Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"Wisdom" in the New Testament

By and large NT wisdom (sophia) has the same intensely practical nature as in the Old Testament. Seldom neutral (although cf. ‘the wisdom of the Egyptians’, Acts 7:22), it is either God-given or God-opposing. 

If divorced from God’s revelation, wisdom is impoverished and unproductive at best (1 Cor. 1:17; 2:4; 2 Cor. 1:12) and foolish or even devilish at worst (1 Cor. 1:19ff.; Jas. 3:15ff.). Worldly wisdom is based on intuition and experience without revelation, and thus has severe limitations. The failure to recognize these limitations brings biblical condemnation on all (especially the Greeks) who haughtily attempt to cope with spiritual issues by human wisdom.

The truly wise are those to whom God has graciously imparted wisdom: Solomon (Mt. 12:42; Lk. 11:31), Stephen (Acts 6:10), Paul (2 Pet. 3:15), Joseph (Acts 7:10). One of Christ’s legacies to his disciples was the wisdom to say the right thing in times of persecution and examination (Lk. 21:15). A similar wisdom is necessary for understanding the apocalyptic oracles and enigmas (Rev. 13:18; 17:9). Wisdom is essential not only for leaders of the church (Acts 6:3) but for all believers that they may perceive God’s purposes in redemption (Eph. 1:8–9) and may walk worthily of God (Col. 1:9; Jas. 1:5; 3:13–17) and discreetly before unbelievers (Col. 4:5). As Paul has taught his hearers in all wisdom (Col. 1:28), so they who are mature enough to understand this spiritual wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6–7) are to instruct others in it (Col. 3:16).

God’s wisdom is clearly demonstrated in his provision of redemption (Rom. 11:33), which is manifested in the church (Eph. 3:10). It is supremely revealed in action, God’s supreme action in Christ on the Cross.’ This wisdom, previously veiled to human minds, has no philosophical or practical rivals. The best attempts of men to untangle the problems of human existence are shown to be foolishness in the light of the cross.

The incarnate Christ grew in wisdom (Lk. 2:40, 52) as a boy and astonished his audiences by his wisdom as a man (Mt. 13:54; Mk. 6:2). His claims included wisdom (Mt. 12:42) and a unique knowledge of God (Mt. 11:25ff.). Twice he personifies wisdom in a manner reminiscent of Proverbs: Mt. 11:19 (= Lk. 7:35) and Lk. 11:49 (Mt. 23:34ff.). In both passages Christ may be alluding to himself as ‘Wisdom’, although this is not certain, especially in the latter instance. 

Paul’s wisdom Christology (1 Cor. 1:24, 30) was probably influenced both by Christ’s claims and by the apostolic consciousness (grounded in Christ’s teachings in Matthew) that Christ was the new Torah, the complete revelation of God’s will, replacing the old law. Since the commandments and wisdom are linked in Dt. 4:6, and especially in Jewish thought (e.g. Ecclus. 24:23; Apocalypse of Baruch 3:37ff.), it is not unexpected that Paul would view Jesus, the new Torah, as the wisdom of God. That Paul saw in Christ the fulfilment of Pr. 8:22ff. seems apparent from Col. 1:15ff., which strongly reflects the OT description of wisdom.

Paul’s wisdom Christology is a dynamic concept, as is shown by the emphasis on Christ’s activity in creation in Col. 1:15ff. and in redemption in 1 Cor. 1:24, 30. The latter verses affirm that in the crucifixion God made Jesus our wisdom, a wisdom further defined as embracing righteousness, sanctification and redemption. As the slain yet exalted Lord of the church, he is lauded for wisdom (Rev. 5:12). ‘Receive’ in this verse implies acknowledgment of attributes which are already Christ’s; for in him ‘are hid all the treasures of wisdom’ (Col. 2:3).