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In general, Wisdom can be (and is, and was) identified as Jesus. However, there is this verse:

Proverbs 8:22 (NLT)
22 "The Lord formed me from the beginning,
         before he created anything else."

Hold on a moment...I thought God the Son wasn't created, having coexisted with God the Father since before time? How is the identity of Wisdom established as being that of the Son and how is Proverbs 8:22 handled? If it makes a difference, I grew up Wesleyan, so I'd prefer Protestant doctrines although Catholic or Orthodox doctrines would be interesting too.

  • 2
    Interesting note: in WEB the verb is 'possessed' instead of 'formed'. "Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his work, Before his deeds of old." � WEB – dsh Aug 8 '12 at 16:30
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    Out of curiosity, why do you say that Wisdom is Jesus? (I'm just curious if I am missing something obvious.) As I studied Proverbs I leaned more toward Wisdom being the Spirit. (Though Jesus' life, of course, would be the perfect demonstration of a life by the Spirit.) – Jas 3.1 Jun 2 '13 at 23:35
  • The exact same question was asked on the Biblical Hermeneutics site, in 2012. There were a few interesting answers there. – Constantthin Dec 2 '18 at 7:18
  • I'm not really happy with this question title, but given that there are a few Protestant answers and one Catholic answer, I'm not sure we can do much better (without deleting something). – Nathaniel Jan 7 at 1:01
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There are two common interpretations among Protestants:

  1. "Wisdom" refers to the Word of God; that is, Jesus
  2. "Wisdom" is the personification of a divine attribute, and perhaps a type of Christ, but should not be understood to be Jesus himself

The first view was widely held by the church fathers and several centuries of Protestants. However, in the 20th century the second view became more popular and now dominates Evangelical scholarship.

The Word of God: Jesus

The typical patristic understanding of this passage was that Wisdom refers to the Word of God: that is, the Son of God, Jesus. As you note, this raises some questions about the meaning of one key word in verse 22, translated "created," "formed," or "possessed," and this verse was a major battleground in the Arian controversy.

Early Protestants generally followed the patristic understanding, and argue that Jesus's divinity should not be doubted on the basis of this passage. I'll provide a sampling of arguments, but to be clear, the vast majority of early Protestant commentators (particularly prior to the 20th century) take this approach.1

Matthew Henry summarizes this position, noting the very personal characteristics of Wisdom:

That it is an intelligent and divine person that here speaks seems very plain, and that it is not meant of a mere essential property of the divine nature, for Wisdom here has personal properties and actions and that intelligent divine person can be no other than the Son of God himself.2

Defenders of this view point to New Testament passages referring to Jesus in similar ways, such as John 1:1, Hebrews 1:3, 1 Peter 1:20 and Colossians 1:15–18.

But if that's the case, how do Protestants defend against the Arians and others who say that this passage teaches that Jesus was created? The question revolves around the meaning of the Hebrew word qanah, which elsewhere in the Old Testament can be translated "get," "acquire," "create," and "possess." Protestants argue for the "possess" translation, and note that the "create" reading would imply that at one point God was without wisdom:

Not "created me," as the Targum and the Septuagint. [...] [T]his possession [...] denotes the Lord's having, possessing, and enjoying his word and wisdom as his own proper Son.3

Albert Barnes similarly says that there is no "ground for the thought of creation either in the meaning of the root, or in the general usage of the word." His Notes go on to point out the logical difficulty of "create":

What is meant in this passage is that we cannot think of God as ever having been without Wisdom.4

The Personification of a Divine Attribute

The Moody Bible Commentary, citing several recent commentators,5 provides a helpful summary of the alternate position:

Lady Wisdom here is no more than a personification of the wisdom that the sage has received, a wisdom revealed by God and rooted in His very own character. The context simply does not justify interpretations that go beyond the personification of wisdom here. [...] It is therefore best to say that Lady Wisdom shares similarities with Christ, but Christ is even greater than she. In short, the sage's wisdom is a type of Christ.

Others understand the text similarly.6 The Reformation Study Bible, though emphasizing Christ as the wisdom of God, still considers the personification of wisdom here to be a "poetic device":

Although it is premature to see personified wisdom (especially in vv. 22–31) as a direct portrayal of a divine being, there is no doubt that the revelation of Jesus Christ as the wisdom of God shows us the significance of a wisdom that is its own absolute authority.

This view was not entirely foreign to writers of the 19th century. Methodist Adam Clarke (1760–1832) critiques the church fathers as finding "allegorical meanings every where," though he too applies Wisdom in verse 3, "She crieth at the gates," to Christ, his apostles, and their successors.7

Summary

Each person's understanding of this passage will be influenced by the relative weights placed on the testimony of the church fathers and modern hermeneutics. Early Protestants leaned toward the former, but the latter has gained primacy among Protestants over the last two centuries. Either way, however, Protestants have carefully argued that the text does not challenge the divinity of Christ.


References:

  1. Geneva Study Bible, Wesley, Coke, Poole, Scofield. Also Catholic Haydock.
  2. Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, III
  3. Gill, Exposition of the Whole Bible. Cf. James Coffman; though not a defender of this view, he writes at length on how to properly translate this word.
  4. Barnes, Notes
  5. Kidner (Proverbs), Longman (Proverbs), and Waltke (Book of Proverbs 1-15), among others.
  6. ESV Study Bible, NIV Study Bible, and Keil & Delitzsch, for example.
  7. Clarke, Commentary
3

Note: Most on-line commentaries seem ascribe this verse to mean the Son of God and the Arian heresy tried to use it as a means for arguing that the Son was created and therefore not eternal. See these commentaries here.


Anyway, when thinking of the Eternal Son as the wisdom of God we run into the idea that the Son was eternally begotten of the Father. That is, the Son from eternity is the express image and word of the father, proceeding from him. Absolutely considered we can’t say that He was ‘formed’ so it seems when the Bible refers to the Son in this way, it is also looking at this with the eternal counsels of God’s will, in the future plan of incarnating the Son and saving the world, before he ever created it. In this sense the Son is both the ‘power and wisdom of God’, before the creation of the world.

but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:24)

So when we regard that God was planning from eternity to create and redeem the creation by the Son, the Son is said to be God’s wisdom. It is from eternity, in the thought of this undertaking by the Son, that the verse you mention seems to comprehend. We can see that this wisdom, or counsels of God’s will through His Son, were from eternity:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

2

I can tell you who wisdom is in Sirach...

Wisdom shall praise her own self, and shall be honoured in God, and shall glory in the midst of her people, and shall open her mouth in the churches of the most High, and shall glorify herself in the sight of his power, and in the midst of her own people she shall be exalted, and shall be admired in the holy assembly. And in the multitude of the elect she shall have praise, and among the blessed she shall be blessed, saying: I came out of the mouth of the most High, the firstborn before all creatures: (Sirach 24:1-5)

It's a lady! Not sure if your doctrines forbid ascribing female characteristic to God, but feminine wisdom and feminine motherliness is palpable throughout the Bible. So I think in the eternal sense (aka the anagogical sense):

The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem. CCC 117

we can interpret these eternal truths in an eternal fashion.

Wisdom gives birth to great ideas and is justifiably considered a woman! Wisdom, like our mother, is our First Teacher. All these things could also be said of the Holy Spirit.


For addtional Wisdom, check out Sirach's offspring Jesus (no relation) who wrote the Book of Wisdom and for additional confusion, consider the title given to Mary "Seat of Wisdom" and the Wisdom 7:27 which says

The soul of the righteous is the seat of Wisdom.

So... Mary, seat of wisdom, Holy Tabernacle of the Lord, model of the Church etc... Models our souls as the place where Wisdom resides.

  • 1. You TOTALLY should add a reference to the book of Wisdom (cause I'm too lazy and if I were to write up my own answer it would largely be a duplicate effort). 2. You also may want to mention that "wisdom" was a feminine noun. – Ignatius Theophorus Aug 7 '12 at 14:57
  • @IgnatiusTheophorus thanks for the prompting on the book of Wisdom. I can't speak to the femininity of the word wisdom as I don't even know which language you're talking about, Greek? But I think that feminine words are not generally translated using feminine pronouns unless done for an explicit reason. – Peter Turner Aug 7 '12 at 15:24
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"Wisdom" in the context of these verses isn't anybody. It's wisdom, as you or I would understand the word, literally, but in this particular context, Solomon is Anthropomorphizing the character trait of wisdom.

I've never once seen a commentary, or heard a message that gives any indication that "Wisdom" in these passages means anything else.

That Solomon would Anthropomorphize wisdom isn't surprising. The Proverbs have a very poetic style, almost equaling that of the Psalms. And Solomon valued wisdom. When God offered to give Solomon anything he wanted, Solomon asked for wisdom. (1 Kings Chapter 3) It's quite common in literature to use anthropomorphism when describing non-living objects, or even concepts.

In this particular proverb, Solomon is simply expressing the importance of, and value of wisdom using poetic language.

  • And on a side note, if "Wisdom" was "anybody", it would just be the WORD (since well, you can only hear and see Wisdom in words, you can't "feel" Wisdom") , which would therefore be Christ before He was incarnate. – user1946 Aug 10 '12 at 19:35
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This article by CRI is useful: https://www.equip.org/article/who-is-wisdom-in-proverbs-8/

They make the case that the literary form of encomium is being used. An encomium is the praise of a character quality, offered so as to persuade others to imitate it. It is poetic and it is fiction. It uses personification. Another example of an encomium in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13, about love.

They list some defining elements of an encomium:

The writer of an encomium conducts the praise by using a standard set of literary motifs (elements): (1) introduction to the subject, (2) the distinguished and ancient ancestry of the subject, (3) a list of the praiseworthy acts and qualities of the subject, (4) the indispensable and/or superior nature of the subject, and (5) a conclusion urging the reader to emulate the subject.

Thus this passage does not refer to Jesus at all, so cannot be used to argue (as the article says the Jehovah's Witnesses do) that Christ is a created being.

0

Hold on a moment...I thought God the Son wasn't created, having coexisted with God the Father since before time?

Answer

No need to panic, all the commentaries coming from Catholic sources and teaching of the Church Father's are not yet definitive more so defined as a Dogma regarding the definite identification of the Wisdom described in Proverbs8:22.

Reading St.Louis De Montfort "Love of Eternal Wisdom" is also hard to digest but it is aligned with the Church Father reflection like St.Justin Martyr. But, reading it will still leave room for some doubts if Jesus was really the Wisdom spoken to in that passages.

Wisdom is created by God for only one purpose and that is Salvation of Mankind.

And thus the paths of those on earth were set right, and people were taught what pleases you, and were saved by wisdom.(Wisdom9:18)

St.Catherine of Sienna said it simply and profoundly;

"All things are pre-ordained towards the salvation of man".

I loved how King Solomon described how God created all things thru His Word but when it comes to forming a man, King Solomon said God created them by His Word & Wisdom.

“O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy, who have made all things by your word,and by your wisdom have formed humankind to have dominion over the creatures you have made, and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me the wisdom that sits by your throne. (Wisdom9:1-4)

Why God uses Wisdom in forming man? Because man need to be breathe upon in order for it to have a living soul.

"Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being." (Genesis1:27)

"For she(Wisdom) is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;...(Wisdom7:25)

The word "qanah" does not refer to Jesus the Logos because He is "begotten" not created. Jesus existed in the "bosom of the Father".

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.(John1:18)

The word "qanah" means to create or birthed was referred to by King Solomon as a Spirit existing beside God meaning, the Wisdom is not internal to God nor cosubstantial with God like the Logos.

Then I was constantly[c] at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. (Proverbs8:30-31)

So, who is the Spirit of Wisdom and how can we properly understand the word "qanah".

God in eternity by the love of the Abba Father to the chosen Woman her beloved daughter, and the love of Jesus to His beloved Mother, and the love of the Holy Spirit to Her Spouse had "conceived" in eternity the birth of the "Spirit of Created Wisdom". I said spirit because God is a Spirit and when it gave birth it brought forth a spirit too.

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.(John3:6)

God in eternity had "qanah" or birthed the Spirit of Wisdom, which King Solomon was surprised because Wisdom is the Mother of it all, and Wisdom is the breath that brings life to every creature.

I rejoiced in them all, because Wisdom is their leader, though I had not known that she is their mother.(Wisdom7:12)

In eternity the birth of Spirit of Wisdom, the Mother of all the Living in the order of grace is the First Act of God before He created everything, the Spirit of the Mother of all the living the source of breath must be created first. All creation are connected to Wisdom and human formed had the source of life thru the breath of God which is the Wisdom in Proverbs8:22.

In closing, Jesus the begotten son of God the Logos existed in eternity at the "bosom of the Abba Father" while the "Spirit of Wisdom" birthed or created by God was "beside Him" meaning Wisdom is external. In eternity, the Most Holy Trinity existed plus the Spirit of Created Wisdom that encompasses the Salvation of Mankind the Divine Plan of God from alpha to omega.

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