John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel

By Ben Witherington III

A comprehensive and discursive study of the Gospel of John. The author places it within its proper literary, historical, social and theological contexts, and emphasises the connections with the wisdom traditions of Hellenistic Judaism.

ISBN: 9780718829452


Jesus as depicted in the Fourth Gospel is remarkably dissimilar to the Jesus found in the synoptic gospels. In this book, Ben Witherington places the Gospel of John within its proper literary, historical, social, and theological contexts, especially those dealing with the wisdom traditions of hellenistic Judaism. What emerges is a compelling argument that the Gospel of John has an agenda for mission, in addition to concerns for discipleship and community life.

The book begins with an Introduction, which contains much invaluable material under the subheadings:

  • Genre (John as ancient biography)
  • Mode (the link to drama)
  • Sources (John and the Synoptics, Signs Source)
  • Authorship and Editorship (relationship between the two; internal and external evidence)
  • Voice and Style (relation to Wisdom literature)
  • Date and Provenance (relation to other Johannine material, Ephesus, last part of the first century)
  • Purpose (analysis of John 20:31)
  • Audience
  • Social Setting (consideration of Rensburger, sectarianism etc.)
  • Structure (outline of the gospel)

There follows a Commentary on the gospel covering the ‘Original/Historical Horizon’ (a discussion of the critical issues about the passage in question) and more unusually, general and introductory suggestions about the application of the material. This second approach marks John’s Wisdom as an exceptional work, dealing with questions raised by critical study of the passage for preachers, teachers and theological students.

Additional information

Dimensions229 × 153 mm


Trade InformationLGEN

About the Author

Ben Witherington III has a PhD from Durham University, and was a Bye Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge, in 1992. An elder of the Methodist church and a member of the Society for the Study of the New Testament, he is currently Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. His previous books include Paul’s Narrative Thought World, The Christology of Jesus and Jesus, Paul, and the End of the World.


Introduction: The Background and Foreground of the Fourth Gospel

Part I. Beginnings: Including the Prologue – John 1:1-2:12
1. The Prologue to the Fourth Gospel: Wisdom’s Way into the World (1:1-14)
2. A Cloud of Witnesses (1:6-9, 15-51)
3. The New Wine of the Gospels (2:1-12)

Part II. The Public Ministry of Jesus: Phase One – John 2:13-4:54
4. Cleaning House (2:13-25)
5. Nicodemus and Nativities (3:1-21)
6. John, Jesus and the Waterworks (3:22-36)
7. A Saviour in Samaria (4:1-42)
8. The Second Sign at Cana (4:43-54)

Part III. The Public Ministry of Jesus: Phase Two – John 5:1-12:11
9. Sabbatical Work (5:1-47)
10. Food for Thought, Bread on the Waters (6:1-71)
11. Temple Discourses and Healing (7:1-10:42)
12. Family Affairs (11:1-12:11)

Part IV. The Passion Narrative: Phase One – John 12:11-17:26
13. The Return of the King and His Last Audience (12:11-50)
14. A Farewell Dinner (13:1-30)
15. The Farewell Discourses (13:31-17:26)

Part V. The Passion Narrative: Phase Two – John 18:1-19:42
16. The Arrest and Trial of Jesus (18:1-19:16a)
17. The Death and Burial of Jesus (19:16b-42)

Part VI. The Resurrection Narrative: Including the Epilogue – John 20:1-21:25
18. The Presence of His Absence (20:1-10)
19. Mary, Mary, Extraordinary (20:11-18)
20. Preserving Appearances Behind Closed Doors (20:19-31)
21. Breakfast by the Sea (Epilogue) (21:1-25)

Appendix: The Woman Caught in Adultery – John 7:58-8:11

Endorsements and Reviews

This is a remarkable and accessible book, written from a conservative but balanced perspective. I warm to the author’s view that the overall character of the fourth Gospel is dramatic. Witherington’s work is based on sound scholarship and a wide-ranging knowledge of the relevant literature. This commentary bids fair to become a standard contribution to Johannine studies, making John’s wisdom available to a large number of readers in a very positive way.
The Church Times

[Ben Witherington III] writes with confidences and vigour … a learned book … written very clearly.
Kenneth Grayson, in Methodist Recorder

Based on sound scholarship and a wide-ranging knowledge of the relevant literature … pleasingly sensitive to the community dimensions of John’s Gospel … bids fair to become a standard contribution to Johannine studies, making John’s wisdom available to a large number of readers in a very positive way.
Stephen Smalley, in Theological Book Review

… Wisdom literature has universal appeal; he is perfectly conversant with contemporary scholarship and engages critically with such contemporary scholars as Martyn, Meeks, Smith, Neyrey and Resberger. But he is sceptical of attempts to establish layers or earlier Christologies within the text of John … He is critical of those who argue for a literary dependence on John’s part upon the synoptic Gospels … innovative comment is divided between what Witherington terms ‘the historical horizon’ and ‘bridging the horizons’ … interpretative hints which should stimulate readers and preachers to make John work for them today … As a sustained piece of interpretation, this commentary is valuable. In its desire to ‘bridge the horizons’, it breaks new ground and should prove immensely useful to practitioners.

… provides a very useful review of the main Jewish texts up to AD 70, and a lucid argument.
Andrew Chester, in The Journal of Theological Studies

This is a polished piece of work by an accomplished writer. It offers both solid exegesis of the Gospel of John and substantive, practical guidance for teachers and preachers looking for ways in which the Gospel continues to speak in a contemporary setting.
R. Alan Culpepper, Professor of New Testament, Baylor University