Since I have been discussing Christology over this last month, you may be interested in consulting my post on the Christological titles given to Jesus and the bibliography that I have so far compiled on Christology and Jewish intermediary figures. See also James McGrath’s post from earlier this month that links to a variety of Christology posts around the biblioblogosphere.
The opening verses of 1 John seem to deliberately echo, or at least share common traditions with, the prologue of the Fourth Gospel in John 1:1-18. In a previous post, I discussed whether the language of autopsy suggests that the “we” were actual eyewitnesses or authoritative interpreters of the Johannine tradition. The “word of life” in 1 John 1:1 could be equated with the incarnate Jesus as a visible and tangible human being. Alternatively, it may be equivalent to the proclaimed message whose acceptance leads to eternal life. The term logos is used in this way in the epistle in 1:10, 2:5, 2:7, and 2:14.
In John 1:14, we read that the logos (word) became (egeneto) flesh (sarx) and tabernacled ( eskēnōsen) among his people as God did formerly in the tabernacle. Like most scholars, I judge this to be a clear reference to the incarnation of a pre-existent divine being in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth. However, other scholars that I have listed in the bullet points below read this verse in a “possessionist” sense where the logos united with the human Jesus at his baptism (cf. John 1:32-34). While there is evidence in Patristic literature and the Nag Hammadi Library that John’s Gospel was read as suggesting that Jesus’s body was merely a vessel for a divine entity (e.g. Christ aeon), I do not see any indication from the text of John that the baptism was the moment when the logos entered into Jesus. Rather, John seems to me to be repeating the traditional interpretation shared by the Synoptic Gospels that the baptism was when Jesus was anointed and empowered for his messianic office and mission. The Spirit, descending (katabainon) like a dove, remained (emeinen) on Jesus and marked him out as the Messiah. I continue to read John 1:14, on the other hand, as insisting that the logos became fully incarnate in a flesh-and-blood human being.
- Fuller, Reginald T. “The Incarnation in Historical Perspective” in Theology and Culture: Essays in Honour of A. T. Mollegen and C. L. Stanley. Anglican Theological Review Supplementary Series 7 (1976), 57-66.
- Kinlaw, Pamela E. The Christ is Jesus: Metamorphosis, Possession, and Johannine Christology. Atlanta: SBL; Leiden: Brill, 2005.
- McGrath, James F. “Johannine Christianity – Jewish Christianity?” Koinonia 8.1 (1996): 1-20.
- McGrath, James F. John’s Apologetic Christology. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 111. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
- Schoonenberg, Piet. “A Sapiental Reading of John’s Prologue: Some Reflections on Views of Reginald Fuller and James Dunn.” Theology Digest 33.4 (1986): 411-421.
- Talbert, C. H. “‘And the Word Became Flesh’: When?” in Future of Christology: Essays in Honor of Leander E. Keck. Edited by Abraham J. Malherbe and Wayne A. Meeks. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993, 131-141.
- Watson, Francis. “Is John’s Christology Adoptionist?” in The Glory of Christ in the New Testament: Studies in Christology. Edited by L. D. Hurst and N. T. Wright; Oxford: Clarendon, 1987, 113-124.
One thing that you may have noticed if you read through the prologue of John’s Gospel (1:1-18) is that John did not use the feminine term sophia (wisdom) but the masculine term logos (word, message, reason). However, these two terms could be used interchangeably (Sirach 24:3; Wisdom 9:1-2; Philo, Allegorical Interpretation 1.65; On Flight 97, 109). Moreover, the reason for the shift seems to me to be that John also intended to echo the creation narrative in Genesis 1 in which God speaks creation into existence. Although Wisdom is accessible to all humankind, she was primarily embodied in the Torah according to Sirach 24:23 and was incarnate in the flesh in John 1:14. John, like Philo of Alexandria, may have further aimed to communicate to those who were familiar with the logos from Stoic and Middle Platonic philosophy.
Matthew seems to have been informed by Wisdom Christology. For instance, the unique saying about taking Jesus’s yoke in 11:28-30 echoes the saying assigned to “Woman Wisdom” in Sirach 51:26. Moreover, Matthew 11:19 and 23:34 is paralleled in Luke 7:35 and 11:49, but Luke has Wisdom vindicated by her children rather than her deeds and Wisdom rather than Jesus sending prophets. Jesus may act as Wisdom’s spokesperson when he expresses his longer to gather the children of Jerusalem together as a hen does the chicks under her wings (cf. Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34).
The most common solution to the Synoptic Problem is known as the “Two Source” hypothesis and envision Matthew and Luke drawing on a shared source (Q) for their common material that they did not receive from Mark. The second most popular solution, the “Mark without Q” or “Farrer” hypothesis, posits that Luke relied on Matthew in addition to Mark. Finally, the “Griesbach” hypothesis argues that Matthew was first, that Luke was second, and that Mark harmonized them both. There are other, more complicated solutions involving additional oral or written sources and proto-Gospels.
Many Two Source theorists would judge Luke 7:35 and 11:49 to reflect the most primitive form of the sayings as found in Q, while Matthew tweaks the sayings to make the identification of Jesus with Wisdom explicit. Farrer and Griesbach theorists may argue that it was Luke who edited Matthew in order to differentiate Jesus from Wisdom as her emissary. Alternatively, Luke could have drawn on Matthew in some instances, while being aware of more primitive versions of some of the sayings in the oral tradition in other instances. What do you think is the best solution to the Synoptic Problem?
In my own search for posts on “Woman Wisdom” in the biblioblogosphere, I found some posts from almost 10 years ago at John Hobbin’s blog Ancient Hebrew Poetry. He interacts with Michael Fox’s and Bruce Waltke’s interpretations of “Woman Wisdom” in the book of Proverbs here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Fortress Press is having a Spring Academic Sale for U.S. residents for a limited time! Check out their collection on biblical studies, theology, ethics, history, and world religions. You can purchase my book The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century for a great price if you are interested in the battle for the ownership of Mark’s Gospel in the second century CE.
For helpful introductions to “Woman Wisdom” at the Society of Biblical Literature’s Bible Odyssey website, see Christine Roy Yoder “Woman Wisdom and the Woman of Substance,” Carol Newsom’s “Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly,” and Amy Erickson’s “Job and Woman Wisdom.” See also Carol Meyer’s post on “A Strong Woman (Prov 31:10-11).” Finally, if you are a biblioblogger who has written extensively on this topic, send me an email and I will include your post below.
For the Vose conference on wisdom literature that I advertised in the previous post, the paper abstract that I would like to propose will be on how Jewish and Christian reflection on “Lady Wisdom” influenced the presentation of Jesus in the Gospel of John, especially in its magisterial prologue. Scholars debate whether “Woman Wisdom” was the remnant of ancient goddess worship, a literary personification of God’s immanence or of the order instilled in creation and accessible to human minds, or a divine hypostasis. Below are a sample of studies on the topic. Moreover, in a similar way as Jesus had alone seen and resided “in the bosom” of the Father (John 1:18), making him the supreme revealer of the Father’s character and will, so the “disciple whom Jesus loved” leaned “on the bosom of Jesus” at the Last Supper and functioned as the ideal interpreter of Jesus. Thus, I hope to introduce some of my own work on the beloved disciple and how he sets an example of wisdom, discernment, and fidelity that all followers of Jesus may imitate.
Passages on Wisdom
- Proverbs 2; 8; Sirach 24; Wisdom 6:12-25, 7:7-11:1; Baruch 3:9-4:4; 1 Enoch 42:1-2; Matthew 11:19, 28-30; 23:34; John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:2-3
- Douglas, Sally. Early Church Understandings of Jesus as the Female Divine: The Scandal of the Scandal of Particularity. New York: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2016.
- Fiorenza, Elizabeth Schüssler. Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet: Critical Issues in Feminist Christology. Second Edition. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015.
- Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroad, 1992.
- Perkins, Pheme. “Jesus: God’s Wisdom.” Word & World 7.83 (1987): 273-280.
- Witherington III, Ben. Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994.
Critique of Wisdom Christology
- See the chapters by Karen H. Jobes “Sophia Christology: The Way of Wisdom” (pp. 226-250) and Gordon D. Fee “Wisdom Christology in Paul: A Dissenting View” (pp. 251-279) in The Way of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Dr. Bruce K. Waltke on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday. Edited by J. I. Packer and S. Soderlund. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.
I want to announce an exciting conference that is scheduled to be held at Vose Seminary on August 28-29, 2018. The Conference is entitled “Ancient Wisdom, Modern World” and features Dr. Tremper Longman as the keynote speaker. The link will lead to more information about the conference, the esteemed keynote speaker, and the call for papers. I invite you to submit an abstract to read a paper or to just attend so that you can enjoy thought-provoking lectures and discussions.
Update: abstracts for this conference are due on Friday, April 13 if you are interested in presenting a paper. There is also a website that you can visit where you can find out more about the themes of the conference on ancient biblical wisdom literature and on love and sex in the Song of Songs.