God’s Greater Wisdom

For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death” (vv. 35–36).

- Proverbs 8:22–36

Lady Wisdom’s call in Proverbs 8 for all who are listening to heed her instruction has inspired generations of Christians to reflect on the wise sayings of the book of Proverbs and apply them diligently to their lives. The text has also been at the center of some of the most important theological debates in church history. First Corinthians 1:30 tells us that Christ Jesus is our “wisdom from God,” so we are not surprised that many people in church history have seen the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8 as prefiguring the Messiah.

During the Arian crisis of the fourth century, when Arius and his followers were asserting that Jesus was not God but merely the most exalted creature, the Arians often used Proverbs 8 to defend their position. In particular, they would appeal to vv. 22–31, which name wisdom as the first of God’s acts, indicating that Lady Wisdom had a beginning. If indeed the passage is a prophecy of Christ, this would seem to indicate that Jesus was simply another of the Lord’s creatures. The great Athanasius of Alexandria fought against the Arians in defense of the deity of Christ, and he likewise appealed to this text. Athanasius said that the verses in question did not refer to the beginning of the Son’s existence; rather, they were about His incarnation. God the Son is coequal to the Father in essence; in fact, He shares the same essence and according to His deity has no beginning or end. But the humanity of the Savior did not exist until that point in time when the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary and she conceived her firstborn son. According to His human nature, Christ had a beginning, but according to His divine nature and personhood, He does not.

Athanasius won the day, and we are grateful for his stalwart defense of the incarnation of the Son. Yet his interpretation of Proverbs 8 is not any more compelling than Arian’s. That does not mean, however, that Proverbs 8 does not prefigure our Savior and His work. Read in light of the entire canon, Lady Wisdom is indeed a type of Christ, and she points to Him as we compare her limitations to the sufficiency of Christ.

Unlike the Word made flesh, Lady Wisdom does not share God’s eternal nature (John 1:1–14; see Prov. 8:22–31). Earthly rulers reign in justice as they heed the instruction of Lady Wisdom, but the Son of God is Himself the King of kings and Lord of lords (Prov. 8:15–16; 1 Tim. 6:13–16). Those who find Lady Wisdom and heed her will find abundant life today, but those who trust in Jesus alone find eternal life (Prov. 8:35–36; John 3:16).

Coram Deo

Even many non-Christians respect the teaching of Jesus and believe that He offers wisdom to live by. Of course, as believers in Christ, we would agree, but we would say that such a view does not go far enough. Divine wisdom is not mere words spoken by great teachers; rather, God’s wisdom is a person. It is the right relationship with this person that secures our entry to heaven, not mere obedience to His ethical pronouncements without looking to His cross for our salvation.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 104:24
Matthew 12:38–42
Luke 7:33–35
Colossians 2:1–5

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