A Look at the Diety of Jesus: Jesus as Wisdom Incarnate

In this post, I am not exactly saying anything new. But it has long been noted that there is a relationship between John’s Gospel and Wisdom Christology. British scholar James Dunn has a nice summary here. He says:

“John’s claims for Jesus are clearest in his presentation of Jesus as Wisdom. It has long been recognised that the language of the Johannine prologue is considerably dependent on the Wisdom theology of Second Temple Judaism. John speaks of the divine Word (logos), but the language echoes the Wisdom reflection of Israel’s sages, as also Philo’s reflection on the Logos. • As with Wisdom in Prov. 8 and Wis. 9.9, the Logos of John was in the beginning with God (John 1.1). • As in 1 En. 42, Wisdom sought a dwelling place among the children of men, and found no dwelling place, so the Johannine Logos ‘came to his own home, and his own people received him not’ (John 1.11). • As in Sir. 24.8, Wisdom ‘set up her tent in Jacob’, so the Johannine Logos ‘pitched his tent among us’ (John 1.14). • John’s talk of Jesus descending from heaven has its closest parallels in such Wisdom passages.

The ‘I am’ claims of the Johannine Jesus are closely paralleled in the first-person singular speech of Wisdom in Prov. 8 and Sir. 24. • That Wisdom is not just another intermediary or angelic agent, but is a way of speaking of God himself in his self-revelation, lies behind John 12.45 and 14.9: ‘He who sees me sees him who sent me’ (12.45); ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (14.9). • In a similar vein, 12.41—Isaiah ‘saw his glory and spoke of him’. Jesus is identified with the glory/Shekinah of God, the presence of God visible to Isaiah in the Temple (Isa. 6). • Hence the charge laid by ‘the Jews’ in John’s Gospel against Jesus: he makes himself equal with God (John 5.18); he, though a man, makes himself God (10.33)

What we see that John is engaging with many of his fellow Jews in reflection about whether and how God reveals himself to his people. Many of them were content to rest on the testimony of Moses and the prophets. John replies by asserting that Moses and the prophets wrote of Jesus (5.46). The grace and truth through Jesus transcended the law that had come through Moses (1.17). The water of life gave a more lasting satisfaction than the well of Jacob (4.5–14). The bread of life come down from heaven far transcended the manna in the wilderness (6.31–40). Many sought deeper revelation through apocalyptic vision and heavenly journey. John replies that it is not those who ascend to heaven who bring true knowledge of God, but the one who has descended from heaven, Jesus. The sages were not slow in identifying the divine wisdom by which God created the world, the divine wisdom which he offered to his people. They identified the Wisdom of God with the Torah.

[Wisdom’s hymn in praise of herself] is the book of the covenant of the Most High God, the law that Moses commanded us’ (Sir. 24.23). ‘She [Wisdom] is the book of the commandments of God, the law that endures forever’ (Bar. 4.1). John replies by claiming that this divine Wisdom is not so much to be found in the Torah as in Jesus (John 1.14–18). We may say that Israel’s sages inscripturated Wisdom in the Torah. Whereas John incarnated Wisdom in Jesus. As the sages had found God’s Wisdom nowhere more clearly expressed than in the Torah, so the Johannine Christians claimed that they had found the same Wisdom nowhere more clearly expressed than in Jesus.”-James Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels.

This entire quote ties in with the following:

Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner wrote a book called The Incarnation of God: The Character of Divinity in Formative Judaism (Binghamton, NY: Global Publications, 2001). In it, Neusner says:

“Since rabbinical documents repeatedly claim that, if you want to know the law, you should not only listen to what the rabbi says but also copy what he does, it follows that, in his person, the rabbi represents and embodies the Torah. God in the Torah revealed God’s will and purpose for the world. So God had said what the human being should be. The rabbi was the human being in God’s image. That, to be sure, is why (but merely by the way) what the rabbi said about the meaning of Scripture derived from revelation. Collections of the things he said about Scripture constituted compositions integral to the Torah. So in the rabbi, the word of God was made flesh. And out of the union of man and Torah, producing the rabbi as Torah incarnate, was born Judaism, the faith of Torah: the ever present revelation, the always open-canon. For fifteen hundred years, from the time of the first collections of scriptural exegeses to our own day, the enduring context for midrash remained the same: encounter with the living God.” (Jacob Neusner, Midrash in Context: Exegesis in Formative Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 137)

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