Sunday, October 10, 2010

Proverbs 8:22-31

Said of wisdom:

Proverbs 8:22 “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
26 before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man.

I cannot tell a lie.These used to be amongst my favorite texts in scripture because I thought they poignantly depicted the relationship between Yahweh and his preexistent Messiah.And though I still think the allusion is there in that Jesus was always with Yah and alive to him as the foreordained Christ who would become his wisdom to the world,as the righteousness and redemption and sanctification of it,I have come to behold a larger picture and to examine alternative possibilities that make much more sense to me.A year ago,you probably couldn't have convinced me that this wasn't explicit proof Jesus preexisted no matter what you said,given the seeming implicit correlation of John ch1,Col.1,Heb 1. etc.(as well as the texts that call Jesus the wisdom of God in the NT)..And even after I began to think it wasn't very likely Jesus preexisted given my understanding of the majority of the bible,I still had issues with "Wisdom Christology" and what I thought were those "airtight" correlations just mentioned.That's when I had to examine ALL the evidence to try and make sense of it all.I came to find too many texts to count where Yahweh creates in his word and wisdom(that aren't people apparently!)but that BECAME a person in that Christ fulfilled them..The bible explains how.Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world and at the cross said "It is finished."..God's word made flesh fulfilled indeed!And the wisdom he became was the righteousness and sanctification and redemption of the world,a reconciliation of a fallen world to Yahweh.In these remarkable respects he embodies,represents,and brings alive fully God's will,word and wisdom.From the beginning.That which God had with him from the beginning.But I no longer am able to say he was named Word and Wisdom in the OT.It seems somewhat perplexing to me that people say so at all now that I've thought & prayed so much about it.There is a book called "Christology in the Making" by James D.G. Dunn that articulates the truth about God's word and wisdom far better than I ever in my wildest dreams could..because it is complex.Yet simple at the same time,strangely enough.Hard to articulate for me personally.But I guess that's why the guy's a writer.:)Though I certainly don't agree with every conclusion Dunn reaches in his book..I really like it.It expounds what I thought I knew but was unable to put into words.He put it into words for me and for that I am moved by his book.What I am going to do is quote some of the points he brings out in the hopes that it will make the scales fall from eyes that may be blinded.From the eyes of people so inundated in their traditions and presuppositions that the truth isn't even an option.All quotes are from pp. 163-176 of his book.

About the "wisdom passages",Dunn says(and this skips around everywhere so my recommendation is to read the whole book of course.):

"If we set out the passages in the most likely chronological order,it becomes evident that there is both a development in the talk about Wisdom,and that the development is due in large part to influence(positive and negative) from religious cults and philosophies prevalent in the ancient near East at the time."

He goes on to say:

Attractive to many scholars is the thesis that Prov. 8:22-31,and more clearly Sir. 24, has been greatly influenced by the cult of Isis from Egypt.The chief point of comparison is that Isis proclaims herself as the divine agent who created and sustains the universe,as the teacher who has revealed to men the principles of morality and the laws and arts of civilization--we know of at least one hymn in the first person to this effect which circulated widely throughout the empire of the Ptolemies probably as early as the 3rd century BC.

Skipping ahead..

However deeply rooted in Palestinian soil and Jewish faith was the last Israelite talk of Wisdom,many of the images and words used to describe her were drawn from wider religious thought and worship--**the aim being to present the worshippers of Yahweh with as attractive as possible an alternative to the cults and speculations more widely prevalent in their time..**

In order to understand what meaning such words and statements had for those who used them,WE MUST INTERPRET THEM IN THE CONTEXT IN WHICH THEY WERE USED.

Skipping ahead again..

No worship is offered to Wisdom;Wisdom has no priests in Israel.That is to say,when set within the context of faith in Yahweh there is no clear indication that the Wisdom language of these writings has gone beyond vivid personification.

For the Jew of Alexandria as well as the Jew of Palestine the wisdom of God had been most fully and clearly expressed and embodied in the Torah.(and we know Christ fulfilled that as the greater embodiment of wisdom!The Torah was a tutor that led to Christ,so this point makes sense to me.)

It would appear then as though the Jewish wisdom writers do indeed take up some of the more widespread language of Near Eastern religious speculation,and do so in CONSCIOUS AWARENESS OF ITS USE ELSEWHERE.;but they DO NOT draw the same conclusions for worship and practice as the polytheistic religions do.On the contrary,they adapt this wider speculation to their own faith and make it serve to commend their own faith;to Wisdom understood (and worshiped) as a divine being(one of Isis' many names)they pose the alternative of Wisdom identified as the law given to Israel by (the one) God.

The Jewish wisdom writers use it (Wisdom) alongside affirmations of Jewish monotheism without any sense that the latter is in any way threatened by the former."

Dunn then goes on the give tons of examples where wisdom is used and personified,where it is clearly and irrefutably NOT a person.Here's JUST one:

Prov. 3:19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
by understanding he established the heavens;

To me,this text is as clear as another one:

Ps. 33:6: By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

Yet Christians think this wisdom and this word are a literal person alongside him in the OT.Jesus fulfilled God's word and wisdom to be sure but is Jesus REALLY a person in these texts except in the sense God didn't create anything without knowing Jesus would fulfill all things?Be honest with yourself.

Dunn goes on to point out that ben Sira speaks of creation without any reference to Wisdom in a number of passages,that he had no intention of giving Wisdom the status of an independent entity.Dunn also points out that the author of the Wisdom of Solomon had not the slightest thought of it as an independent divine entity.(He gives lots of texts and support for this in his book..again,recommended.)

He goes on to say:

"Wisdom as a divine hypostasis,involves the importation of a concept whose appropriateness here is a consequence of the technical meaning it acquired in the much later trinitarian controversies of the early church.It has NOT been demonstrated that Hebrew thought was already contemplating such distinctions within its talk of God.On the contrary,for a Jew to say that Wisdom "effects all things",that "love of Wisdom is the keeping of her laws"(Wis. 8:5,10:15,6:8),was simply to say in a more picturesque way that God created all things wisely,that God's wise purpose is clearly evident in the exodus from Egypt and most fully expressed in the law he gave through Moses."

He goes on to mention that wisdom is only one of a number of words in the OT and intertestamental literature described AS THOUGH they were divine entities independent of God.(Some examples:Ps. 85:10,96:6,43:3,45:4,Job 25:2,Is. 51:9,Wisd. 11:17)

James says:

"The judgment that in such passages we are more in the realm of Hebraic personification than Near Eastern "hypostatization" is further confirmed when we recall that not only divine "attributes" but also more human characteristics can be personified in precisely the same way.So for example with injustice,wickedness and sorrow.(Job 11:14,Ps. 107:42,Is. 35:10)."

Dunn concludes:

"It seems that we have little ground for dissenting from the views of those most familiar with Jewish thought in its rabbinic expression.The Hellenistic Judaism of the LXX did not think of Wisdom as a "hypostasis" or "intermediary being" any more than did the OT writers and the rabbis.Wisdom,like the name,the glory,the Spirit of Yahweh,was a way of asserting God's nearness,his involvement with his world,his concern for his people.All these words provided expressions of God's immanence,his active concern in creation,revelation and redemption,while at the same time protecting his holy transcendence and wholly otherness....It is very unlikely that pre-Christian Judaism ever understood Wisdom as a divine being in any sense independent of Yahweh.The language may be the language of the wider speculation of the time,but within Jewish monotheism and Hebraic literary idiom Wisdom never really becomes more than a personification of a FUNCTION of Yahweh,a way of speaking about God himself,of expressing God's active involvement with his world and his people without compromising his transcendence."

The way the Jews borrowed concepts from paganism simply to make a point and attract those who may be deceived by it to Yahweh and his will and wisdom for the world reminds me of Jesus borrowing language and concepts from the pagans to teach the Pharisees a moral lesson in the Rich Man and Lazarus parable.(1 Cor. 9:19-23)These bible authors were taking views prevalent at the time and not adopting them,but using them to teach something,to give their listeners something to think about outside THEIR worldviews,to attract them with their own language used in a fresh way.As a way to bring people to the truth or teach something true,and that truth is always God's word fulfilled in Jesus,the light of the world that God gave to mankind,foreordained before he ever made the world in his wisdom.God knowing that his wisdom would be revealed exceptionally,inimitably,and fully in his Lamb,the redeemer that he created NOTHING without foreknowing as the fulfillment and sanctification of it all.Of his intents(word) and WISE plans from the beginning!Yahweh never intended anyone to stray from the faithful ancient strict Jewish monotheism in the OT,prevalent amongst some of his greatest OT servants.The Shema doesn't reform,but men can be mistaken, and frankly, egregiously are with their false triune God.Jesus:

1.Confirmed that his father alone is the God of the Shema.(Mark 12:28-34)
2.That his father created in Genesis with no hint he was involved.(Mark 13:19,Heb. 4:4,Is. 44:24)
3.That his father is the only true God and greater than he was,not because he humbled himself unto death,but because he HAS a God,while THE God does not.The bible does not split Jesus in two.Men who misuse scripture do.(John 17:3,John 14:28,John 20:17)

God didn't create anything without his wisdom and word that BECAME Jesus when he was born as a man,the Son of God because God begat him by spirit through a virgin womb.God's plan and redemption for mankind(his word and wisdom) at last revealed so beautifully.(1 Cor. 1:30,Col. 1:26)This all becomes so easy to understand once we heed Hebrew thought-forms and God's purpose for man from Genesis to Revelation,a kingdom represented on a new earth by sanctified faithful mankind made possible by THE prototype perfect exalted beyond measure Son of God.(Rom. 5:12-21,1 Cor. 15:45,Gen. 3:17,Rev. 22:2,3)A way to salvage what he knew Adam would lose!In Christ,the LAST Adam.:)The most beautiful truth and word I've ever heard!Our hope is a resurrection at the last day to live forever with Christ.(2 Tim. 4:6-8,1 Thes. 4:16)A temple for Yahweh to indwell forever as we inhabit and reign his footstool.(Is. 66:1,1 Pet. 2:5,Heb. 3:6,Rev. 5:10)

As noted above,the references to Yahweh's functions and attributes in the bible and intertestamental literature are both vast and oft entail vivid personification.To isolate a couple "wisdom" ones and call it a person,I think would be a mistake.(Prov. 3:19,again)Though I've no doubt some of the NT creation passages in reference to God creating in Christ might have a poetic allusion to Proverbs 8,I don't think it's because Jesus was a person creating for God but because Jesus BECAME what God created everything in,his word and wisdom.As the bread,the MAN,who came down from heaven,the flesh that would give life to the world.With God from the beginning,a plan he brought forth before he made the world to save it.But that plan wasn't a spirit creature who created for Yahweh and came down from heaven,because God created alone(Is. 44:24) and it is flesh that came down from heaven,figuratively.(John ch. 6,a bible chapter chockfull of figurative language)And that BREAD(flesh) was the word and wisdom of God.A preexistent spirit creature wasn't.

Wisdom of Solomon ch. 9 says: 1: O God of my fathers, and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things with thy word,
2: And ordained man through thy wisdom, that he should have dominion over the creatures which thou hast made,
3: And order the world according to equity and righteousness, and execute judgment with an upright heart:
4: Give me wisdom, that sitteth by thy throne; and reject me not from among thy children:
5: For I thy servant and son of thine handmaid am a feeble person, and of a short time, and too young for the understanding of judgment and laws.
6: For though a man be never so perfect among the children of men, yet if thy wisdom be not with him, he shall be nothing regarded.

Do these have allusions to Jesus?Perhaps,because Jesus became God's ultimate representation and fulfillment of his own wisdom.However,it should be clear this is poetic language where wisdom isn't a spirit creature.Obviously,personification is called precisely that because it makes the function or attribute sound like it's a person,even though it's not.Though a person may embody it.In these instances and in every other where poetry or personification is used,"wisdom is a real person" shouldn't be assumed.


  1. There is Only ONE True Living GOD, Father(Creator) of ALL!

  2. And The Messiah is wholly submitted unto Our Father for it is as He testified, "of Mine own self I can do nothing" and "The Father is greater than I",,,,etc, and as Paul testified, "GOD is The HEAD of The Messiah"!