Wisdom is an important concept in the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures. Wisdom is also described as more than a good quality. She is a personified heavenly female power. Despite many scholarly books having been written about her she is given little attention by the Church because she does not have a place in official church doctrine. Consequently, she is not part of any Sunday sermons, Bible studies, and so forth. At best, the relevant passages are brushed off as metaphorical speech. Therefore, most ordinary believers do not know that Wisdom is more than a godly attribute. Even if they do, most are not equipped to interpret passages that depict Wisdom as a celestial deity when the church has not addressed them.
The main reason for all this might be because Lady Wisdom’s femininity impugns the all-male Trinity. In my two books I have examined this topic extensively and it is my claim that Wisdom and the Holy Spirit are one and the same feminine divine force. They have the same gender, function, traits and role in creation which I have also touched on in my first blog. Most Christians though, do not know that the Holy Spirit’s original gender, in Hebrew, is feminine which serves as a major roadblock to connecting the dots and seeing that Wisdom is another title for the Holy Spirit.
Another reason is that most of the Wisdom books that portray her as a personified deity are only present in the canon of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church. For Protestants they are part of the Apocrypha. These books are the Wisdom of Solomon, Ben Sirach and, to a lesser extent, Baruch, which were all written before the birth of Jesus. However, the most important book that speaks about Wisdom this way is the Book of Proverbs. It is older and accepted as canonical by all Christians, as well as Jews.
In Proverbs chapter 8 Wisdom describes her role in the creation of the world. At one point, in verses 22-25 (all quotes from RSV), she says,
“The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.”
She tells us she was “created” “before the beginning of the earth” and “brought forth.” The word translated as “created” also means “acquire.” For example, it is used when Boaz made Ruth his wife (Ruth 10:5, 10) which gives it another profound meaning here.
A couple verses later in 29-30 she continues,
“… when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.”
Lady Wisdom was “beside” Yahweh,” and rejoicing “before him.”
In the last section of chapter 8, verses 32-36, Wisdom says about herself,
“And now, my sons, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Happy is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD; but he who misses me injures himself; all who hate me love death.”
Wisdom addresses humans as her “sons” who should listen to her instructions and those who do will find favor with “the LORD.” In other words, she is contrasting herself with Yahweh by speaking of Him in the third person saying that if you follow her you will find favor with Him.
How can all these examples be explained away as metaphorical? A metaphor is a figure of speech, and words are used symbolically, not to be taken literally. I know a cat who lives where I work whose name is “Sunshine.” He is, obviously, not literally one of the sun’s rays. But, because I love him and he always “brighten” up my day, so his name is metaphorical for me. If Wisdom is only one of God’s virtues, what metaphor is implied when she is by Yahweh’s side at the creation of the world? There is no symbolism because this is not a metaphor. Genesis 1:26-27 also confirms that at the creation of Mankind Yahweh speaks to another divine being. Instead of understanding this as also being symbolic, Christians have since early on interpreted this as God talking to Jesus. Yet, Proverbs overtly reveals that Lady Wisdom was with Yahweh during the creation of the world and it is disregarded.
I want to turn now to some key passages in Ben Sirach. It was written in Hebrew in the late second, or early third century, B.C. This book is particularly important because of strong parallels with the New Testament. For instance, in Ben Sirach 28:2 it says, “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” Similarly, Jesus told his disciples to pray “And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt 6:12) and right after in verses 14-15, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” This, and several other comparable passages strongly suggest that Jesus held Ben Sirach in high regard and used its teachings.
The first chapter of Ben Sirach verse 4 says, “Wisdom was created before all things,” and,
“The Lord himself created wisdom; he saw her and apportioned her, he poured her out upon all his works. She dwells with all flesh according to his gift, and he supplied her to those who love him.” (verse 9-10).
This reinforces what is described in Proverbs chapter 8.
Chapter 24 in Ben Sirach gives a detailed and in-depth look at who Wisdom is. In verses 1-3 it says,
“Wisdom will praise herself, and will glory in the midst of her people. In the assembly of the Most High she will open her mouth, and in the presence of his host she will glory: “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist.”
Remember that Genesis 1:3 opens with “The Spirit of God moving over the face of the waters.” The word “Spirit” can also mean “breath.” Breath can only be seen in the cold air because it comes from a warm body and condensates when it comes out. Likewise, mist is seen when it hovers over water or land because the air is cold in contrast to moisture from the warmer land or water. This brings us to when Jesus appeared to his disciples after being resurrected, “breathed” on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 20:22). The warm Holy Spirit emanates from within and goes out into a cold world, where she fills believers with her warmth and Wisdom.
A few verses down in Ben Sirach 24:8-11 it reads,
“Then the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and the one who created me assigned a place for my tent. And he said, `Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.’ From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall not cease to exist. In the holy tabernacle I ministered before him, and so I was established in Zion. In the beloved city likewise he gave me a resting place, and in Jerusalem was my dominion.”
This, yet again, confirms what was written in Proverbs and expounds on it. In turn it could also mean that Jesus adhered to what Ben Sirach, in addition to Proverbs, taught about Wisdom being by Yahweh’s side in the beginning. We can already detect that he understood her to be more than a virtue in some passages (see Mt 11:19, Lk 7:35, 11:49). She is the divine Mother of Israel. She is the one who fills God’s people with Wisdom, the same way the Holy Spirit does.
There is a crucial passage, in relation to this, in John 16:12-15,
“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Jesus is not introducing a new Spirit here. The Spirit of truth is simply another name for the Holy Spirit. This is obscured because in Greek “Spirit” is neuter, and “truth” is masculine which is why the translation has masculine pronouns. This does not reflect the pronouns Jesus would have used because in Hebrew, and Aramaic, both words are feminine. Jesus’ native tongue was Aramaic and as a Jewish Rabbi he was of course versed in Hebrew. However, my main point here is that Jesus described the Spirit as not speaking on her own authority. He portrays her as a subordinate power demonstrating a clear hierarchy. All authority comes from Yahweh. Jesus is anointed by the Spirit, meaning what he says comes from God via the Spirit, whose authority comes from Yahweh. As the Son of God, Yahweh has also given Jesus authority. Jesus in turn gave authority to his disciples to do things like cast out unclean spirits/demons (Mt 10:1, Mk 6:7, Lk 9:1).
If it is considered heretical for Wisdom to be a divine being, we should remember that angels and cherubim are present in the Bible as heavenly entities. It does not mean they are minor gods, contesting monotheism, although one could argue that this is a matter of semantics. Either way, they are not God with a capital “G” and can never challenge the authority of the Creator of all. This brings me to shema Yisrael where Moses states that the “Yahweh our God is one Yahweh” (Dt 6:4). He declared that Yahweh is one God, denouncing polytheism. But, the word for “one” can also mean “first.” Although He is eternal with no beginning or end, He created time. In this sense He is the first. Consequently, if Wisdom is “created” or “acquired” by Yahweh “in the beginning” this might indicate her secondary rank. It is important to note here too that Jesus was understood by the disciples as the “first-born,” of the dead, not the “first-created.” He was also the first-born of God which was a sign of being Yahweh’s anointed (Ps 2:7). As the first-born Son of God, he is the one who will inherit everything.
Jesus heavily emphasized the importance of the Holy Spirit and all these intricate details matter. Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit of truth are all feminine and though there are many spirits, including evil ones, there is only one Holy Spirit of God. She embodies Wisdom, Truth and Holiness. Yahweh is the Hebrew God who is the Creator of the world, and everything in it. He is the Author of life, and via Him comes all that is good. We can know him through His Spirit that He gives to those who choose to follow Him
When Yahweh had Wisdom by His side it may mirror His creation of Eve from Adam’s side. Adam and Eve as one in marriage may reflect how Yahweh and Wisdom are one. Perhaps this is yet another indication of Wisdom’s origin and role in the creation of man and woman made in the image of God. The Bible asserts that she was present with Him, in the beginning. In the creation of humans, it is more than just being beside Him because Yahweh says, “Let us make man in our image…” (Gn 1:26). Receiving Lady Wisdom means you get Wisdom from above which works against and in contrast to the counterfeit wisdom of the world. Jesus said that “Wisdom is justified by her children” (Lk 7:35). Children of God are those who follow the Father’s will, while those who don’t have the Devil as their father (Jn 8:44). The blueprint for the foundation of human and divine relations is the same. It is the nuclear family: Father, mother and child. This is the core of Creation.