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Faith and Wisdom

FAITH Belief in that which has no tangible proof; trust in God.


Definition of Faith; In the OT and NT, “faith” carries several meanings. It may mean simple trust in God or in the Word of God, and at other times faith almost becomes equivalent to active obedience. It may also find expression in the affirmation of a creedal statement. Thus, it also comes to mean the entire body of received Christian teaching or truth— “the truth.” In Colossians 2:7 the term suggests something to be accepted as a whole and embodied in personal life. In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul witnesses to having “kept the faith.”


Faith In the Old Testament; The OT also strongly emphasizes faith as confidence in God’s covenant or in the covenant God made with Abraham and his descen­dants. The call of Abraham and the promise that his descendants would be used in the history of redemption became the basis of the narratives of the OT, being seen as the working out of that covenant. Once the nation Israel was brought into being, God sustained and protected it. The exodus from Egypt is a prominent indication that God was at work restoring his people to the Promised land. The obedience of the people of God as the proper expression of faith is seen clearly in the OT. Without see­ing God, his people believed and obeyed him. Abraham left his native land to go into unknown territory. The peo­ple of Israel left Egypt following the leadership of God to a land they could not see. The promise of God gave them courage to possess the land promised to them. After the exodus, the covenant of Abraham was confirmed with the people of Israel by the sprinkling of blood (Ex 24:6-7). There was to be strict obedience to God’s commands as an expression of faith. This response of human faith to the Lord’s faithfulness was national and collective. There also were commands to, and instances of, personal faith.


Not only the narrative and legal portions of the OT but also the poetic and prophetic writings emphasize faith. The Psalms abound in expressions of personal confidence in the Lord even in dark times. Habakkuk points out that “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Hb 2:4). From such instances it is clear that, as the Lord’s education of Israel proceeded, the matter of faith in God’s faithfulness became more and more a matter of individual and personal response, and it is in the Prophets that several ingredi­ents—such as trust, obedience, fear, and certainty—blend into the understanding of such personal faith.


Faith In the New Testament As over against the OT, where the accent is on the faithfulness of God, in the NT the emphasis is placed on the active, responding faith of the hearer to the promised, final revelation in the Mes­siah, Jesus. Both verb and noun regularly describe the adequate response of people to Jesus’ word and to the gos­pel.



WISDOM The ability to direct one’s mind toward a full understanding of human life and toward its moral fulfill­ment. Wisdom is thus a special capacity, necessary for full human living; it can be acquired through education and the application of the mind.


Divine Wisdom Although the term “wisdom” is used primarily in the OT with reference to human beings, all wisdom is ultimately rooted and grounded in God. Wis­dom forms a central part of the nature of God. In wis­dom God created the universe (Prv 3:19) and human beings (Ps 104:24). Thus wisdom, in its positive conno­tations, is something inherent in God, reflected in cre­ation, and a part of the reason for human existence.

Wisdom in creation is reflected in the form and order that emerged out of primeval chaos. The wisdom of God expressed in the creation of humanity means that human life may also be marked by form and order, and that meaning in life may be found in the created world, which contains marks of divine wisdom. The wisdom of God is creative, purposeful, and good; it is not merely the intellectual activity of God. The potential for human wisdom is rooted in the creation of mankind. Created by divine wisdom, human beings have within them the God-given capacity for wisdom. Thus, it is impossible to understand human wisdom without first grasping its necessary antecedent divine wisdom,


Human Wisdom The word “wisdom,” with reference to human beings, is used in a variety of different ways in the OT. The word is often used as virtually synonymous with the term “knowledge,” but in its general and secular uses it commonly indicates applied knowledge, skill, or even cunning. Wisdom could be defined as either “superior mental capacity or “superior skill.” Thus, wisdom is used to describe both the cunning of King Solomon (I Kgs 2:1-6) and the skill of the craftsman Bezalel (Ex 35:33). But it was also used to describe mental capacities and skills that had a moral component—the capacity to under­stand and to do good. Thus, when Moses delegated some of his authority to newly appointed judges, he chose men who were wise, understanding and experienced (Dt 1:13). Such men were considered the wise men in ancient Israel. Human wisdom, in this special sense, was not merely a gift from God, inherent at birth; it had to be developed consciously during a life lived in relationship with God,

Thus this positive and special kind of wisdom in human beings cannot be understood apart from God. A frequent theme of the Wisdom Literature in the OT is that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prv 9:10; see also Jb 28:28; Ps 111:10; Prv l:7; 15:33). In several ways, this theme sets a perspective for under­standing true human wisdom.

First, human wisdom is possible only because of the divine wisdom present in creation; the potential for wis­dom exists only because God created it. Second, if wis­dom is to be developed in a human being the starting point must be God—specifically, one must revere or fear God. This Hebraic concept of wisdom is strikingly differ­ent from the Greek concept. The Ionian philosophers, with remarkable power, developed a system of thought that began without the assumption of the existence of deity. They attempted to develop wisdom through human reason alone. But Hebrew wisdom, though it sought to develop both the reason and the intellect as did the Greeks, could start only with God. The mind and its capacities were God-given; thus, however secular in appearance the wisdom of the Hebrews might seem, it had God as its starting point. The reverence of God— namely the acknowledgment that God existed, created, and was important in human life—lay behind all the developments of Hebrew wisdom.

Human wisdom, in the Hebrew conception, is thus a development of the mind, an expansion of knowledge, and an understanding of both the meaning of life and how that life must be lived. It is thoroughly intellectual but has a powerful moral result. Wisdom was sought not for its own sake but always for its application to the meaning of life, because life—like wisdom—was God’s gift. This emphasis in Hebrew wisdom meant that the virtues of the wise man or woman were never described in intellectual terms alone. The wise are not the intelligentsia of Israelite society, but as the book of Proverbs makes dear, they were those whose lives were characterized by understanding patience, diligence, trustworthiness, self-control, modesty, and similar virtues. In a word, the wise man was the God-fearing man; his wisdom lay not just in a static atti­tude of reverence but rather in the conscious development of the mind toward wisdom in the context of godly living


From this general conception of wisdom there emerged in ancient Israel a special category of men, the wise men. Though wisdom was not limited to them, they were responsible for the growth and communication of wis­dom in Israel. The wise men formed one of three classes of religious personnel. First, there were priests and Levites, whose responsibilities lay primarily within the context of established religion. They were the servants of the temple and the leaders of worship and also had certain responsi­bilities in the area of religious education. Second, there were the prophets, the spokesmen of God to the people of God. Third, there were the wise men. From a certain perspective, they possessed the most secular task among the three groups. They were involved in a variety of tasks, from governmental administration to moral and secular education. As moral educators, they instructed the young people of their day, not in how to make a living but in how to live. Something of their curriculum has survived in the book of Proverbs. The books of Job and Ecclesiastes also reflect the thought of the wise men.


Wisdom in the New Testament The word “wisdom” is used in the NT both of the wisdom of God and the wis­dom of humans. The continuation of the OT wisdom tra­dition is found in the NT’s use of the word in conjunction with God and in the positive connotations of the word in relation to human beings. But the NT also speaks nega­tively of human wisdom. Thus, Paul described his mes­sage as being “not in the plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor 2:4). Purely human wisdom has no ultimate merit of its own, and Paul quotes the OT to demonstrate that God would destroy human wisdom (1 Cor 1:19; cf. Is 29:14). A clear distinction between good and evil wisdom is provided in the Letter of James (Jas 3:13-18). A person whose life reflects jealousy and selfish ambition does not have the true wisdom of God but is earthly-minded and unspiri­tual. But true wisdom is God-given; this wisdom is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, fill of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity” (v 17).

As wisdom was the primary possession of God, so too it was reflected in the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus, during the years of His growth, reflected in His life the increase of wisdom (Lk 2:40, 52), and His opponents, as well as His friends, recognized the wisdom in His teaching (Mt


Since wisdom is rooted and grounded in God, true and spiritual wisdom is God’s gift. It could be seen in the lives and words of the servants of God such as Stephen (Acts 6:10) and Paul (2 Pt 3:15). Spiritual wisdom, which provided the knowledge enabling a person to live fully the life given by God, was to be desired for oneself and prayed for in others (CoI 1:9).

The most central aspect of wisdom in the NT is in the gospel of the crucified Christ. In his first letter to the Corin­thian church, Paul contrasted vividly the positive and nega­tive senses of wisdom in proclaiming the death of Jesus Christ. The world did not know God by their own wisdom (1 Cor 1:21); that is, the true revelation of God and His redemption of mankind were not revealed to those who sought such truth through wisdom alone, namely, through the Greek approach to wisdom and philosophy. The gos­pel was declared in preaching, which was, from a strictly philosophical or wisdom perspective, a kind of foolish­ness. And yet the gospel of Jesus Christ was both the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24). Jesus, for those who believed, became the ultimate source of that wisdom that could come from God alone (1 Cor 1:30).

Taken from Tyndale Bible Dictionary

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