Bibliography: F. D. Kidner, Proverbs (TOTC), 1964; James Wood, Wisdom Literature, 1967; K. L. Jensen, Wisdom the Principal Thing, 1971.——ER


Possessors of wisdom

Some men were thought to possess wisdom above that of ordinary men. In fact wisdom became the collected account of the experiences and observations of such men; and in whatever respect wisdom brought power, these were also men of influence.

Non-religious persons.

Kings and rulers.

The kings of heathen nations were supposed to possess wisdom, but their wisdom was mocked and ridiculed by the prophets. Isaiah announced that God would punish the king of Assyria because of his haughty pride and boast that it was by his own wisdom that he had triumphed (10:12, 13). Likewise he declared the princes of Egypt to be utterly foolish: “The wise counselors of Pharaoh give stupid counsel” (Isa 19:11-13). Ezekiel denounced the king of Tyre in the name of the Lord because, said the prophet, “You consider yourself as wise as a god” (Ezek 28:2-9).


Advisers to kings and men who stood in the courts of kings were judged to be wise men, and this not alone among the Jews. Homer’s Iliad is filled with references to wise men such as Odysseus and Gerenian Nestor who spoke with a god or goddess standing by their sides, becoming the mouthpieces of deity to counsel the king, often interpreting signs and dreams.

Joseph when enslaved in Egypt was known to Potiphar, his master, to possess an understanding above other men (Gen 39:1-6). Joseph was acknowledged as an interpreter of dreams while imprisoned on false charges by his master’s wife. Pharaoh’s butler and baker were likewise in prison, and they both dreamed. Joseph interpreted their dreams, one favorably and the other unfavorably. When the butler had been restored to Pharaoh’s service as Joseph had foretold, after a long time of more than two years, he became the point of contact through whom Joseph was brought even into Pharaoh’s presence to interpret a dream that troubled the monarch, which no wise man of Egypt could interpret (Gen 40; 41). Being acknowledged as wise beyond all of Pharaoh’s counselors, Joseph became second only to the king himself (Gen 41:33-44).

Later Moses was to stand in another Pharaoh’s court to give counsel, and likewise he would be in competition with the wise men of Egypt, the “sorcerers” and “magicians” of Egypt. When Moses sought the release of the Israelites from captivity, he wrought miracles before Pharaoh, but Pharaoh countered by commanding the magicians of Egypt to do the same things (Exod 7:11, 22; 8:7). Eventually Moses stood down the wise men of Egypt and even they confessed his superior power, saying “This is the finger of God” (Exod 8:19).

In still later times Daniel and the young Jewish princes were counted among the wise men who attended Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. They are described as “youths without blemish, handsome, and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning, and competent to serve in the king’s palace” (Dan 1:4). Once again God’s wise men were brought into conflict with the wise men of the king’s court. It was a royal dream that needed interpreting which became the issue. Nebuchadnezzar commanded the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans of his court to interpret his dream. They failed; and “the king was angry and very furious, and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed” (Dan 2:12). Then Daniel, God’s man, was enabled through divine help to interpret the dream.

Wisdom was not restricted to men among royal counselors. Sisera, Deborah’s opponent, was attended by wise women. After his death at the hands of Jael, Heber’s wife, Deborah, who was Israel’s wise woman, sang a taunt song against those wise women who were speculating on Sisera’s delay in returning from battle, insisting that their dead leader was late because he was “finding and dividing the spoil” (Judg 5:30). Joab, David’s servant, enlisted the services of a wise woman whom he brought from Tekoa to help him gain David’s permission to bring young Absalom back to Jerusalem (2 Sam 14:1-27). Joab was also influenced by a wise woman who lived at Abel, gaining the deliverance of her people and city (2 Sam 20:16-20).

There appears to have been a remarkable restraint among the wise men of Israel. They were not magicians, sorcerers, or astrologers. Those who attended Israel’s kings were thought of esp. as spokesmen for God, giving the wisest of advice because it had the sanction of divinity. Of Ahithophel it was said that the counsel which he gave “was as if one consulted the oracle of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom” (2 Sam 16:23); but not all lived up to that reputation. In fact when Ahithophel proved a traitor to David, the king prayed that the counsel of Ahithophel be turned to foolishness (2 Sam 15:31).


The prophets were esp. spokesmen for God, but they seem to have distinguished between themselves and those whom they identified as counselors of the kings. Most frequently the prophets were in conflict with those counselors who gave the kings political advice that ran contrary to that of the prophets. Isaiah strongly condemned those counselors who advised Hezekiah to make an alliance with Egypt contrary to his insistence that the protection of Pharaoh would turn to the nation’s shame (Isa 30:1-5). Jeremiah advised submission to the king of Babylon and was considered a traitor by those who counseled the king to resist. The prophet, after speaking of the terrible trials toward which the nation was headed because of false counsel, cried out “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom’” (Jer 9:23). Ezekiel likewise found the counselors to be deficient with terrible consequences for the nation: “Disaster comes upon disaster, rumor follows rumor; they seek a vision from the prophet, but the law perishes from the priest, and counsel from the elders” (Ezek 7:26). The spirit of the prophets was the spirit of Isaiah who wrote “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight” (Isa 5:21).


These men arose as a class of professional exponents of the law after its codification by Ezra. The result inevitably was that the scribes who interpreted the law tended to produce a wisdom of their own. Prophecy had about come to an end; Messianism was a remote hope at best. The life of the nation was turned to the law; the men of influence were esp. the interpreters of that law. As a direct result of the cessation of prophecy and the emphasis upon scribalism there was a movement that brought the considerations of religion under observation through an evaluation of the nature of man and the universe which mankind inhabited. This movement produced a type of lit., subsequently known as Wisdom lit. The difference in viewpoint between scribalism and that lit. is seen in that the major representative of Wisdom lit. in the OT, Ecclesiastes, Job and Proverbs, scarcely mention the law at all. The Wisdom of Solomon does have a high regard for the law, but gives little attention to it. The Wisdom of Sirach has not only the highest regard for the law among the Wisdom writings but the most extensive treatment of that subject. The writer of Sirach identified the law with wisdom (24:23-25), but such has been judged to be less than an accurate representation of the attitude of the Wisdom writers toward the law.

The Magi.

The term “magi” (Gr. for wise men) orignally referred to the Median priests from Persia who were both religious leaders and teachers of wisdom. Eventually the term came to refer to anyone who possessed supernatural knowledge and power. In the rabbinical writings the term was applied to magicians (from which the Eng. term derived). Philo of Alexandria used the term in a derogatory fashion to describe men who were not genuinely religious, or even philosophical. In the LXX magi was associated with “enchanters, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans” (Dan 2:2).

Magi sought Jesus, being led to the newborn Messiah by the heavenly sign, the star that went before them. Matthew records that they sought the king of the Jews which prob. indicated that they were pagan (2:1-12). In Matthew’s gospel they are described in order to show that such men, with very slight knowledge of the facts, were nonetheless filled with enthusiasm by the sign which God had given, made the long journey to Jerusalem and sought the Messiah, when the leaders of the Jewish nation did not even seek to verify their report that He had been born. Origen was perhaps the first to give a mystical interpretation to the gifts which the Magi brought, and even some of the Fathers understood this event to portray the overthrow of magic by the coming of Christ, the adoration of Jesus by the Magi being taken as an admission of their defeat. Ignatius, Origen and Tertullian represent this point of view.

A man encountered by Philip in Samaria who has been called Simon Magus was described as practicing magic (Acts 8:9). This man played an important role in early Christian traditions. He was judged by some to have been the founder of Gnosticism. There seems to be little substance to any of these traditions. Simon Magus seems to have been representative of a class of charlatans who practiced magic for personal gain. They sold charms for healing and divination. Their magical formulae were derived from both Eastern theosophy and mystic cults that thrived in the Hel. world. Such a man was excluded from the Christian community and clearly had no place in the Early Church.


The Coming One, or Messiah, was associated with wisdom even prior to the Wisdom lit.; this seems esp. to have been true because the Messiah was the grandest figure in a family distinguished by men of wisdom, David and Solomon. Isaiah identified him as the “Wonderful Counselor” (the RSV gives the expression as one term, not two as the KJV) and as one upon whom the “spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” would rest (Isa 9:6; 11:2).

The writers of the books of Wisdom took a most important step when they personified Wisdom. Proverbs declared “Wisdom cries aloud in the street” (Prov 1:20). Proverbs contains the most famous passage of all in which wisdom is identified as having existed before man was created, even before the creation of the world (8:22-31). The Apoc. advanced even beyond the OT in the personification of Wisdom. Wisdom was declared to be the only begotten of God, living with God and sharing His throne. Wisdom was declared to be the very effulgence of eternal light. Wisdom was thought of as a heavenly being.

Many have professed to find a relationship between the Logos of John 1:1-18 and the personification of Wisdom (esp. Prov 8) becoming another of the names of God. Yet others have professed to find a relationship between God’s speaking through the Son who reflects the very glory of God as the description is given in Hebrews 1 and the personification of Wisdom. Still others have looked upon Luke 11:49 which declares “Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute’” to be a self designation by Jesus as the Wisdom of God. Several of the Fathers held this view on the basis of the parallel passage in Matthew which begins, “Therefore I send you prophets” (Matt 23:34).

Sources of wisdom

Where could a man obtain wisdom was a question of vast importance to the writers of the books of the Bible and non-Biblical lit. as well.

Naturally acquired.

Human ability to acquire wisdom is acknowledged; but such wisdom, according to the Bible, comes only from “the fear of the Lord” (Prov 1:7). To the Jew, wisdom was the application of divine truth to human experience and only “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Young men were esp. encouraged to apply themselves to the quest for wisdom; making their ear attentive to wisdom and inclining their heart to understanding (2:2). The author of Psalm 49 gives the wisdom of his years of experience when he announces, “My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.” That which followed was the author’s observations about life and death. Especially in Psalm 73 there is a union of human thought and divine truth, the two combining to result in wisdom. The writer of that Psalm said “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God” (Ps 73:16, 17). The author of the Wisdom of Solomon makes his appeal for men to seek wisdom: “Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her” (6:12).


The writings of the rabbis concerned with the interpretation of the law became eventually the depository of wisdom, and those who studied the law gained the treasure of wisdom. Proverbs gave the practical advice that led to a happy and successful life, which that book termed “wisdom,” such an ethical quality that it was a short step from morals which equalled law to wisdom which equalled law. In the Apoc. the book of Ecclesiasticus (The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach) gave a moral and religious interpretation to law which likewise foreshadowed that identification of wisdom with law. It is incorrect to say that wisdom was equivalent to law in Ecclesiasticus, but the identification of the two was definitely in prospect. By NT times so definitive of wisdom was the knowledge of the rabbis and their interpretation of the law that those who were untutored in rabbinics could be described as accursed (John 7:49).


Wisdom literature

Wisdom lit. in the OT is identified as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job and Psalms 19; 37; 104; 107; 147; 148. In the Apoc. the book of Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon fit this description. In the NT the Book of James comes closest to the nature of Wisdom lit.


The Heb. māshāl (מָשָׁל, H5442) or proverb is the most primitive as well as the most common expression of Heb. wisdom. It is not possible, however, to speak of any particular proverb or collection of proverbs in the Bible as being esp. ancient. One portion of the Book of Proverbs (22:17-23:14) has been judged by many scholars to have affinities with the Egyp. material Ameneopet which would indicate a considerable antiquity; for the earliest form of Wisdom lit. existed in Egypt as far back as the third millennium b.c. Not all the proverbs in the Bible are contained in the Book of Proverbs. The last seven vv. of Ecclesiastes are proverbial and to an extent offer the best explanation of the presence of proverbs in the Bible. God desired to teach man the right way to live, to preserve him from heartbreaking experiences and aimless wanderings in life. A natural concomitant of this was a special interest in proverbial material in advising the young, so that Proverbs has often been called “The Young Man’s Book.”

The Book of Proverbs preserves much ancient material, but did not attain its present form until late, no earlier than the time of Hezekiah (see Prov 25). Chapters 1-9 inclusive, are a contrast of wisdom with folly. The appeal is for men to behave wisely in every relationship of life. Chapters 10-24 inclusive, are a collection of proverbs reported to have been written by wise Solomon himself. This section may depend upon the tradition that Solomon was wiser than all the people of the E and authored 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:29-34). Chapters 25-29 inclusive are reported also to have been proverbs of Solomon which the men of King Hezekiah of Judah copied and arranged. The men who arranged this section were called “the friends of Hezekiah” in the LXX. Whether these were transmitted orally or by writing (as “copied” would seem to imply) is not certain. Chapter 30 is an oracle of an otherwise unknown sage named Agur, the son of Jakeh. Chapter 31 is an acrostic poem, arranged on the order of the letters in the Heb. alphabet, which attempts to identify a virtuous woman. According to the material it was instruction given to King Lemuel by his mother. Tradition has said that “Lemuel” was a name given to Solomon as a child by Bath-sheba, his mother.

Ecclesiastes has been all things to all men. Jerome thought it was a manual enjoining renunciation of the world. Comenius spoke of it as an appealing book of consolation. Heine referred to Ecclesiastes as a “Hymn of Skepticism.” Delitzch called it a “Hymn of Godly Fear.” Johannes Pederson gave it the title “Israelite Skepticism” and Morris Jastrow called its author “a gentle cynic.”

The author of Ecclesiastes called himself “koholeth,” a Heb. term derived from the word meaning “to assemble.” Koholeth is usually tr. into Eng. as “the preacher,” perhaps because Luther used the term prediger which meant just that. Tradition has said that Ecclesiastes (from the LXX title of the book) was Solomon’s, David’s son (1:1). Many modern scholars hold that he was simply a sage, one of the wisdom teachers of that day (12:8). (See Ecclesiastes.)

Koholeth felt bound by no tradition; he possessed an inquiring spirit, but with little interest in dogma. His range of knowledge did not equal Job’s, but he was a cultured, well-in-formed man who had much insight into the affairs of his day. He was possibly acquainted to some degree with Gr. philosophy. Three great loves possessed him. He had a love for life, his emotions were tempered, but to be alive was good indeed. His second love was justice. He was not indifferent to human suffering and was deeply sensitive to the cruelty and folly of the human race. The charge of cynicism grew out of his seeming resignation to an inevitable fate about which men could do nothing. His third love was truth. He tried to solve the puzzle of the universe, but concluded that all was vanity. Man was powerless and could do nothing for himself to solve the riddle of human existence. Koholeth loved life, but his search for justice and wisdom brought him only sorrow and disillusionment.

Job has been commonly believed to be the greatest of all the Wisdom lit. It is the greatest drama in the OT and was called by Carlyle “the world’s greatest book.” At first it seems that the author is simply telling the story of Job’s trials but in actuality he is using those experiences to impress his readers with the truths he has received from God. The problem of suffering, the greatest enigma of the human mind, is that which the author faces. The Jew had been taught that the righteous always prosper and the wicked always suffer. If, therefore, a man suffers it was conclusive evidence of his wickedness. Because there was no view of immortality, it had to be that way for the Jew to maintain a moral universe. In Sheol distinctions were non-existent. The grave was no friend to any man. Because God was righteous, it was necessary for Him to reward men in this life. The author of Job found two serious errors in this: (1) men would be led to do right in order to be rewarded with earthly benefits, (2) the poor, the hurt, the wretched were abandoned to their suffering (it was what they deserved). To Job it was not possible to identify suffering and sin. To Job the unfortunate man in life could none the less be God’s man, well pleasing to Him. The author could have simply declared these truths, but he chose to present them in a matchless dramatic form, Job accused of wrongdoing by friends because he had come upon hard times.

Several of the Psalms belong to the Wisdom lit. of the OT. Psalms 19; 104 and 147 are often referred to as nature psalms. To the wise man the natural world was something more than rocks and hills. The wonders of the natural universe were testimonies to the glory of the God who created it. The heavens are constantly preaching and teaching (Ps 19). Psalm 37 reflects the author’s perplexity over the character and seeming prosperity of the wicked. The wicked may prosper to the end, but that end will be obliteration. The righteous may have little of this world’s goods, but in the end they possess peace. Likewise Psalm 107 sings of the graciousness of God’s providence for the redeemed. The material and temporal become types of the eternal and spiritual. The righteous are like a lost caravan in the desert; they are like distressed captives in a dungeon; they are like sick men on their deathbeds; they are like seamen foundering in a storm. In all of these circumstances they have been driven to God. They cry out for help, and He answers them. Psalm 148 calls upon all the universe to render its praise to God: the sun, the moon, the stars, the fire, the hail, the snow, the vapors, the young men, the maidens, the old men, and the children. Beginning with the heavens the psalmist moves from that great height to the lowest deeps and back to earth. Everything is to praise God.


Ecclesiasticus is attributed to Jesus, the Son of Sirach, and is also known as the Wisdom of Sirach. It has a proverbial nature, and some have supposed that Sirach took the Book of Proverbs as his model. It has been thought that the book itself contains all that is known of its author (39:1-11). It is not only like Proverbs in form, but content as well. The ideal of life is presented as a synthesis of religion, by which the author meant fear of God and observance of the law, which was the better part of wisdom. He was esp. familiar with the Pentateuch as well as rules and regulations of the oral law which were later codified in the Mishna. Sirach’s task as a teacher, as he understood it, was to help his students to meet the problems of life by living righteously. He was a Jew of sincere piety and sought to bring his people to a similar devotion to God.

The Wisdom of Solomon gains its title in the LXX, but in the Vul. it is called Liber Sapientiae (Book of Wisdom). It is an exhortation to seek wisdom because that brings salvation, whereas damnation is the fate of unrighteous Jews who disregard wisdom (chs. 1-5). Wisdom is to be sought also because there is a divine essence about it. The understanding which this author reveals of the nature of wisdom differs considerably from the earlier Wisdom lit., drawing much more heavily upon concepts found in Gr. philosophy (chs. 6-9). Wisdom shows itself to have been the means by which blessings came to Israel in times past, even as judgment came upon the heathen without it (chs. 10-19). It should also be noted that there were differences between chs. 11-19, and the earlier section that has raised a question concerning the unity of the work, i.e., the author no longer speaks in the first person, nor is the term “wisdom” to be found after 11:1.

Christian concept

Wisdom for some of the prophets became a word that was heathen in its connotation. The NT finds something of the same problem, and wherever wisdom has become identified with legalism on one hand, or pagan philosophy on the other, it is rejected. Yet there is an appreciation of a certain kind of wisdom to be found in Christian teaching.



1 Corinthians 1-4 is a passage esp. concerned with wisdom. In fact it is primarily a denunciation of wisdom. It is important to know that the wisdom against which Paul wrote was not of Jewish parentage, but Gr. It was the vain speculations of philosophy expressed in the empty, high-flown phrases of meaningless rhetoric that brought the apostle’s wrath. This philosphy was a trusting of man’s thought processes rather than a reception of God’s revelation. It was esp. at the point of the meaninglessness and futility of the cross of Christ in the judgment of men that Paul took his stand. Such an attitude toward the cross was clearly a testimony to the perversity of the wisdom against which he wrote.

Positively Paul taught a wisdom of his own which was for mature Christians, morally strong. It was prob. not a reference to doctrine that Paul made when he said “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom” (1 Cor 2:6), though some have believed it to refer to the depth of Paul’s teachings. It seems more likely to be associated with the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people in a full and meaningful way, for Paul wrote “God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (2 Cor 2:10).


The Book of James is the only book in the NT that can be accurately described in its entirety as Gnomic, or Wisdom lit. The writing most similar to James in early Christian lit. is known by the Lat. title, De Doctrina Apostolorum (Concerning the Doctrine of the Apostles). The epistle of James could, with a very few Christian notations removed, pass quite appropriately as a synagogue exhortation. James contemplates the danger to Christianity not so much as a perversion of doctrine from a heretical teaching but as a mistake (or mistakes) in the realm of practical living. The interest of the book is dominantly ethical, an emphasis on a godly life. The wisdom of James is the wisdom of living a life acceptable to God which is the same emphasis that Jesus gave as recorded in the synoptics.


E. Mack, The Hebrew Looks Up To God (1936); J. R. Macarthur, Biblical Literature and Its Background (1936); T. W. Manson, A Companion to the Bible (1939); R. H. Pfeiffer, History of NT Times with an Introduction to the Apocrypha (1949); H. H. Rowley, The Unity of the Bible (1953); M. E. Chase, Life and Language in the OT (1955); L. Kohler, Hebrew Man: How He Looked, Lived and Thought (1956); B. M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (1957).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


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) Apocrypha and New Testament the words "wisdom," "wise," "act wisely," etc., are always translations of phronimos, or of their cognates. For "wisdom," however, sophia is in almost every case the original word, the sole exception in the New Testament being Lu 1:17 (phronesis).

See also PRUDENCE.

2. History:

(2) The factors that produced it were partly the same as those that produced scribism (see Scribes). 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 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 Ps 19; 37; 104; 107; 147; 148); 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 (Pr 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 (Pr 8:16; compare Ec 9:15). And even some real knowledge of God can be obtained by all men through the study of natural phenomena (Ps 19:1; Sirach 16:29-17:14; 42:15-43:33; The Wisdom of Solomon 13:2,9; compare Ro 1:20).

(3) The attitude toward the written Law varies. In Ecclesiastes, Job and Proverbs it is hardly mentioned (Pr 28:7-9; 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 (Pr 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, Pr 28:9) as a substitute for righteousness no condemnation is too strong (Pr 7:14; 15:8; 20:25; 21:3,17; Sirach 34:18-26; 35:1-3,12; Ec (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 Solomon 3:1, etc.), but Greek influence in Wisdom is perfectly certain. In Job there are expressions of confidence (14:13-15; 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 (Ec 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 Pr (2:21,22 (?)), 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 (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.

5. Teaching of Christ:

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 (1:11; 3:3-6,11,12; 5:7, etc.), the same observation of human life (2:2,3,15,16; 4:13, etc.), the same antithetical form, and even the same technical use of the word "wisdom" (1:5; 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 Ro 11:17 is an artificially constructed figure). Only one passage calls for special comment. The "wisdom" against which he inveighs in 1Co 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 Isa 29:14; Job 5:13; Ps 94:11 (in 1Co 1:19; 3:19,20) 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 (1Co 2:6), that he taught to Christians of mature moral (not intellectual: 1Co 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 (1Co 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 (1Co 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 (Pr 1:20-33; 8:1-9:6; Sirach 4:11-19; 6:23-31; 14:20-15:10; 24; 51:13-21; The Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-9:18; Baruch 3:29-32). Such personifications in themselves are not, of course, remarkable (compare e.g. the treatment of "love" in 1Co 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 Pr 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 Pr 8:30 should be rendered, as the context makes clear that ’mwn should be pointed ’amun, "sheltered," and not ’amon, "as a master-workman." And "Wisdom" is a quality of man (Pr 8:31-36), not a quality of God.

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 Solomon 7:22), the effulgence of eternal light (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:26; compare Heb 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 Solomon 7:24, at any rate, his "Wisdom" is the logos spermatikos 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 DeFug. 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 3rd centuries, 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 Pr 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, IV (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.