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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.

Our Writer

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