Saturday, January 2, 2010

Wisdom and Messiah

Luther said "if you take Christ out of scripture what will you have left?" Consequently, historically Lutheran exegesis has taken seriously the idea that all scripture reveals Christ, points to Christ and urges Christ. The wisdom literature of the Old Testament is no different- though modern critical scholarship has not appropriately appreciated this fact.

Through a serious of intertextual echoes, St. Paul in his epistle to the Colossians identifies Jesus with the pre-existent Wisdom of God found in the 8th chapter of the book of Proverbs. What I would like to suggest is that this connection is not arbitrary or disconnected from Jesus' claim to be the Davidic Messiah. Specifically, there is a direct connection between the figure of Solomon in the I Kings and the figure of Holy Wisdom in Proverbs.

What is the nature of Holy Wisdom? The description of Wisdom is as one who is "created" and "brought forth" from God before all things. Some have suggested that this means Wisdom is a creature of God and not God himself. This does not necessarily work though because 1) Holy Wisdom is identified as the agent of creation- something only reserved for God 2) This presupposes a greater terminological precision to the term "created" than existed before the Arian controversy. Furthermore, Paul calls Christ "the first born of all creation" (in describing him as Holy Wisdom in Colossians) and then in the next chapter says "in him the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily." In other words, when Proverbs says "brought forth" and "created" it really does mean "begotten not made"- according to the interpretation that Paul gives us. Being "begotten" (this being very close to "brought forth") also describes the Messianic Davidic figure of Psalm 2. There is also a description of the David's offspring being "a Son to me" in II Samuel 7 as well. In this we may say that these prophecies were imperfectly fulfilled in Davidic kings and perfectly fulfilled in Christ. So, first we have a parallel in both Christ, Holy Wisdom and the Davidic kings being a kind of divine offspring.

The second point of comparison is the description of Wisdom as the agent or the "Workman" of creation. This is also true of Solomon. Solomon is the one who builds the Temple and the Temple is described as a microcosm of creation by the Old Testament. First, the Temple is based on the plan of the Tabernacle. In Exodus 25-40 the Tabernacle is established via 7 distinct speeches culminating in a command of the Sabbath- directly paralleling the 7 days of creation. The elements of the Temple and the Tabernacle parallel the structure of creation. The three sections represent earth, the starry and celestial heavens. The seven lampstands represents the 7 planets (known to the ancients). This symbolism is similar the narrative of Solomon's establishment of the Temple. It takes him 7 years to build- he dedicates it during a 7 day festival. He establishes it on the vernal equinox- the same day that Noah emerged from the Ark into the new creation.

All of this parallels Christ. He is the true creator of the world- Solomon is merely an earthly echetype. He is the true Wisdom in that he is the eschatological wisdom of the cross that "destroys the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent." He establishes new creatures which praise God and which serve as a Temple for God. The Church is the eschatological Temple and therefore the new creation.


  1. Dear Jack, Thanks for this blog, I really enjoy reading your writings. Congratulations on getting married also. How would you respond to the people who use "wisdom" here to some how portray a female part of the Trinity. i.e. the Sophia movement, and even using it as a basis for praying to a female god. Thanks, John

  2. John, I would say that Christ uses a female metaphor for himself when he weeps over Jerusalem recounting how in the OT he as YHWH attempted to gather Israel to himself as a mother hen tries to gather her chicks. It does not mean that there is really a female part of God or that Jesus was secretly a woman. It's merely a metaphor. In any case, I find that idea that there is a female "part" of God highly unusual. How could God who is a Spirit have female body parts? I mean, that's what makes a woman, right? I mean, we may say that there are female personality characteristics (perhaps it could be argued that the female "part" of God had these?-bizzare beyound belief!), but they are only tendencies, not something set in stone. Also, the idea that God would have different male and female "parts" is weird. All this sounds very much like some of the Gnostic ideas that the Church condemned in the 2nd century. Hope this was helpful and that you're doing well.