Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, Ben Witherington III, #3

WitheringtonThis week, I am continuing reading, for my New Testament devotions and study, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, by Ben Witherington III. In the second part of this book Witherington shows that the influence of Jewish wisdom literature played an important part in the language and content of the New Testament.  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.

Chapter 5, Wisdom's Legacy: From Q to James, begins the second part of the book which shows how the wisdom tradition permeates the whole New Testament. This chapter shows the wisdom content in Q and in the Epistle of James. Q is the theoretical text that is a source of Matthew and Luke. It is a collection of sayings and narratives of Jesus that pre-dates the Gospels. It is compiled from the overlapping materials in Matthew and Luke. Witherington shows that Q is a wisdom collection which includes some traditional wisdom sayings of Jesus, some counter-wisdom sayings like Qoheleth, prophetic wisdom and a portrayal of Jesus as the embodiment of wisdom.

The pre-eminence of Jesus in the Q tradition is established in two primary ways: (1) as Robinson recognized, by the identification of Jesus with the Son of Man and in particular the future Son of Man who will yet come; and (2) by the identification of Jesus with Wisdom who has already come and been rejected. 227

Jesus was a sage, but not just any sort of sage. He is a sage of counter order (like Qoheleth), but also a prophetic sage, like Ben Sira or Pseudo-Solomon in some ways (e.g. in his use of eschatology). In his use of revelatory Wisdom and the Son of Man concept he is like the sage who composed the parables of Enoch. What the final redactor is most concerned to show, however, is that Jesus is one like Solomon, or even greater than Solomon, because in him Wisdom has taken on flesh. 233

The person who put together Q appears to have been a scribe, and one may say a sage in his own right, one steeped in Jewish Wisdom material but also most profoundly impacted by the Jesus who offered aphorisms, riddles, and parables of a counter order. This sage believed not only in Jesus’ teachings but in Jesus himself, hence the central focus on Jesus in Q. 234–235

James employs the Q sayings in a more traditional way like the Book of Proverbs, Ben Sira and The Wisdom of Solomon. Witherington sees James as being written before the Gospels as well and drawing on either Q, or the tradition that led to Q. James tends to use Jesus' sayings to show that they are in agreement with the tradition of early Jewish wisdom collections. "James is handling the Jesus tradition as though it were proverbial Wisdom (247) and not bringing in the "already-not yet" counter-order which was in the more eschatological stream in Jesus' teaching.

James mainly sees the Jesus tradition as a development of the earlier Jewish sapiential traditions, and uses Jesus’ sayings to reinforce some traditional Wisdom agendas. 241

In chapter 6, Singing Wisdom's Praise, Witherington is looking at the influence of Jewish wisdom literature in the way the Deity of Christ was expressed in hymns quoted in the NT. From Proverbs 8 on, wisdom literature described wisdom as present and active with God in eternity past and participating in creation. The NT authors used this language, also based on Jesus' fulfillment of OT expectations and his death and resurrection, to praise Jesus as God. The praise took on a "V pattern," in which the pre-existent Jesus humbled himself to become human, died, rose and then was exalted back to his previous place as the divine-human 2nd person of the Trinity.  

Christ not only stripped himself in this way but also shunned any rightful human accolades or dignity; he took on the very form of a servant or slave. He identified himself with the lowest of the low, and he died a slave’s death. This hymn places an especial stress on the fact that the pre-existent Christ had a choice about these matters and he chose to act in the way he did. Thus it is stressed that Christ was obedient even to the point of dying on the cross. He could have done otherwise. Philippians 2.6-11, 265

The term prototokos reflects the Old Testament idea found for instance in Ps. 89:27 where God promises to make the King his firstborn—the meaning is preeminent, supreme in rank, not necessarily created. In this usage there is also some sense of temporal priority. Thus the point is that he is prior to and supreme over all creation. Colossians 1.15-20, 269

It is not just a case of fulfilling earlier promises, but a case of going beyond any previous revelations. What follows tries to establish not only that Jesus fulfills previous hopes and promises, but also that he surpasses previous forms of revelation. Only the Son is the exact representation of the being of God. Hebrews 1.2b-4, 276

This logos or Word was present with God before the space-time continuum or universe was created. Not only so, this Word is said to be God. John 1, 286

Wisdom Christology, as it is expressed in these hymns, is a very high Christology indeed. When the sapiential hymn material was applied to the historical person Jesus, this led to the predicating of pre-existence, incarnation, and even divinity to this same historical person. 290

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