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Many Faces of Wisdom
In this study you will explore the many facets of wisdom as recorded in the book of Proverbs, the gospels, and the letter of James. The Old Testament has a rich tradition regarding wisdom, especially embodied in the canonical books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books of Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon. There is no simple definition of “wisdom” because it has multiple facets. Ancient Jewish tradition teaches these truths about wisdom:
- Wisdom includes practical knowledge of how the world and human life work, including how to make decisions that are just (see 1 Kings 3:16-28 for one famous example).
- Human wisdom is limited.
- Wisdom is both a gift from God and the result of human pursuit.
- Ultimately, wisdom comes only from God, and so can only be found if one starts with “fear of the Lord.”
When reading the wisdom traditions, we run the risk of losing sight of the active, saving grace of God that frames them. But, Proverbs doesn’t mention Abraham, the Law, the covenants, or the temple either. That doesn’t mean such things didn’t matter to the writers. It means these tenets of faith are assumed, and we should not forget them as we read the wisdom texts. Likewise, the writer of the letter of James hardly mentions Jesus, but that doesn’t mean the writer finds him unimportant. James is focused almost completely on the “therefore” of how we ought to live, but that cannot stand without the “because” of what God has done through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God’s gracious actions for salvation are the asuumed context within which to understand these wise words.
The New Testament writers saw Jesus as someone who taught divine wisdom. They used Jewish tradition of personified wisdom to express who Jesus is and why he matters. Jesus is the incarnate wisdom of God, active in the very creation of the world, who has entered the world to invite all people to the feast of life and to bring to fullness the life God intends. He is God’s wisdom for the word.
Brian Peterson has served as pastor of congregations in Minnesota and Virfinia. Since 1998 he has been a faculty member at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, where he lives with his wife, Rev. Linda Anderson. When not teaching or writing, he enjoys astrophotography and playing with his grandchildren.
For the Grace Weekly Update
Lesson 1 Jun. 7 The Call of Wisdom Proverbs 1:1-4, 7-8, 10, 20-22, 32-33
Lesson 2 June 14 The Value of Wisdom Proverbs 2:1-11
Lesson 3 June 21 The Gifts of Wisdom Proverbs 8:8-14, 17-21
Lesson 4 June 28 Wisdom’s Feast Proverbs 9:1-6, 8-10,13-18
Lesson 5 July 5 Wisdom’s Vindication Matthew 11:7-19
Lesson 6 July 12 The Boy Jesus Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7b;Luke 2:39-52
Lesson 7 July 19 The Wisdom of Jesus Mark 6:1-6
Lesson 8 July 26 Wisdom: The Way, Truth, and Life John 14:1-14
Lesson 9 Aug. 2 Faith and Wisdom James 1:1-11
Lesson 10 Aug. 9 Hearing and Doing the Word James 1:19-27
Lesson 11 Aug. 16 Faith without Works is Dead James 2:14-26
Lesson 12 Aug. 23 Taming the Tongue James 3:1-12
Lesson 13 Aug. 30 Two Kinds of Wisdom James 3:13-18, 5:7-12