What is Wisdom?
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”- Proverbs 9:10
During the year ahead, our study of the Wisdom Literature will take us through several books that together make up a large part of the Old Testament. Here at the beginning of our study, it will be helpful for us to consider the nature of wisdom, the context of the Wisdom Books, and some features of Wisdom Literature that will assist us in their interpretation. Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Wisdom will guide our study of these elements.
It would be impossible to find a culture that does not in some way prize wisdom. Although we would not agree that everything that goes by the name wisdom actually deserves that designation, it is nonetheless true that people love the proverbs and aphorisms handed down in their own societies. Moreover, we cannot explain the origin and history of the discipline of philosophy without accounting for humanity’s pursuit of wisdom. The English term philosophy comes from one of the Greek verbs that mean “love” (phileō) and from the Greek word sophia, which means “wisdom.” Thus, philosophy actually refers to “the love of wisdom.” Historically, people did not study philosophy merely to increase their own learning or to show themselves artful in debate. Instead, both ancient Greek and later Western philosophers engaged in the study of philosophy in order to know what is good, true, and beautiful, and to find the precepts needed to live rightly in this world.
The Bible also prizes wisdom (Prov. 23:23), but it approaches it from a very different stance than the ancient Greek thinkers did. Ancient Greek thinkers concluded quite late in their quest for wisdom that there is only one God, but the deity they posited had little in common with the God revealed in the Bible. For the biblical authors, the Lord is not merely the end of wisdom, but He is also its beginning. As today’s passage notes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10).
Fear in this context is not the fear one has of an enemy; rather, it is honor and love for the Lord. Such fear is manifested in reverence and awe, a disposition to apply what God has revealed in order to live a life that pleases Him in gratitude for His salvation. This wisdom is not equivalent to knowledge of facts. One can know a lot of information and still be a fool. Yet we must note that it is impossible to be wise and ignorant, for wisdom is the right application of knowledge, specifically the knowledge of God. Wisdom may not be the same thing as knowledge, but without knowledge, wisdom cannot exist.
Since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the surest way to become wise is to pursue the knowledge of God. As we come to know more about Him, the foundation for wisdom becomes firmer in our lives, and we grow in our ability to discern things according to His revealed truth. We come to know the Lord primarily through the prayerful reading, preaching, and teaching of His Word. If you want to be wise, you must know the God of Scripture.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 1:22–25