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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

1. In OT and Apocrypha.-In the OT, Wisdom in its nature and office is discussed in the series of books known as the Ḥokhmâh or Wisdom literature of the Hebrews. We find here not so much a philosophy as the rudiments of a philosophy on the practical side. The ‘wisdom,’ e.g., of Joseph or Solomon, in the earlier literature of the OT, is ‘the clever judicial decision, the faculty of clothing a practical experience in a rule of life or a witty saying, the acuteness which can solve an enigma’ (Duncker, quoted by Skinner in Cent. Bible, ‘I and II Kings,’ p. 88).

Wisdom was not regarded as the peculiar possession of Israel; indeed in certain portions of the OT, Edom is regarded as its home. As time went on, however, and brought the people sorrow and crisis, when trouble pressed hard upon the heart, and faith wavered or declined, Wisdom developed into a serious spirit of inquiry.

A. B. Davidson (Biblical and Literary Essays, London, 1902, p. 29) differentiates the Hebrew Wisdom from the Greek or any other secular philosophy by its standpoint or approach to the problems of the world’s life; the former started with God, while the latter reached Him, if at all, only at the end of a long process. The Wisdom of the Hebrews, since it came down from God upon life, was a process of recognition, while secular philosophy was one of discovery. The nature of the Hebrew Wisdom is apparent: ‘It is not a view of the Universe distinct from God, much less a view of God distinct from the Universe; it is a view of the Universe with God indwelling in it’ (ib., p. 32).

For the understanding of Wisdom, as it appears in the discussions of the Apostolic Age, the Book of Proverbs (chs. 1-9, and especially ch. 8) is of capital importance, for there in germ is the speculation of Philo, and the subsequent identification of Wisdom with the Logos of the Fourth Gospel. ‘The eighth chapter of Proverbs, and those associated chapters of the Apocryphal Wisdom-books, are fundamental for the primitive Christology’ (Exp , 8th ser., xii. 169). The development has been thus traced-‘the unity of thought and efficiency that animates and operates the world may be abstracted from God, the actual living Operator.… This plan or organism of principles may be idealized, and regarded as animated and active, and have consciousness attributed to it, … it may become the Fellow of God … it may be described as “playing” before God, in the joyous consciousness of power and capacity, and having its delights with the children of men.… This remarkable conception is the contribution which the literature of the Wisdom furnishes to the Christology of the Old Testament.… There can be no doubt that’ this conception of Wisdom ‘entered into the Messianic consciousness of Israel, and enriched it; and’ it is ‘reproduced in the New Testament in connection with the Son. “The Word was with God.” “All things were made by Him.” “In Him do all things subsist” ’ (Davidson, pp. 34, 80 f.; the reader may also be referred to an interesting series of papers by Rendel Harris on ‘The Origin of the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel’ in Exp , 8th ser., xii. 161). This Wisdom literature strongly influenced both the Jewish and the Christian Church, but it is, perhaps, in its later developments, in the Book of Wisdom and Sirach, and, above all, in the other Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the OT, that we can see the developments of thought that enriched and guided Judaism in the age 180 b.c.-a.d. 100 (cf. R. H. Charles, Religious Development between the Old and the new Testaments, London, 1914, p. 184 ff.).

But the Wisdom books, as a preparation for the gospel, raised difficulties which they could not solve, and thus pointed forward to the revelation of God in Christ; through them also contact was made with the Greek world; Judaism and Hellenism met together over the pages of the LXX , especially in its sapiential portions (cf. R. L. Ottley, The Religion of Israel, Cambridge, 1905, pp. 154, 172).

In estimating the influence which OT Wisdom literature had upon thought in the Apostolic Age, regard should be had to the various currents of Judaism, and to the fact that in some cases the Wisdom books have a different outlook from that of the prophetic message. Often ‘the counsel of the wise’ was chiefly political and secular; even Sirach sometimes commends a line of conduct that is more prudential and self-centred than religious. Above all, we should remember the pervasive influence of Hellenism, especially in a centre like Alexandria, where East and West met and mingled (cf. Hort, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, London, 1895, passim). All these influence the conception of Wisdom as it crosses the path of apostolic Christianity.

2. Wisdom in the Apostolic Age.-The discussion may be confined to the use of the term in 1 Corinthians 1-3. Other references ( Ephesians 1:8;  Ephesians 1:17;  Ephesians 3:10,  Colossians 1:9;  Colossians 1:28;  Colossians 2:3;  Colossians 2:23) will be covered by that discussion. For it is improbable, e.g., that in Colossae any definite system was being propagated. The indications point rather to a blend of elements from Eastern faiths with notions and practices current among Jewish circles which were sensible to semi-Alexandrian influences (cf. J. Moffatt, LNT , Edinburgh, 1911, p. 152).

‘The Church of God which is at Corinth’ explains the vindication which St. Paul had to make of his gospel and the manner in which he presented it as well as the difficulties he found in the defence of Christian teaching and social order. For Corinth was the city of licence. ‘He was here confronted not merely by the old religion of polytheism, not only by a stunted or degraded moral sense; the greatest barrier was the prevailing mode of thought, the spiritual atmosphere, the habit of judging everything according to the form, the rhetoric, and the dazzling dialectic with which it was presented, the habit of accepting nothing, of even being willing to hear nothing, which did not respond to these demands’ (C. von Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age, i. [London, 1897] 311). ‘Corinthian words’ was only another synonym for rhetoric and the frothy speech with which one intellectual party confuted the opinions of another.

It was not strange, therefore, that these parties should be perpetuated inside the Christian Church, where Jew and Greek met one another, each with his contribution to the preparation for the gospel, or his idiosyncrasy of thought inherited from his fathers. From this there sprang up what has been called ‘a Graecised Judaism,’ an anticipation of the later Gnostic systems, which endeavoured to construct a theology from an allegorical interpretation of the OT, the loftier forms of philosophy, and also from the ideas and mythologies of various Eastern religions. The process is seen in Clement of Alexandria (Strom ii. 480 [P.]). whose leading idea is that the Divinely ordained preparation for the gospel ran in two parallel lines, that of the Jewish Law and Prophets, and that of Greek Philosophy (cf. Hort, Ante-Nicene Fathers, p. 88). Thus, in Corinth, Hellenism and Judaism met and mingled, and there sprang from the combination the pseudo-philosophy which is the morbid growth of an intellectual age among a people that has passed its meridian.

The intellectual ferment imported from the city and the schools into the church at Corinth manifested itself in an outcrop of party-feeling and division which at first was of Jewish origin. But the corrupting leaven soon spread in a community that Clement of Rome (Letter to the Church of Corinth, iii.) characterized as prone to faction and quarrel (στάσις), and led away by an unrighteous and impious jealousy (ζῆλος).

The difficulties of the Church were increased by the fact that in Corinth the Christian religion had to find its footing on Graeco-Roman soil. It was not easy for Hellenic thought to fit itself to the new faith whose centre was a Cross, and one can sympathize with, or at least understand, men of an intellectual type who honestly thought they were doing a service to the good cause in presenting Christianity as a σοφία, and proclaiming its message in terms of the philosophy of the day. ‘Greeks seek after wisdom,’ but St. Paul’s speech and the thing he preached were not in persuasive words of wisdom ( 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 RVm ). There is no ground for connecting Apollos with the special method favoured by the Corinthians, which departed from St. Paul’s positive doctrine of the Christ, though it may well have been that the eloquent Alexandrian’s teaching ‘awakened a tendency to further free speculation’ (Weizsäcker, i. 322).

From St. Paul’s First Epistle we are left in no doubt as to the substance of his first gospel preaching in Corinth. He did not ‘begin by opposing idolatry and inculcating monotheism,’ and so ‘advancing from this basis to the doctrine of redemption, of Christ.… He began with the mystery of redemption.… He did not begin with those rational principles that might have paved the way for his gospel, but he presented to his hearers in all its strangeness, yet in all its power, the doctrine of the cross’ (Weizsäcker, i. 314 f.). These are the historical facts he imparted to them in the first instance: ‘I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scripture; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as unto one born out of due time, he appeared to me also’ ( 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). ‘That was absolutely the whole gospel.… It was the doctrine with which he began’ (Weizsäcker, i. 314).

‘Christ! I am Christ’s! and let the name suffice you,

Ay, for me too He greatly hath sufficed:

Lo with no winning words I would entice you,

Paul has no honour and no friend but Christ’

(F. W. H. Myers, St. Paul).

From the vehemence with which the Apostle reiterates the staple of his message, one can infer the distaste with which ‘the foolishness of the preaching’ was received. The cultured and ruling classes rejected it with something of the energy of contemptuous loathing with which cultured Athenians spoke of the οἱ βάναυσοι; it was good enough only for the vulgar, the illiterate, and the base. They, on the other hand, were to be saved by the wisdom of the schools.

To this St. Paul’s answer was two-fold: (a) the gospel was not a philosophy to be discussed, but a message of God to be believed (cf. EGT ii. 774); (b) in point of fact, σοφία had not brought them the knowledge of God. The verdict of history had shown that ‘the world by wisdom knew not God’ ( 1 Corinthians 1:21). It has not been saved by dialectic; God ‘will not be apprehended by intellectual speculation, by “dry fight” ’ (EGT ii. 769). The wisdom of the world (κόσμος = the material world) in its very nature could not but fail to interpret the spiritual world ( 1 Corinthians 2:11-12). As a matter of historical fact, reason, apart from a special revelation, has never been able to attain any practical knowledge of God, nor has it been able ‘to show to the soul a fountain of cleansing, healing, and life.’ These things ‘are beyond the limits of man’s intellectual tether’ (cf.  1 Corinthians 2:14).

The Apostle’s experience in Athens ( Acts 17:16-34) had not encouraged him to meet philosophers on their own ground, and, when he came to Corinth, it was with the deliberate purpose of not commending his message by the devices of rhetorical display, or the arguments of philosophy-‘I came not with any striking rhetorical or philosophical display, for I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ ( 1 Corinthians 2:1-2). ‘When [therefore] eccentric teachers inculcated views which threatened to transform Christianity, to alter, as it were, its centre of gravity, or to pivot it on some new axis, resistance was instinctive’ (R. Rainy, The Ancient Catholic Church, p. 95).

This resistance ruled St. Paul’s presentation of his message: οὐκ ἐν σοφίᾳ λόγου, ἵνα μὴ κενωθῇ ὁ σταυρὸς τοῦ Χριστοῦ ( 1 Corinthians 1:17), ‘The term κενοῦν denotes an act which does violence to the object itself, and deprives it of its essence and virtue. Salvation by the cross is a Divine act which the conscience must appropriate as such. If one begins with presenting it to the understanding in the form of a series of well-linked ideas, as the result of a theory concerning man and God, it may happen that the mind will be nourished by it, but as by a system of wisdom, and not a way of salvation.… The fact evaporates in ideas, and no longer acts on the conscience with the powerful reality which determines conversion’ (F. Godet, Com. on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, Edinburgh, 1893, i. 89).

Denney in illustration of this point instances a Hindu Society which had for its object to appropriate all that was good in Christianity without burdening itself with the rest. ‘Among other things which it appropriated, with the omission of only two words, was the answer given in the Westminster Shorter Catechism to the question, What is repentance unto life? Here is the answer. “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth with grief and hatred of his sin turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.” The word the Hindus left out were in Christ; instead of “apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ” they read simply, “apprehension of the mercy of God.” But they knew that this was not compromising. They were acute enough to see that in the words they left out the whole Christianity of the definition lay’ (Studies in Theology, London, 1894, p. 130). St. Paul perceived that by the abstractions of Greek philosophy the gospel would be emptied (κενοῦν) of its significance and power, and his answer to this was: ‘We preach Christ’-not a system, but a Person-and Christ as crucified.

His method was justified by his experience of the Corinthian Church. Even though ‘by the enticing words of man’s wisdom’ a number of intellectually disposed Greeks had been attracted to the Church, in the absence of what has been called ‘profound conscience-work,’ the results were not lasting. ‘The wants of the understanding and imagination had, in many cases, more to do with their adherence than those of the heart and conscience’ (F. Godet, 1 Corinthians, i. 18). From the Corinthian letter we can see that there was an outcrop of old pagan habits and a reversion to type among men who had never really been evangelized. This was another evidence of the failure of wisdom as a substitute for ‘the word of the cross.’

Yet, while the Apostle rebukes and resists the superficial σοφία of the Corinthians, he also has his wisdom by which he relates the fact of Christ and ‘the word of the cross’ to his general view of the world: ‘unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, [we preach] Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God’ ( 1 Corinthians 1:24). Thus he appropriates for the Crucified the ‘power’ and ‘wisdom’ of God, terms which were recognized ‘synonyms of the Λόγος in the Alexandrian-Jewish speculations’ (EGT , in loc.). But, since the Corinthians were no philosophers ( 1 Corinthians 1:26), ‘we speak wisdom among them that are perfect’ (2:6), i.e. his philosophy is intelligible only to the initiated and to the spiritually mature. To them all the things that God hath prepared are revealed. There is a wisdom; it is a revelation, not a discovery but a recognition (cf. Hebrew Wisdom, ut supra); it is mediated to men by the Spirit, and otherwise it cannot be discerned. This wisdom the Apostle would have proclaimed ab initio, for it is no esoteric doctrine; but how could he? The Corinthians were Christians, they had believed (3:5) but they had not yet (οὔπω) reached the stage of a purely spiritual appreciation. ‘There is nothing esoteric in Christianity, but the presentation of it has to be adapted to the capacities of those who are taught’ (J. E. McFadyen, The Epistles to the Corinthians, London, 1911, p. 46). Of some things our Lord said to the Twelve, ‘Ye cannot bear them now’ ( John 16:12), and He pointed them to the revealing Spirit who would bring them into the full knowledge of the truth. Similarly, concerning the preaching of the true wisdom, St. Paul says, ‘I was not able (οὐκ ἠδυνήθην), because ye were not yet able (οὔπω ἐδύνασθε)’ ( 1 Corinthians 3:1-2).

3. Humanism versus Christianity.-Apart from its application to the experience of the Apostolic Church, St. Paul’s discussion of wisdom has timeless interests in its bearing on the evangelization of the world, and on the true method of what is called evangelical preaching. R. Flint (Sermons and Addresses, Edinburgh, 1899) raises the subject in a discourse on the text ‘Christ is made unto us wisdom.’ ‘There were people,’ he says, ‘who thought he [Paul] might profitably have imitated admired philosophers and popular orators; that he should have had a wider range of subjects and used more enticing words. Those foolish Corinthians have many successors among ourselves, who fancy that the pulpit would gain greatly in power if ministers would only discourse more about science and philosophy, nature and history, political and social reform, and the various so-called questions of the day.… The power of the pulpit will most certainly not be increased by ministers forsaking their own glorious work, the direct preaching of Christ, for the lecturing on lower themes.… The power of the pulpit lies in preaching Christ, and will be strong or feeble according as He is faithfully and zealously or faithlessly and coldly preached’ (p. 217). The persuasions to depart from the centre which Flint, himself a great preacher, so energetically repudiates meet every minister on the very threshold of his office, and are echoed again and again in the more or less strident voices of the world. There is always the aversion of men of taste to evangelical religion, from Corinth to the present day. ‘If our connection with Christianity is nothing better than a mixture of captious criticism and transient enthusiasm, with a dash of graceful posing thrown in, we are in danger … of just playing with Christ’s religion-playing, too, in the marketplace, surrounded by the realities of life and death, where business has to be done with God. The grace and gospel of Jesus are too serious to be thus trifled with. Their genius and office are not to be profaned by aesthetic handling either in the pulpit or in the pew’ (J. Moffatt, Reasons and Reasons, London, 1911, p. 137). One does not need to be an obscurantist or illiberal in turning back again to St. Paul as he contends for the purity and simplicity of the gospel message and vindicates its power. In every generation there will be found some who decry it as ‘weak and foolish,’ yet history has abundantly justified the power of the word of the Cross, and also the apostolic method in the delivery of the message. The victory over the world has never been with ‘moonlight theology’ or ‘extra-mural Christianity.’ Philo was a contemporary of St. Paul, but Philonism did not save the world; it was the simple, unaffected word of the Cross from a preacher such as St. Paul that won the Roman Empire, and brought-what Greek philosophy had failed to bring-a real knowledge of god to bond and free. If a system is to be judged by its fruits, if a method of preaching is to be so judged, one may well endorse the words, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God’ ( Romans 1:16) If Humanism and Christianity be placed on their trial as instruments for the regeneration of the mass of mankind, Christianity has no need to blush for its record, while philosophy, as regards the mass of mankind, has been a light only to itself and an ornament. The contrast between St. Paul and the Corinthian seekers after wisdom is seen in historical examples; in the message of Luther and Erasmus; the Evangelical Revival, ‘by its intense reality, its earnestness of belief, its deep tremulous sympathy with the sin and sorrows of mankind, did what no intellectual movement could, it changed in a few years the whole temper of English Society’ (J. R. Green, A Short History of the English People, London, 1882, p. 718). Thomas Chalmers draws a sad picture of the failure of his earlier ministry, when he preached apart from the Centre, or, as St. Paul would say, laid another foundation for life than that which had been laid. When the light of the Cross broke upon him, his method was changed, and the fruit appeared, and that not only in specifically religious results, but also in the social reforms that the old method (directly as it had sought them) failed to produce.

Amiel, who will not be suspected of narrowness, or bondage to old forms, speaking of the efficacy of religion, writes: ‘When the cross became the “foolishness” of the cross, it took possession of the masses. And in our own day, those who wish to get rid of the supernatural, to enlighten religion, to economise faith, find themselves deserted, like poets who should declaim against poetry, or women who should decry love.… It is the forgetfulness of this psychological law which stultifies the so-called liberal Christianity. It is the realisation of it which constitutes the strength of Catholicism’ (Journal, Eng. tr. , London, 1891, p. 171). In ‘Cleon,’ browning adopts the same attitude in his study of the failure of paganism, even in its forma of highest, culture, to solve the riddle of human, life and to answer the requirements of the human spirit. Cleon has heard of Paulus and of Christus, but who can suppose that a mere barbarian Jew

‘Hath access to a secret shut from us’?

The doctrine of Christ preached on the island by certain slaves is reported by an intelligent listener to be one which no sane man can accept. And Cleon will not squander his time on the futile creed of slaves (Poetical Works, London, 1883, v. 299). But wisdom is justified of her children. The best Humanism is founded upon the word of the Cross, because it appeals to needs that are common to all the generations of men. This is the Wisdom St. Paul preached: Christ Jesus who was made unto us Wisdom-that is to say, righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption ( 1 Corinthians 1:30); ‘a triangular constellation, with Wisdom reigning in splendour in the centre’ (cf. A. B. Macaulay, The Word of the Cross, London, 1912, p. 162 f.).

Literature.-art. ‘Wisdom’ in HDB iv. and EBi iv.; art. ‘Philo’ in HDB v.; A. B. Davidson, Biblical and Literary Essays, London, 1902, p. 23; R. L. Ottley, The Religion of Israel, Cambridge, 1905, p. 172; R. H. Charles, Religious Development between the Old and the new Testaments, London, 1914, p. 206; C. F. Kent, The Makers and Teachers of Judaism (Historical Bible), do., 1911, p. 162; ExpT viii. [1896-97] 393; Exp . 8th ser., xii. 161 ff.; C. von Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age. i., Eng. tr. 2, London, 1897, p. 303 ff.; F. J. A. Hort, Six Lectures on the Ante-Nicene Fathers, do., 1895, passim; R. Rainy, The Ancient Catholic Church, Edinburgh, 1902, p. 95; M. Dods, An Introduction to the NT, London 1888, pp. 100, 139 ff.; EGT , do., 1900, ad loc.; ICC , ‘1 Corinthians,’ Edinburgh, 1911 (Robertson and Plummer), ‘Ephesians and Colossians,’ do., 1897 (T. K. Abbott); R. Flint, Sermons and Addresses, do., 1899, p. 213.

W. M. Grant.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

Wisdom . The great literary landmarks of the ‘wisdom’ teaching are the Books of Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. This literature, in its present form at least, belongs to the latter half of the Persian period and to the Greek period of Jewish history. But behind this latest and finest product of the Hebrew mind there lay a long process of germination. In the pre-exilic history there are traces of the presence of the ‘wisdom’ element from early times. This primitive ‘wisdom’ was not regarded as an exclusively Israelitish possession, but was shared with other nations (  1 Kings 4:30-31 ,   Genesis 41:8 ,   Judges 5:29 ,   Jeremiah 10:7 ,   Ezekiel 27:8 ). In Israel it was confined neither to rank (  1 Kings 10:28 ,   Deuteronomy 16:19 ,   Job 32:9 ) nor to sex (  2 Samuel 14:1 ff;   2 Samuel 20:22 ); but it was particularly characteristic of ‘the elders’ (  Deuteronomy 1:16 ,   Job 12:12;   Job 32:7 ), and in course of time seems to have given rise to a special class of teachers known as ‘ the Wise ’ (  Jeremiah 18:18 ).

Early ‘Wisdom’ was varied in character and of as wide a scope as the range of human activities. It thus included the most heterogeneous elements: e.g . mechanical skill (  1 Kings 7:14 ), statecraft (  1 Kings 5:12 ), financial and commercial ability (  Ezekiel 28:1-26 ), political trickery (  1 Kings 2:6 ), common sense and tact (  2 Samuel 14:1-33;   2 Samuel 20:14-22 ), learning (  1 Kings 3:16-28 ), military skill and administrative ability (  Isaiah 10:13 ), piety (  Deuteronomy 4:6 ), and the creative energy of God (  Jeremiah 10:12 ). In short, any capacity possessed in an exceptional degree was recognized as ‘wisdom,’ and was regarded as the gift of God. But there was already manifest a marked tendency to magnify the ethical and religious elements of ‘wisdom,’ which later came to their full recognition.

In pre-exilic Israel, however, ‘wisdom’ played a relatively small part in religion. The vital, progressive religious spirit exhausted itself in prophecy . Here was laid the foundation of all the later ‘wisdom.’ Not only laid the prophets hand down the literary forms through which the sages expressed themselves, e.g . riddle (  Judges 14:14-18 ), fable (  Judges 9:3-15 ), parable (  2 Samuel 12:1-3 ,   Isaiah 5:1-5 ), proverb (  1 Samuel 10:12 ,   Jeremiah 31:29 ), essay (  Isaiah 28:23-29 ), lyric, address, etc., but they also wrought out certain great ideas that were presupposed in all the later ‘wisdom.’ These were: ( a ) monotheism, which found free course in Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Deutero-Isaiah; ( b ) individualism, or the responsibility of the individual before God for his own sins and for the sins of no one else the great message of Ezekiel; and ( c ) the insistence of God upon right character as the only passport to His favour a truth proclaimed by all the great prophets. With the fall of Jerusalem, however, and the destruction of the Jewish State, the knell of prophecy was sounded; the responsibility for shaping the religious destiny of Israel now fell into the hands of the priests and sages.

The priest responded to the call first, but sought to heal the wounds of Israel lightly, by purification and elaboration of the ritual. The true heir of the prophet was the sage. He found himself confronted with a new world; it was his to interpret it religiously. The old world-view of the prophet was no longer tenable. New problems were calling for solution and old problems becoming ever more pressing. The task of the sage was to adjust the truths left to him by the prophets to the new situation. It was his to find the place of religion in that situation and to make it the dominant element therein. The greatest sources of danger to true religion were:” ( a ) an orthodoxy which held the ancient traditions inviolable and refused to see the facts of the present ( b ) the scepticism and discouragement arising out of the miseries of the time which seemed to deny the justice and goodness of God; and ( c ) the inroads of Greek civilization which seemed to threaten the whole fabric of Judaism. Indeed, the sages themselves did not wholly escape being influenced by these tendencies: witness the orthodoxy of the bulk of the Book of Proverbs, the scepticism of Ecclesiastes, and the Greek elements in the Wisdom of Solomon. To these conditions the sages, each in his own way, addressed their message.

The writers of Proverbs, for the most part, stand firmly upon the old paths; in the midst of mental and moral chaos and flux they insist upon adherence to the old standards of truth and goodness, and they promise success to all who heed their instruction. For them prosperity is the proof of piety. This is the old prophetic recipe for national success made operative in the lives of individuals. Through it the sages inform all the ordinary processes of common everyday life with religious meaning. Their philosophy of life is simple, but shallow. They fail to realize that the reward of piety is not in the market-place, but in the soul.

The weakness of this traditional position is exposed by the Book of Job, which points out the fact that the righteous man is often the most sorely afflicted, and seeks to reconcile this fact with belief in the justice and goodness of God. But no solution of the age-long problem of suffering is provided: the sufferer is rather bidden to take refuge in his faith in God’s goodness and wisdom, and to realize that, just as the mysteries of God’s visible universe elude his knowledge, so also is it futile for him to attempt to penetrate the greater mysteries of God’s providence. Let him be content with God Himself as his portion.

Song of Songs illustrates the humanity of the sages. It concerns itself with the greatest of all human passions love. Whether to be interpreted as a drama or as a collection of lyrics such as were sung at weddings in Syria, it extols the nobility and loyalty of true love. In a period when the licentious customs of the pagan world were finding eager acceptance in Judah, such a powerful and beautiful vindication of the character of unselfish love was urgently needed, and was calculated to play an important part in the preservation of true religion.

Ecclesiastes is the product of many minds, with more or less conflicting views. But they are all concerned with the problem of practical scepticism: Does God care for truth and goodness? Is there any religious meaning in the universe? The heart of the book meets this question fairly and squarely. The iron has entered the author’s own soul. He desires to help those in the same situation with himself. He would give doubting, faltering souls a basis for faith. Recognizing and giving full weight to the many difficulties that beset the religious point of view and tend to drive men to despair, he holds fast to his belief in God’s loving care, and therefore counsels his fellows to put on a cheerful courage and perform their allotted tasks with joy. This is the only way to make life worth living, and worth living to the full.

Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon are both products of the life and death struggle between Judaism and Greek thought. The author of the former is hospitable to Greek social life, but rigid in his adherence to the old Hebrew ideals of morals and religion. He seeks to arouse loyalty to and enthusiasm for these in the hearts of the Jews, who are in constant danger of yielding to the seductive and powerful influences of Greece. The same purpose animates the author of the Wisdom of Solomon. But he is more liberal in his attitude to foreign influences. He welcomes truth from any direction, and therefore does not hesitate to incorporate Greek elements in his fundamentally Hebraic view of life and duty. He thus enriches the conception of ‘wisdom’ from every source, and seeks to show that this Hebrew ideal is immeasurably superior to the boasted Greek sophia .

Hebrew ‘wisdom’ by its very nature could have no fellowship with philosophy. The aims and methods of the two were fundamentally different. In the words of Bishop Westcott, ‘the axioms of the one are the conclusions of the other.’ For philosophy, God is the conclusion; for ‘wisdom,’ He is the major premise. Philosophers have ever been seeking after God ‘if haply they might find him.’ The mind of the sage was saturated with the thought of God. Philosophy starts with the world as it is, and seeks to find room for God in it; ‘wisdom’ started with God and sought to explain the world in terms of God. ‘Wisdom, ‘furthermore, was practical and moral; philosophy was speculative and metaphysical. The interests of ‘wisdom’ were intensely human. They were concerned with living questions and concrete issues. The problems of the sage were surcharged with emotion; they were the outcome of troubled feelings and perturbed will; only in slight measure were they the product of the intellect. It is not surprising, therefore, that ‘wisdom’ presents no carefully developed system of thought. The heart knows no logic. ‘Wisdom’ cares little for a plan of the universe; It leaves all such matters to God. It seeks only to enable men to love and trust God and to walk in His ways.

The Hebrew conception of ‘wisdom’ developed along two lines. ‘Wisdom’ had its human and its Divine aspects. In so far as it was human, it devoted itself to the consideration of the great problems of life. It was identified with knowledge of the laws and principles, observance of which leads to the successful life. These were all summarized in the formula, ‘the fear of the Lord.’ Later in the history of the idea, this subjective experience was externalized and objectified and, under the growing influence of the priestly ritual, ‘wisdom’ came to be defined as observance of the Mosaic Law ( Sir 19:20-24; Sir 24:23 ).

On its Divine side, ‘wisdom’ was at first conceived of as an attribute of God which He generously shared with men. Then, as the conception of God grew broader and deeper, large areas of ‘wisdom’ were marked off as inaccessible to man, and known only to God ( Job 28:1-28 ). Still further, ‘wisdom’ was personified and represented as the companion of God in all His creative activities (  Proverbs 8:22-31 ); and was, at last, under the influence of Greek thought, personalized, or hypostatized, and made to function as an intermediary between man and God, carrying out His beneficent purposes towards the righteous ( Wis 8:1; Wis 8:3-4; Wis 9:4; Wis 9:9; Wis 9:11; Wis 9:18; Wis 10:1; Wis 10:4 ).

Upon the whole, the ‘wisdom’ element must be considered the noblest expression of the Hebrew spirit. It was in large part the response of Judaism to the influx of Western civilization. It demonstrated irrefutably the vitality of the Hebrew religion. When the forms and institutions in which Hebrew idealism had clothed itself were shattered beyond restoration, ‘wisdom’ furnished new channels for the expression of the ideal, and kept the passion for righteousness and truth burning. When Judaism was brought face to face with the Gentile world on every hand, ‘wisdom’ furnished it with a cosmopolitan message. Nationalistic, particularistic, transitory elements were discarded, and emphasis was laid upon the great fundamental concepts of religion adapted to the needs of all men everywhere. ‘Wisdom’ thus became of the greatest importance in the preparation for Christianity, the universal religion.

John Merlin Powis Smith.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [3]

One of God’s desires for humankind is that people learn and develop practical wisdom, so that they might live intelligently and honestly. In this way their lives will be useful, bringing pleasure to God and benefits to themselves and others ( Proverbs 1:2-7;  Proverbs 2:7-11;  Ephesians 5:15-16).

Practical and God-centred

The wisdom that the Bible encourages is concerned with the practical affairs of everyday living rather than with philosophical theories. People live in a real world and have to deal with real people ( Deuteronomy 1:13-15;  Deuteronomy 34:9;  1 Kings 3:9;  Acts 6:3;  Acts 7:10). The basis of that wisdom, however, is not human cleverness but obedient reverence for God. God is the source of true wisdom and he gives it to those who seek it ( Proverbs 1:7;  Proverbs 2:6;  Proverbs 9:10;  Daniel 2:20;  Romans 16:27;  1 Corinthians 1:30;  James 1:5-8).

Without such reverence, wisdom may be selfish and worldly, characterized by ungodly attitudes such as jealousy and deceit. Godly wisdom, by contrast, is characterized by humility, uprightness and a concern for others ( Proverbs 8:12-16;  Proverbs 10:8;  Proverbs 11:2;  Isaiah 5:21;  James 3:13-18).

This godly wisdom is available to all who are prepared to leave the folly of their self-centred ways and accept it from God ( Proverbs 1:20-23;  Proverbs 8:1-6;  Proverbs 9:1-6). It will enable them to overcome the temptations of life ( Proverbs 6:23-27). But if they refuse it, they will inevitably bring upon themselves disappointment, shame and despair ( Proverbs 1:20;  Proverbs 1:24-26;  Proverbs 5:11-13;  Proverbs 7:1-23;  Ecclesiastes 10:1-3).

In Old Testament times the chief teachers of this practical wisdom were people known as ‘the wise’ ( Jeremiah 18:18). Though different from priests and prophets, these teachers of wisdom were godly men who sought to persuade people by giving practical advice based on experience ( 1 Kings 4:30-31;  Proverbs 25:1;  Proverbs 31:1;  Ecclesiastes 12:9-10).

The wisdom teachers knew that the average person had enough common sense to recognize the wisdom of the instruction. Sometimes they taught by means of short, easily remembered statements such as those collected in the biblical book of Proverbs. Other times they taught by arguments and debates, such as those recorded in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes and in certain psalms. (For details see Wisdom Literature .)

However, the wisdom teachers never forgot that true wisdom was not something they themselves invented. Wisdom existed long before the creation of the human race. In fact, it was through wisdom that God created the human race, and it is through wisdom that human beings can now live a meaningful life ( Proverbs 8:12-31).

God’s wisdom and human wisdom

Although God is the source of any wisdom that people possess, their wisdom is still limited. God’s wisdom is not. It is infinite and therefore is beyond human understanding ( Isaiah 40:28;  Romans 11:33-34). In his wisdom God created the universe, and by his wisdom he governs it ( Psalms 104:24;  Proverbs 3:19;  Revelation 7:12). His plan of salvation for his sinful creatures demonstrates to people and angels his unsearchable wisdom ( Romans 11:33;  Ephesians 3:10).

The wisdom of God in salvation was expressed in Jesus Christ, both in his life and in his death ( Matthew 12:42;  Matthew 13:54;  1 Corinthians 1:23-24;  1 Corinthians 1:30;  Colossians 2:3). Again the wisdom was concerned not with philosophical notions but with practical action. Jesus died for sinful people so that they might be saved. To those who refuse to believe, salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross seems foolish. Actually, they are the ones who are foolish, for they reject what God in his wisdom has done, and try by their own misguided wisdom to save themselves ( 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). People may think they are wise, but they must humble themselves and trust in God’s wisdom if they are to be saved ( 1 Corinthians 3:18-20).

Because salvation depends on humble trust in God and not on human wisdom, true preachers of the gospel will not try to impress their hearers with their wisdom. Rather they will command people to repent of their sins and trust in the death of Jesus Christ for their salvation ( 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Once people have repented and believed, they must make every effort to learn more of God. Then they will begin to grow in true wisdom. This wisdom is not the proud and worldly kind that prevents people from trusting in God, but is a new wisdom based on the character of God who gives it ( 1 Corinthians 2:6-7;  Ephesians 5:15;  Colossians 1:28). Only as believers increase in the knowledge of God and his Word can their wisdom develop and be of use to God, to themselves and to others ( Psalms 90:12;  Daniel 12:3;  Ephesians 1:9;  Ephesians 1:17-19;  Colossians 1:9-10;  Colossians 3:16).

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [4]

The paradigms of Israel's religion—law, prophecy, and wisdomwere not exclusive to Israel but were shared by other ancient Near Eastern cultures. So it was not the form of Israel's religion that made it distinctive, but its content. Wisdom was a common way of thinking in this part of the ancient world. Briefly, it was a way of viewing and approaching life, which involved instructing the young in proper conduct and morality and answering the philosophical questions about life's meaning.

The Old Testament . In the Old Testament wisdom at one level describes skilled arts and artisans, like weavers ( Exodus 35:25-26 ), architects ( Exodus 35:30-36:1 ), and goldsmiths ( Jeremiah 10:9 ). At a second level, wisdom was keen insight into life and ways of dealing with its problems. Solomon was associated with wisdom in this sense ( 1 Kings 3:1-15; see also  1 Kings 4:32-34 ), although the term used was "understanding, " which occurs often as a synonym of wisdom. At a fourth level, the terms "wisdom" and "wise" apply to men and women who represent a way of thinking and conduct that is orderly, socially sensitive, and morally upright. Thus, the major thrust of wisdom in the Old Testament was a code of moral conduct. This is especially represented by the Book of Proverbs, which gives instruction on personal behavior from the discipline of children (22:6) to the golden-rule treatment of one's neighbor (24:29). The goal of wisdom was to build an orderly and functional society that reflected the moral requirements of God as set forth in the law of Moses. Although Wisdom Literature has no emphasis on Mosaic Law as a code, the moral propositions of that law nevertheless underwrite the moral code of Wisdom Literature, particularly the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The closing admonition of Ecclesiastes, only implied in the main body of the book, is to "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (12:13). The apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus (Jesus ben Sirach) carries this view to the point of equating wisdom with law. Keeping the law produces wisdom, and wisdom is found in the keeping of the law (15:1; 21:11; 24:23-33).

Certain theological presuppositions undergird the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. First, the individual rather than the nation is addressed. In one sense, wisdom is an appropriate theological complement to the law and the prophets, the latter two religious paradigms basically addressing the nation. That is not to overlook the fact, however, that much in the law and prophets applies to individuals. Rather, it is to recognize that God spoke the law to the nation of Israel, and similarly the prophets spoke basically to the nation. It is not reading too much into Wisdom Literature to say that wisdom's way of building the society that reflected Yahweh's will for humankind was to work from the individual up, whereas law and prophecy tended to work from the corporate nation down to the individual.

Second, the view of God put forth by Wisdom Literature was God as Creator rather than God as Redeemer, the latter theological construct characterizing law and prophecy. This is evident in the Lord's redemptive Acts of bringing Israel out of Egypt and giving them the land of Canaan. In contrast, wisdom never makes reference to historical events, but rather describes God as Creator of the world. Again, this view is a helpful theological complement to the Redeemer theology of the Torah and Prophets.

Third, wisdom simplifies religion by describing faith as born out of decisions that are either wise or foolish. There are two ways a person may take, and the choices one makes determine one's direction. In Proverbs, wisdom personified stands in public places and calls to those who will listen to follow her precepts (1:20-33; 8:1-31). The disposition that characterizes the wise person is summed up in the phrase the "fear of the Lord." It is this disposition that is the beginning of wisdom, and it also designates the process by which wisdom matures the individual. Not surprisingly, the fear of the Lord also names the end of the process. Sometimes in the Old Testament this phrase is a general term for religion (since the Old Testament has no specific word for religion), and sometimes, as in the Book of Proverbs, the phrase carries a meaning very close to the New Testament concept of faith.

The wisdom books of the Old Testament are Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. A few psalms fall into the wisdom category (1,37, 49,73, 112,127, 128). The emphasis of this material subdivides into two rubrics, one emphasizing the theological problems of life, such as the suffering of the innocent (Job) and the meaning of life (Ecclesiastes). Scholars sometimes call this rubric higher or reflective wisdom. The other rubric is much more practical (Proverbs), and deals with the issues that touch the individual's life, such as personal industry, integrity, sexual purity, and family relations. This subcategory is sometimes called lower or practical wisdom. The wisdom psalms divide into these categories as well, 37,49, and 73 representing higher wisdom, and 1,112, 127, and 128 belonging to the practical category.

The New Testament. In the New Testament the Epistle of James is often considered to incorporate wisdom elements in its practical advice for Christian living. The practical nature of the Beatitudes (  Matthew 5:3-12 ) also puts them in a category akin to wisdom. Luke took note that Jesus "grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (2:52). Perhaps this connotes the practical side of Jesus' teaching, so simple and direct, but it could also include a deeper knowledge of mission and God's purpose of salvation.

Paul compares the wisdom ( sophia [   1 Corinthians 2:6-7 ). The "wisdom of men" was human understanding as compared with the "hidden wisdom of God, " which was a knowledge of God's plan of salvation through Jesus Christ foreordained before the world began. The ultimate manifestation of wisdom was Jesus Christ. Ultimately God revealed his wisdom in the person of his own Son, Jesus Christ ( 1 Corinthians 1:24,30 ).

C. Hassell Bullock

See also Mind/Reason; Theology Of Proverbs; Understanding

Bibliography . C. H. Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books  ; J. L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom  ; J. H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature and Its Cultural Context .

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [5]

1: Σοφία (Strong'S #4678 — Noun Feminine — sophia — sof-ee'-ah )

is used with reference to (a) God,  Romans 11:33;  1—Corinthians 1:21,24;  2:7;  Ephesians 3:10;  Revelation 7;12; (b) Christ,  Matthew 13:54;  Mark 6:2;  Luke 2:40,52;  1—Corinthians 1:30;  Colossians 2:3;  Revelation 5:12; (c) "wisdom" personified,  Matthew 11:19;  Luke 7:35;  11:49; (d) human "wisdom" (1) in spiritual things,  Luke 21:15;  Acts 6:3,10;  7:10;  1—Corinthians 2:6 (1st part); 12:8;   Ephesians 1:8,17;  Colossians 1:9 , RV, "(spiritual) wisdom,"  Colossians 1:28;  3:16;  4:5;  James 1:5;  3:13,17;  2—Peter 3:15;  Revelation 13:18;  17:9; (2) in the natural sphere,  Matthew 12:42;  Luke 11:31;  Acts 7:22;  1—Corinthians 1:17,19-21 (twice),22; 2:1,4-6 (2nd part),13; 3:19;   2—Corinthians 1:12;  Colossians 2:23; (3) in its most debased form,  James 3:15 , "earthly, sensual, devilish" (marg., "demoniacal").

2: Φρόνησις (Strong'S #5428 — Noun Feminine — phronesis — fron'-ay-sis )

"understanding, prudence," i.e., a right use of phren, "the mind," is translated "wisom" in  Luke 1:17 . See Prudence.

King James Dictionary [6]

WISDOM, n. s as z. G. See Wise.

1. The right use or exercise of knowledge the choice of laudable ends, and of the best means to accomplish them. This is wisdom in act, effect, or practice. If wisdom is to be considered as a faculty of the mind, it is the faculty of discerning or judging what is most just, proper and useful, and if it is to be considered as an acquirement, it is the knowledge and use of what is best, most just, most proper, most conducive to prosperity or happiness. Wisdom in the first sense, or practical wisdom, is nearly synonymous with discretion. I differs somewhat from prudence, in this respect prudence is the exercise of sound judgment in avoiding evils wisdom is the exercise of sound judgment either in avoiding evils or attempting good. Prudence then is a species, of which wisdom is the genus.

Wisdom gained by experience, is of inestimable value.

It is hoped that our rulers will act with dignity and wisdom that they will yield every thing to reason, and refuse every thing to force.

2. In Scripture, human learning erudition knowledge of arts and sciences.

Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.  Acts 7 .

3. Quickness of intellect readiness of apprehension dexterity in execution as the wisdom of Bezaleel and Aholiab.  Exodus 31 . 4. Natural instinct and sagacity.  Job 39 . 5. In Scripture theology, wisdom is true religion godliness piety the knowledge and fear of God, and sincere and uniform obedience to his commands. This is the wisdom which is from above.  Psalms 90 .  Job 28 . 6. Profitable words or doctrine.  Psalms 37 .

The wisdom of this world, mere human erudition or the carnal policy of men, their craft and artifices in promoting their temporal interests called also fleshly wisdom.  1 Corinthians 2 .  2 Corinthians 1 .

The wisdom of words, artificial or affected eloquence or learning displayed in teaching.  1 Corinthians 1,2 .

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [7]

Denotes a high and refined notion of things, immediately presented to the mind, as it were, by intuition, without the assistance of reasoning. In a moral sense, it signifies the same as prudence, or that knowledge by which we connect the best means with the best ends. Some, however, distinguish wisdom from prudence thus: wisdom leads us to speak and act what is most proper; prudence prevents our speaking or acting improperly. A wise man employs the most proper means for success; a prudent man the safest means for not being brought into danger. Spiritual wisdom consists in the knowledge and fear of God. It is beautifully described by St. James, "as pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."  James 3:17 .

See Devotion, Religion

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [8]

Book Of an apocryphal book of Scripture, so called on account of the wise maxims contained in it. This book has been commonly ascribed to Solomon, either because the author imitated the king's manner of writing, or because he sometimes speaks in his name. But it is certain Solomon was not the author of it; for it was not written in Hebrew, nor was it inserted in the Jewish canon, nor is the style like that of Solomon; and therefore St. Jerom observes justly that it smells strong of the Grecian eloquence: that it is composed with art and method, after the manner of the Greek philosophers, very different from that noble simplicity so full of life and energy to be found in the Hebrew books. It has been ascribed by many of the ancients to Philo.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [9]

This is one of the names of the Son of God, as Mediator; Christ the wisdom of God. That is by covenant engagement in the ancient settlements of eternity. (See  Proverbs 8:1-36 throughout  1 Corinthians 1:24)

Wisdom is also used as a term in Scripture to denote somewhat supernatural, and in opposition to carnal blindness. ( James 3:14-15) The Hebrews called it Cachemah.

Webster's Dictionary [10]

(1): ( a.) The results of wise judgments; scientific or practical truth; acquired knowledge; erudition.

(2): ( a.) The quality of being wise; knowledge, and the capacity to make due use of it; knowledge of the best ends and the best means; discernment and judgment; discretion; sagacity; skill; dexterity.

Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [11]

 Proverbs 8:12 (b) It is quite clear that this word is used to describe the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The description that follows in this chapter shows clearly that it is none other than our Saviour who is being described. It is a lovely picture of our wonderful Lord in His pre-natal glory.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [12]

wiz´dum  :

1. Linguistic

2. History

3. Religious Basis

4. Ideals

5. Teaching of Christ

6. Remainder of the New Testament

(1) James

(2) Paul

7. Hypostasis


1. Linguistic:

In the Revised Version (British and American) the noun "wisdom" and its corresponding adjective and verb ("be wise," "act wisely," etc.) represent a variety of Hebrew words: בּין , bı̄n ( בּינה , bı̄nāh , and in the English Revised Version תּבוּנה , tebūnāh ), שׂכל , sākhal ( שׂכל , sēkhel , שׂכל , sekhel ), לב , lēbh (and in the English Revised Version לבב , lābhabh ), תּוּשׁיּה , tūshı̄yāh (and in the English Revised Version טעם , ṭe‛ēm ), ערמה , ‛ormāh , פּקּח , piḳḳēaḥ . None of these, however, is of very frequent occurrence and by far the most common group is the verb חכם , ḥākham , with the adjective חכם , ḥākhām , and the nouns חכמה , ḥokhmāh , ḥokhmoth , with something over 300 occurrences in the Old Testament (of which rather more than half are in Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes). Ḥokhmāh , accordingly, may be treated as the Hebrew equivalent for the English "wisdom," but none the less the two words do not quite correspond. For ḥokhmāh may be used of simple technical skill (  Exodus 28:3;  Exodus 35:25 , etc.; compare The Wisdom of Solomon 14:2; Sirach 38:31; note that the English Versions of the Bible gives a false impression in such passages), of military ability ( Isaiah 10:13 ), of the intelligence of the lower animals ( Proverbs 30:24 ), of shrewdness applied to vicious ( 2 Samuel 13:3 ) or cruel ( 1 Kings 2:9 Hebrew) ends, etc. Obviously no one English word will cover all these different uses, but the general meaning is clear enough - "the art of reaching one's end by the use of the right means" (Smend). Predominantly the "wisdom" thought of is that which comes through experience, and the "wise man" is at his best in old age (  Job 12:12;  Job 15:10;  Proverbs 16:31; Sirach 6:34; 8:9; 25:3-6, etc.; contrast  Job 32:9;  Ecclesiastes 4:13; The Wisdom of Solomon 4:9; Sirach 25:2). And in religion the "wise man" is he who gives to the things of God the same acuteness that other men give to worldly affairs ( Luke 16:8 ). He is distinguished from the prophets as not having personal inspiration, from the priestly school as not laying primary stress on the cult, and from the scribes as not devoted simply to the study of the sacred writings. But, in the word by itself, a "wise man" need not in any way be a religious man.

In the Revised Version (British and American) Apocrypha and New Testament the words "wisdom," "wise," "act wisely," etc., are always translations of σοφός , sophós , or φρόμινος , phrónimos , or of their cognates. For "wisdom," however, σοφία , sophı́a is in almost every case the original word, the sole exception in the New Testament being   Luke 1:17 ( φρόνησις , phrónēsis ). See also Prudence .

2. History:

(1) In the prophetic period, indeed, "wise" generally has an irreligious connotation. Israel was fully sensible that her culture was beneath that of the surrounding nations, but thought of this as the reverse of defect. Intellectual power without moral control was the very fruit of the forbidden tree ( Genesis 3:5 ), and "wisdom" was essentially a heathen quality ( Isaiah 10:13;  Isaiah 19:12;  Isaiah 47:10;  Ezekiel 28:3-5;  Zechariah 9:2; specifically Edomite in  Jeremiah 49:7;  Obadiah 1:8; contrast Baruch 3:22, 23) that deserved only denunciation ( Isaiah 5:21;  Isaiah 29:14;  Jeremiah 4:22;  Jeremiah 9:23;  Jeremiah 18:18 , etc.). Certainly at this time Israel was endeavoring to acquire a culture of her own, and there is no reason to question that Solomon had given it a powerful stimulus ( 1 Kings 4:29-34 ). But the times were too distracted and the moral problems too imperative to allow the more spiritually-minded any opportunity to cultivate secular learning, so that "wisdom" in Israel took on the unpleasant connotation of the quality of the shrewd court counselors, with their half-heathen advice ( Isaiah 28:14-22 , etc.). And the associations of the word with true religion are very few ( Deuteronomy 4:6;  Jeremiah 8:8 ), while  Deuteronomy 32:6;  Jeremiah 4:22;  Jeremiah 8:9 have a satirical sound - 'what men call "wisdom" is really folly!' So, no matter how much material may have gathered during this period (see Proverbs ), it is to the post-exilic community that we are to look for the formation of body of Wisdom literature really associated with Israel's religion.

(2) The factors that produced it were partly the same as those that produced scribism (see Scribe ). Life in Palestine was lived only on the sufferance of foreigners and must have been dreary in the extreme. Under the firm hand of Persia there were no political questions, and in later times the nation was too weak to play any part in the conflicts between Antioch and Alexandria. Prophecy had about disappeared, fulfillment of the Messianic hope seemed too far off to affect thought deeply, and the conditions were not yet ripe that produced the later flame of apocalyptic enthusiasm. Nor were there vital religious problems within the nation, now that the fight against idolatry had been won and the ritual reforms established. Artistic pursuits were forbidden (compare especially The Wisdom of  Song of Solomon 15:4-6 ), and the Jewish temperament was not of a kind that could produce a speculative philosophy (note the sharp polemic against metaphysics, etc., in  Sirach 3:21-24 ). It was in this period, to be sure, that Jewish commercial genius began to assert itself, but there was no satisfaction in this for the more spiritually-minded ( Sirach 26:29 ). So, on the one hand, men were thrown back on the records of the past (scribism), while on the other the problems of religion and life were studied through sharp observation of Nature and of mankind. And the recorded results of the latter method form the Wisdom literature.

(3) In this are included Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, with certain psalms (notably  Psalm 19:1-14; 37; 104; 107; 147;  Psalm 148:1-14 ); in the Apocrypha must be added Sirach and Wisdom, with part of Baruch; while of the other writings of the period parts of Philo, 4 Maccabees, and the Abikar legend belong here also. How far foreign influence was at work it is hard to say. Egypt had a Wisdom literature of her own (see Egypt ) that must have been known to some degree in Palestine, while Babylonia and Persia could" not have been entirely without effect - but no specific dependence can be shown in any of these cases. For Greece the case is clearer, and Greek influence is obvious in Wisdom, despite the particularistic smugness of the author. But there was vitality enough in Judaism to explain the whole movement without recourse to outside influences, and, in any case, it is most arbitrary and untrue to attribute all the Wisdom speculation to Greek forces (as, e.g., does Siegfried, HDB ).

3. Religious Basis:

The following characteristics are typical of the group: (1) The premises are universal. The writers draw from life wherever found, admitting that in some things Israel may learn from other nations. The Proverbs of Lemuel are referred explicitly to a non-Jewish author ( Proverbs 31:1 the Revised Version margin), and Sirach recommends foreign travel to his students (34:10, 11; 39:4). Indeed, all the princes of the earth rule through wisdom (  Proverbs 8:16; compare  Ecclesiastes 9:15 ). And even some real knowledge of God can be obtained by all men through the study of natural phenomena ( Psalm 19:1; Sirach 16:29 through 17:14; 42:15 through 43:33; The Wisdom of Solomon 13:2, 9; compare  Romans 1:20 ).

(2) But some of the writers dissent here ( Job 28:28;  Job 11:7;  Ecclesiastes 2:11;  Ecclesiastes 8:16 ,  Ecclesiastes 8:17;  Ecclesiastes 11:5; The Wisdom of Solomon 9:13(?)). And in any case this wisdom needs God's explicit grace for its cultivation (Sirach 51:13-22; The Wisdom of Solomon 7:7; 8:21), and when man trusts simply to his own attainments he is bound to go wrong ( Proverbs 3:5-7;  Proverbs 19:21;  Proverbs 21:30;  Proverbs 28:11; Sirach 3:24; 5:2, 3; 6:2; 10:12; Baruch 3:15-28). True wisdom must center about God ( Proverbs 15:33;  Proverbs 19:20 f), starting from Him (  Proverbs 1:7;  Proverbs 9:10;  Psalm 111:10; Sirach 21:11;  Job 28:28 ) and ending in Him ( Proverbs 2:5 ); compare especially the beautiful passage Sirach 1:14-20. But the religious attitude is far from being the whole of Wisdom. The course is very difficult ( Proverbs 2:4 f;   Proverbs 4:7; Sirach 4:17; 14:22, 23; The Wisdom of Solomon 1:5; 17:1); continual attention must be given every department of life, and man is never done learning ( Proverbs 9:9; Sirach 6:18;  Ecclesiastes 4:13 ).

(3) The attitude toward the written Law varies. In Ecclesiastes, Job and Proverbs it is hardly mentioned ( Proverbs 28:7-9 (?);   Proverbs 29:18 (?)). Wisdom, as a special pamphlet against idolatry, has little occasion for specific reference, but its high estimate of the Law is clear enough (The Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-15; 18:9). Sirach, especially, can find no terms high enough for the praise of the Law (especially Sirach 24; 36; compare 9:15; 21:11, etc.), and he identifies the Law with Wisdom (24:23-25) and claims the prophets as Wisdom teachers (44:3, 4). Yet this perverse identification betrays the fact that Sirach's interest is not derived from a real study of the Law; the Wisdom that was so precious to him must be in the sacred books! Compare Baruch 4:1 (rather more sincere).

(4) The attitude toward the temple-worship is much the same. The rites are approved ( Proverbs 3:9; Sirach 35:4-8; 38:11; Sirach seems to have an especial interest in the priesthood, 7:29-33; 50:5-21), but the writers clearly have no theory of sacrifice that they can utilize for practical purposes. And for sacrifice (and even prayer,  Proverbs 28:9 ) as a substitute for righteousness no condemnation is too strong ( Proverbs 7:14;  Proverbs 15:8;  Proverbs 20:25;  Proverbs 21:3 ,  Proverbs 21:17; Sirach 34:18-26; 35:1-3, 12; Eccl ( Ecclesiastes 5:1 ).

(5) An outlook on life beyond the grave is notably absent in the Wisdom literature. Wisdom is the only exception (The Wisdom of  Song of Solomon 3:1 , etc.), but Greek influence in Wisdom is perfectly certain. In Job there are expressions of confidence ( Job 14:13-15;  Job 19:25-29 ), but these do not determine the main argument of the book. Proverbs does not raise the question, while Ecclesiastes and Sirach categorically deny immortality ( Ecclesiastes 9:2-10; Sirach 14:16; 17:27, 28; 30:4; note that the Revised Version (British and American) in Sirach 7:17; 48:11 is based on a glossed text; compare the Hebrew). Even the Messianic hope of the nation is in the background in Prov ( Proverbs 2:21 ,  Proverbs 2:22 (?)), and it is altogether absent in Job and Ecclesiastes. To Sirach (35:19; 36:11-14; 47:22) and Wisdom (3:8; 5:16-23) it is important, however, but not even these works have anything to say of a personal Messiah (Sirach 47:22 (?)).

(6) That in all the literature the individual is the center of interest need not be said. But this individualism, when combined with the weak eschatology, brought dire confusion into the doctrine of retribution (see Sin ). Sirach stands squarely by the old doctrine of retribution in this life: if at no other time, a man's sins will be punished on his deathbed (1:13; 11:26). Neither Job nor Ecclesiastes, however, are content with this solution. The latter leaves the problem entirely unsolved ( Ecclesiastes 8:14 , etc.), while the former commends it to God's unsearchable ways.

4. Ideals:

The basis of the Wisdom method may be described then as that of a "natural" religion respecting revelation, but not making much use of it. So the ideal is a man who believes in God and who endeavors to live according to a prudence taught by observation of this world's laws, with due respect, however, to Israel's traditional observances.

(1) From many standpoints the resulting character is worthy of admiration. The man was intelligent, earnest, and hard-working (Proverbs has a particular contempt for the "sluggard"; and compare  Ecclesiastes 9:10 ). Lying and injustice are denounced on almost every page of the literature, and unceasing emphasis is laid on the necessity for benevolence ( Psalm 37:21;  Psalm 112:5 ,  Psalm 112:9;  Job 22:7;  Job 31:16-20;  Proverbs 3:27 ,  Proverbs 3:28;  Proverbs 14:31;  Proverbs 21:13;  Proverbs 22:9;  Ecclesiastes 11:1; Sirach 4:16; 7:34, 35; 29:11-13; 40:24, etc.). All of the writers feel that life is worth the living - at their most pessimistic moments the writers of Job and Ecclesiastes find attraction in the contemplation of the world. In Proverbs and Sirach the outlook is even buoyant, Sirach in especial being far from indifferent to the good things of life (30:23-25; 31:27; compare  Ecclesiastes 2:24 and contrast The Wisdom of Solomon 2:6-9).

(2) The faults of the Wisdom ideal are the faults of the postulates. The man is always self-conscious and self-centered. All intense enthusiasms are repressed, as likely to prove entangling ( Ecclesiastes 7:16 ,  Ecclesiastes 7:17 is the most extreme case), and the individual is always calculating (Sirach 38:17), even among his friends (Sirach 6:13;   Proverbs 25:17 ) and in his family (Sirach 33:19-23). Benevolence itself is to be exercised circumspectly ( Proverbs 6:1-5;  Proverbs 20:16; Sirach 12:5-7; 29:18), and Sirach, in particular, is very far from feeling an obligation to love all men (25:7; 27:24; 30:6; 50:25, 26). So "right" and "wrong" become confused with "advantage" and "disadvantage." Not only is adultery wrong ( Proverbs 2:17; Sirach 23:23), but the injured husband is a dangerous enemy ( Proverbs 5:9-11 ,  Proverbs 5:14;  Proverbs 6:34 ,  Proverbs 6:35; Sirach 23:21). As a resuit the "moral perspective" is affected. With some of the finest moral observations in Proverbs and Sirach are combined instructions as to table manners ( Proverbs 23:1-3; Sirach 31:12-18) and merely humorous observations ( Proverbs 20:14 ), while such passages as  Proverbs 22:22-28 and Sirach 41:17-24 contain extraordinary conglomerations of disparate motives.

(3) So hope of earthly recompense becomes a very explicit motive ( Proverbs 3:10;  Proverbs 11:25 , etc.; The Wisdom of Solomon 7:8-12 is the best statement on the other side). Even though riches are nothing in themselves ( Proverbs 10:2;  Proverbs 11:28;  Proverbs 23:4 ,  Proverbs 23:5;  Proverbs 28:11;  Ecclesiastes 5:13; Sirach 11:19; 31:5-7; all the literature denounces the unrighteous rich), yet Wisdom is to be desired as bringing not only righteousness but riches also ( Proverbs 8:21;  Proverbs 11:25;  Proverbs 13:18; Sirach 4:15; 20:27, 28; The Wisdom of Solomon 6:21). This same desire for advantage gives an unpleasant turn to many of the precepts which otherwise would touch the highest point; perhaps  Proverbs 24:17 ,  Proverbs 24:18 is the most extreme case: "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth,... lest Yahweh ... turn away his wrath from him" (!)

(4) But probably the most serious fault was that the Wisdom method tended to produce a religious aristocracy ( Sirach 6:22 , etc.). It was not enough that the heart and will should be right, for a long course of almost technical training was needed (the "house of instruction" in  Sirach 51:23 is probably the school; compare   Proverbs 9:4 ). The uninstructed or "simple" ( Proverbs 1:22 , etc.) were grouped quite simply with the "sinners"; knowledge was virtue and ignorance was vice. Doubtless Wisdom cried in the streets ( Proverbs 1:20 ,  Proverbs 1:21;  Proverbs 8:1-13;  Proverbs 9:1-6 , almost certainly a reference to the canvassing efforts of the teachers for pupils), but only men of ability and leisure could obey the call to learn. And despite all that is said in praise of manual labor ( Proverbs 12:11;  Proverbs 24:27;  Proverbs 28:19; Sirach 7:15; 38:31, 32, 34), Sirach is merely frank when he says explicitly (38:25-34) that Wisdom cannot be for artisans (a carpenter as Messiah evidently would have been unthinkable to Sirach;  Mark 6:3 ). Scribism was at work along the same lines of development, and the final union of the Wisdom method with the scribal produced a class who called the common people accursed ( John 7:49 ).

5. Teaching of Christ:

The statement of the methods and ideals of the Wisdom school is also virtually a statement of our Lord's attitude toward it and an explanation of why much of His teaching took the form it did. As to the universality of the premises He was at one with the Wisdom writers, one great reason for the universality of the appeal of His teaching. Almost everything in the life of the time, from the lily of the field to the king on his throne, contributed its quota to His illustrations. And from the Wisdom method also the form of His teaching - the concise, antithetical saying that sticks in the memory - was derived to some degree. (Of all the sayings of Christ, perhaps  Luke 14:8-10 - a quotation of   Proverbs 25:6 ,  Proverbs 25:7 - comes nearest to the pure Wisdom type.) In common with the Wisdom writers, also, is the cheerful outlook, despite the continual prospect of the Passion, and we must never forget that all morbid asceticism was entirely foreign to Him (  Luke 7:34 parallel   Matthew 11:19 ). With the self-conscious, calculating product of the Wisdom method, however, He had no patience. Give freely, give as the Father giveth, without regard to self, in no way seeking a reward, is the burden of His teaching, and such a passage as  Luke 6:27-38 seems to have been aimed at the head of such writers as Sirach. The attack on the religious aristocracy is too familiar to need recapitulation. Men by continual exercise of worldly prudence could make themselves as impervious to His teaching as by obstinate adherence to a scribal tradition, while His message was for all men on the sole basis of a desire for righteousness on their part. This was the true Wisdom, fully justified of her children (  Luke 7:35; compare  Matthew 11:19 ), while, as touching the other "Wisdom," Christ could give thanks that God had seen fit to hide His mysteries from the wise and prudent and reveal them unto "babes" ( Luke 10:21 parallel   Matthew 11:25 ).

6. Remainder of the New Testament:

(1) James

The remainder of the New Testament, despite many occurrences of the words "wise," "wisdom," etc., contains very little that is really relevant to the technical sense of the words. The one notable exception is James, which has even been classed as "Wisdom literature," and with some justice. For James has the same appeal to observation of Nature ( James 1:11;  James 3:3-6 ,  James 3:11 ,  James 3:12;  James 5:7 , etc.), the same observation of human life ( James 2:2 ,  James 2:3 ,  James 2:15 ,  James 2:16;  James 4:13 , etc.), the same antithetical form, and even the same technical use of the word "wisdom" ( James 1:5;  James 3:15-17 ). The fiery moral zeal, however, is far above that of the other Wisdom books, even above that of Job.

(2) Paul

Paul, on the other hand, belongs to an entirely different class, that of intense religious experience, seeking its premises in revelation. So the Wisdom method is foreign to him and the absence of Nature illustrations from his pages is notorious (even  Romans 11:17 is an artificially constructed figure). Only one passage calls for special comment. The "wisdom" against which he inveighs in 1 Cor 1-3 is not Jewish but Greek-speculation in philosophy, with studied elegance in rhetoric. Still, Jewish or Greek, the moral difficulty was the same. God's message was obscured through an overvaluation of human attainments, and so Paul's use of such Old Testament passages as   Isaiah 29:14;  Job 5:13;  Psalm 94:11 (in   1 Corinthians 1:19;  1 Corinthians 3:19 ,  1 Corinthians 3:20 ) is entirely lust. Against this "wisdom" Paul sets the doctrine of the Cross, something that outraged every human system but which, all the more, taught man his entire dependence on God.

Yet Paul had a "wisdom" of his own ( 1 Corinthians 2:6 ), that he taught to Christians of mature moral (not intellectual  :  1 Corinthians 3:1-3 ) progress. Some commentators would treat this wisdom as doctrinal and find it in (say) Romans; more probably it is to be connected with the mystical experiences of the Christian whose life has become fully controlled by the Spirit ( 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 ). For religious progress is always accompanied by a higher insight that can never be described satisfactorily to persons without the same experience ( 1 Corinthians 2:14 ).

7. Hypostasis:

(1) One characteristic of the Wisdom writers that proved of immense significance for later (especially Christian) theology was a love of rhetorical personification of Wisdom ( Proverbs 1:20-33; 8:1 through 9:6; Sirach 4:11-19; 6:23-31; 14:20-15:10; 24; 51:13-21; The Wisdom of Solomon 6:12 through 9:18; Baruch 3:29-32). Such personifications in themselves are not, of course, remarkable (compare e.g. the treatment of "love" in  1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ), but the studied, somewhat artificial style of the Wisdom writers carries out the personification with a curious elaboration of details: Wisdom builds her house, marries her disciple, mingles wine, etc. The most famous passage is  Proverbs 8:22-31 , however. The Wisdom that is so useful to man was created before man, before, indeed, the creation of the world. When the world was formed she was in her childhood, and while God formed the world she engaged in childish play, under His shelter and to His delight. So  Proverbs 8:30 should be rendered, as the context makes clear that 'mwn should be pointed 'āmūn , "sheltered," and not 'āmōn , "as a master-workman." And "Wisdom" is a quality of man ( Proverbs 8:31-36 ), not a quality of God.

(2) Indeed, "Wisdom" is an attribute rarely predicated of God in the Old Testament ( 1 Kings 3:28   Isaiah 10:13;  Isaiah 31:2;  Jeremiah 10:12;  Jeremiah 51:15; compare  Daniel 5:11 ), even in the Wisdom writers ( Job 5:12 ff;   Job 9:4;  Psalm 104:24;  Proverbs 3:19 ). Partly this reticence seems to be due to a feeling that God's knowledge is hardly to be compared in kind to man's, partly to the fact that to the earlier writers "Wisdom" had a profane sound. Later works, however, have less hesitation in this regard (e.g., Sirach 42:21; Baruch 3:32, the Massoretic Text pointing and the Septuagint of  Proverbs 8:30 ), so that the personifications became personifications of a quality of God. The result was one of the factors that operated to produce the doctrine of the "Word" as it appeared in the Palestinian form. See Logos .

(3) In the Apocrypha, however, the most advanced step is taken in Wisdom. Wisdom is the only-begotten of God (The Wisdom of  Song of Solomon 7:22 ), the effulgence of eternal light (The Wisdom of  Song of Solomon 7:26; compare  Hebrews 1:3 ), living with God (The Wisdom of Solomon 8:3) and sharing (?) His throne (The Wisdom of Solomon 9:4). She is the origin (or "mother") of all creatures (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:12; compare 8:6), continualiar active in penetrating (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:24), ordering (The Wisdom of Solomon 8:1), and renewing (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:27) all things, while carrying inspiration to all holy souls (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:23), especially to Israel (The Wisdom of Solomon 10:17, 18). Here there is no doubt that the personification has ceased to be rhetorical and has become real. Wisdom is thought of as a heavenly being, not so distinctively personal, perhaps, as an angel, but none the less far more than a mere rhetorical term; i.e. she is a "hypostasis."

(4) Most of Wisdom's description is simply an expansion of earlier Palestinian concepts, but it is evident that other influence has been at work also and that that influence was Greek . The writer of Wisdom was touched genuinely by the Greek philosophy, and in The Wisdom of   Song of Solomon 7:24 , at any rate, his "Wisdom" is the lógos spermatikós of the Stoics, with more than suspicions of Greek influence elsewhere in the descriptions. This combination of Jewish and Greek thought was still further elaborated by Philo - and still further confused. For Philo endeavored to operate with the Wisdom doctrine in its Palestinian form, the Wisdom doctrine into which Wisdom had already infused some Loges doctrine, and the Logos doctrine by itself, without thoroughly understanding the discordant character of his terms. The result is one of the most obscure passages in Philo's system. Sometimes, as in De Fug . section 109, chapter xx, Wisdom is the mother of the Logos, as God is its Father (compare Cherubim , sections 49,50, chapter xiv), while, again, the relation can be inverted almost in the same context and the Logos appears as the source of Wisdom ( De Fug . section 97, chapter xviii). See Logos .

(5) Philo's influence was incalculable, and Wisdom, as a heavenly power, plays an almost incredible role in the Gnostic speculations of the 2nd and 3centuries, the Gnostic work, Pistis Sophia , probably attaining the climax of unreality. The orthodox Fathers, however, naturally sought Wisdom within the Trinity, and Irenaeus made an identification with the Holy Spirit (iv. 20,3). Tertullian, on the other hand, identified Wisdom with the Son (probably following earlier precedent) in Adv. Prax ., 7, and this identification attained general acceptation. So   Proverbs 8:22-30 became a locus classicus in the Christological controversies (an elaborate exposition in Athanaslus, Orat. ii. 16-22), and persisted as a dogmatic proof-text until a very modern period.


The Old Testament Theologies, particularly those of Smend, edition 2 (1899), and Bertholet (1911). For the intermediate period, Gjv , III, edition 4 (1909), and Boasset, Die Religion des Judentums , edition 2 (1906). Special works: Toy, "Wisdom Literature," Eb , 4 (1903); Meinhold, Die Weisheit Israels (1908); Friedlander, Griechische Philosophie im Altes Testament (1904, to be used cautiously). On Philo, compare especially Drummond, Philo Judaeus , II, 201-13 (1888). See also the articles on the various books and compare Logos; Philo Judaeus .

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [13]

(prop. חָכְמָה , Chokmah, Σοφία ) , in a general sense, is a comprehensive knowledge of things in their proper nature and relations, together with the power of combining them in the most useful manner. Among the Hebrews, the term "wisdom" comprehended a wide circle of virtues and mental endowments ( Exodus 28:3;  Exodus 31:6;  1 Kings 3:28;  1 Kings 4:29-34), and its precise import in the Scriptures can only be ascertained by a close attention to the context. (See Fool).

1. It is used to express the understanding or knowledge of things, both humana and divine, chiefly in a practical and moral aspect, especially in the Psalms, Proverbs, and the book of Job. It was this wisdom which Solomon entreated and received of God, especially in a governmental sense.

2. It is put for ingenuity, skill, dexterity, as in the case of the artificers Bezaleel and Aholiab ( Exodus 28:3; Exodus 31, 3).

3. Wisdom is used for subtlety, craft, stratagem, whether good or evil. Pharaoh dealt Wisely with the Israelites (Exodus 1, 10). Jonadab was very wise, i.e. subtle and crafty ( 2 Samuel 13:3). In Proverbs (Proverbs 14, 8) it is said, "The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way."

4. It stands for doctrine, learning, experience, sagacity ( Job 12:2;  Job 12:12;  Job 38:37;  Psalms 105:22).

5. It is put sometimes for the skill or arts of magicians, wizards, fortune tellers, etc. ( Genesis 41:8;  Exodus 7:11;  Ecclesiastes 9:17; Jeremiah 1, 35).

6. The Wisdom or learning and philosophy current among the Greeks and Romans in the apostolic age, which stood in contrast with the simplicity of the Gospel, and tended to draw away the minds of men from divine truth, is called "fleshly; wisdom"( 2 Corinthians 1:12), "wisdom of this world"( 1 Corinthians 1:20;  1 Corinthians 3:19), and "wisdom of men" ( 1 Corinthians 2:5).

7. In respect to divine things, wisdom, i.e. knowledge, insight, deep understanding, is represented everywhere as a divine gift, including the idea of practical application, and is thus distinguished from theoretical knowledge ( Acts 6:10;  1 Corinthians 12:8;  Ephesians 1:17;  Colossians 1:9;  2 Timothy 3:15;  James 1:5;  James 3:13;  James 3:15;  James 3:17).