What is Wisdom?

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ICON of Sophia, the Wisdom of God of Kiev.

IN THE BIBLE, Wisdom refers variously to smart decision-making, wise teaching, a body of literature, one particular book, a remarkable woman, and the person of Jesus. But let’s start at the beginning. Wisdom is originally presented as a divine attribute: an aspect of God to be imitated by those made in God’s likeness. Like other divine characteristics—love, justice, mercy, truth—God desires to share wisdom with us. Solomon is right to pray for it. The Holy Spirit imparts seven gifts to those fully initiated into the church; wisdom is at the top of the list, followed by understanding, knowledge, counsel, courage, reverence, and wonder in God’s presence. Wisdom comes first as the grace that assists in the practice of all other virtues.

The Bible explores this important aspect in many ways. In Hebrew the word refers to practical instructions on how to live: how to run your household and business, how to worship, and how to deal with your neighbor. These wisdom teachings frequently take the form of two-line sayings that are easy to remember, like proverbs. They may tell you what to do in positive terms, what not to do in the negative, or contrast the actions of a fool to one who is wise.

Five Old Testament books deal primarily with this kind of instruction: Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. This grouping came to be called “Wisdom literature” or the Wisdom tradition, from a school of teaching very popular in the Near East in the five centuries before the time of Jesus. It was a period when the Jewish community was scattered farther than Israel and was heavily influenced by Greek ideas. Much wisdom literature was written in Greek, using the word sophia for “wisdom.” It’s easy to see how Sophia would become personified as Lady Wisdom, a woman worth winning. As students of the wisdom school were young men, courtship would be an attractive metaphor for attaining wisdom.

As a divine attribute, Wisdom was involved in the creation of the world and was an active principle in its design, as Proverbs 8 describes. John’s gospel defines another presence in that event: the preexisting Word of God, which linked Jesus to Wisdom. Saint Paul emphatically identifies Christ as the wisdom of God. The wisdom God once shared through messengers and media is now a Word delivered in the flesh.

Job 28:12-28; Proverbs 1:20-33; ch. 8; 9:1-6; Wisdom chs. 7, 8, and 9; Sirach ch. 24; Isaiah 11:2-3; John 1:1-18; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Colossians 1:15-20

From Earth’s Creation to John’s Revelation: The INTERFACES Biblical Storyline Companion by Barbara Green, O.P., Carleen Mandolfo, and Catherine M. Murphy (Liturgical Press, 2003)
Wisdom’s Many Faces by R. Charles Hill (Liturgical Press, 1996)

Wisdom Christianity from The Bede Griffiths Trust

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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