In a series of lecture videos on The Gospel of John, Ben Witherington III proposes to treat the gospel along the lines of wisdom literature. He says:

It’s my view that one of the things that makes this a very distinctive presentation of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is that what the author has decided to do is tell the story of Jesus through the lens of early Jewish Wisdom literature. When I say early Jewish Wisdom literature, what I mean is not merely Proverbs and Job and Ecclesiastes—the OT books of Wisdom literature—but also intertestamental Jewish literature that’s of a wisdom nature. That would include the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Ben Sira, or Sirach.

One of the things conspicuously absent from the fourth gospel, however, is the word "wisdom" (sophia). The word appears quite commonly in Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and The Wisdom of Solomon, but is completely absent from John.

Does this place Witherington's treatment in doubt? Or are there reasons to think this is purposeful on the part of the author while remaining self-conciously within the Wisdom tradition?

  • Are you asking specifically about john's intention concerning the word Sophia or are you wondering about the allusions to Sophia in the book of john? – Matthew Miller Mar 10 '15 at 5:58
  • About the intention concerning the word Sophia – Soldarnal Mar 10 '15 at 13:25

John is distinctive among the New Testament Gospels in that it does not use the word 'wisdom' or 'sophia', but it does use the word 'Word', or Logos, as a term for Jesus. Alvar Ellegard says in Jesus One Hundred Years Before Christ, page 18, that the feminine Hebrew Hokmah (Wisdom) was translated into the masculine Greek Logos. under the influence of the philosophers, Logos developed a meaning that was more than just a 'word' in Greek, but this is our nearest English equivalent. Just as in Hebrew Wisdom literature, Wisdom was with God at creation (eg Proverbs 8:23) so also the philosophers came to the view that the Logos was there at the beginning of creation (cf John 1:1). Philo of Alexandria took the Logos concept into the Jewish diaspora, from which it is thought by some to have come to John, where it has some parallels in usage to the OT Wisdom.

Raymond E. Brown tells us in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 346, Wisdom is a very important motif in Johannine christology, saying the language, "No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry and no one who believes in me shall ever again be thirsty" (John 6:35) echoes the promise of divine Wisdom in Ecclesiasticus 24:21.

I am not familiar with Witherington's treatment of John, but the above discussion should support his teaching.

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