God's wisdom, incarnated. He is the One that connects the heavenly dimension to the earthly and provides God's wisdom relationally as the light, life, vine, bread and shepherd. He provides the Spirit through whom God's presence and wisdom can now reside in His disciples. 

Matthew primarily intends to present what he views as the public teaching of Jesus and its explication; John primarily presents what was appropriately used as “in house” explanations of the public teaching as well as some of the private teaching of Jesus meant first for the inner circle alone...Matthew primarily presents Wisdom for Christian teachers to use with outsiders or new converts; John presents Wisdom for those who need further instruction in the school of Christ. 338

In the First Evangelist’s mind, Jesus is greater than Solomon in regard not only to sonship, or healing, or manifesting wise teaching, but also to the matter of God’s house and, one might add, in inheriting a kingdom. While Solomon did build a house for God, Jesus is the presence that must fill that house or else it is desolate. 366

The Fourth Evangelist makes understanding that Jesus is the one who has come from and returns to heaven a, if not the, key to understanding his identity in this Gospel. In short, proper christological understanding requires a knowledge of the path traced by Wisdom now seen in the person of Jesus, the incarnation of God’s Word/Wisdom. 373

Witherington concludes the book with some Final Reflections on Wisdom’s Journey. First he concludes that NT teachings, including those of Jesus, were deeply influenced by the content and forms of OT and intertestamental wisdom literature. Jesus' innovation was to apply these qualities to Himself as the embodiment of the wisdom of YHWH. The high christologies of the Gospels and NT epistles owe much to the language of the embodiment of wisdom in Jewish literature. The NT authors also followed Jewish literature in the combining of wisdom and apocalyptic ideas in their writings.

When Jesus and then his followers drew on the Wisdom traditions they too continued this trend towards particularism, only in their context this meant that Wisdom was associated with and sometimes identified with Jesus himself. 383–384

I would suggest that most if not all the Christology found in the christological hymns, in Q, in Matthew, and to a great degree in Paul as well, developed first in Jewish Christianity in Palestine within the first twenty years after Jesus’ death. This initial surge of creative thinking about Jesus, seeing him through the eyes of Jewish Wisdom material, was sparked by Jesus’ own appropriation of those traditions. 385

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