Wisdom Thumbnail and Opinion

The Wisdom Literature of the Bible is variously held to be either limited to certain books of the OT, or it can be seen in a wide variety of OT and NT passages. 

Those who limit Wisdom Literature to specific books, usually list Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes among the 66 canonical books of the Bible.  For our purposes we will mean this when we use the term Wisdom Literature in capitals.

Others see some the the Wisdom perspective in other portions of the Bible – certain passages in Isaiah, Psalms in the OT and the parables of Jesus and the book of James in the NT.  Those who hold this looser perspective vary widely on what they consider to be included.  We will use the term wisdom writing(s) for this broader concept.

Wisdom Literature has some characteristics that we will explore.  It has an international vocabulary, a conviction that God has embedded discoverable truth in the world, a love of language and literary forms, frequent use of observations of the world’s workings, infrequent use of covenantal language of law and sacrifice, respect for tradition, reverence for God and is frequently human centered.

James Crenshaw observes, “When a marriage between form and content exists, there is wisdom literature.  Lacking such oneness, a given text participates in biblical wisdom to a greater or lesser extent.”    O.T. Wisdom, p 11.

Fresh Read

How the Wisdom Quest Started

In reading the book of Proverbs, you like I will find a lengthy discussion of adultery.  Chapter 5 is totally devoted to the wisdom of avoiding adultery because of it’s consequences.  A classic statement of consequences is found in

Proverbs 6:27-28
    Can a man carry fire next to his chest
        and his clothes not be burned? 
    Or can one walk on hot coals
        and his feet not be scorched?

    Here is the question that came to me:  Why does the book of Proverbs not call for a repentance and return to the Laws of Moses?  Why does it not call for a restoration of morality to the culture of Israel by re-imposing the civil laws against adultery? 

Proverbs suggests that in the light of real world consequences, adultery ought to be avoided.  this does not mean that the intent is to disagree with the Law.  It is, I am thinking, another approach to the issue.

Wisdom in general is another approach to the issues of the Scriptures.  It does not speak in the language of the Laws of Moses, nor does it seem to assume that all its readers are under the covenant God made with Israel.

With people who have a hard time accepting a law from above – is Wisdom another way of thinking about life, choices, spirituality, community, success and so forth?

Fresh Read

Introducing Wisdom Literature

FRESH READ will be taking a sabbatical – a short one – this summer.  It will be great to take a break from the usual routines of summer, and to have some time for reading.  I plan to do some reading and thinking along with the Wisdom Literature. 

This is a title for a section of the Old Testament which has a different tone from the Law and the Prophets.  The Priests provided instruction (torah), the Prophets provided the divine word (dabar) but the Sages provided counsel (esa), according to one scholar.  (James Crenshaw, Introduction to Wisdom Literature, p. 20)

Hence we have a new category – Wisdom Literature.  Strictly speaking this is sections of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and Job.  I prefer to take a broad view of the category and include as wisdom influenced writings such disparate passages as the parables of Jesus, the book of James, and other passages that share some of wisdom’s qualities.

In Wisdom Literature, the bible engagesin a way of thinking and writing that was international.  Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and other ancient near eastern cultures produced similar works.  However, the literature of the Hebrew Bible is distinct – particularly in that all the wisdom – be it fresh composition or collections of proverbial sayings – were sifted though the filter of faith.

Here is why Fresh Read is interested:  The Law (torah) is the instruction for the covenant people and the Prophets are a voice to the people of God to return to the keeping of the Law.  However, the Wisdom literature speaks of God and his instructions in  another kind of language.  It is international – so it does not assume the covenant language of law and obedience.  It is creation-centered, so it corresponds to the book of general revelation – the concept that God shows himself and his truth through his world.  It loves literary forms and beautiful language.  It asks questions that are universal.  It might just be a way to speak to those who have closed their ears to the Law, the Prophets and the Church as well.

So, watch and….it is hoped….learn.


Class notes on James 4:4,5

Q:  What is the deal with James 4:4,5?  

James 4:4-5 (ESV)    You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. [5] Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us“?   J

ames 4:4,5 (NIV)      You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. [5] Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 

James 4:4,5 (NASV)            4You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with  the world is  hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  [5] Or do you think that the Scripture  speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us“?   

James 4:4,5 (NKJV)            Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. [5] Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?    

 James 4:4,5 (NLT)You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. [5] What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? *             *(OR that God longs jealously for the human spirit he has placed within us? or that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, opposes our envy?) 

 V4 – The sense seems clear that “friendship” with the world is incompatible with “friendship” with God.  While we are to Love the world as God did, (note that John 3:16 uses the Greek verb based on agape), we are not to be intimate friends with the world (James uses philia).  It is similar to Jesus teaching in  

Matthew 6:24     “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”   V. 5 Is more difficult.          

  v. 5a – there does not seem to be a specific verse quoted, but a sense of the             scriptures in general. 

v. 5b in Greek looks like this   

toward     envy/jealousy     he/it longs      the spirit       

pros   phthonon           epipothei      to pneuma   

which/whom       *he dwells        in          us      ho                     *katokisen       en        humin           

  *Textual variant {C} katokesen –  “he causes to dwell”  (two different verbs) 

There are two linguistic issues:

  •   In Greek, word order is not that important, unlike English, so the words can be put together in several ways.
  •   James is influenced by Hebrew – so his Greek travels through a Hebrew Filter, before it ever gets to English. 

There are several interpretive questions:           

Who is longing/jealous/yearning?                         

  • The (human) spirit                       
  • The Holy Spirit                       
  • God                        

For whom or what is he longing?                         

  • The spirit lusts (for the world)                       
  • The Spirit yearns (for us)                       
  • The Spirit is jealous (of the world)                       
  • God is jealous (for our spirit)                       
  • God is jealous (for the Holy Spirit in us)           

Is it yearning or jealousy?    

Is it the Holy Spirit in us, the human spirit, or the spirit of sinfulness?                       

Which textual variant should be used?                       

  • The spirit/Spirit who dwells in us                       
  • The spirit/Spirit who was caused to dwell in us

What is with James 4:4,5 ?

 blue-question-mark.jpgWhat is up with James 4:4,5?  There are quite a number of differences in the translations.  Does the last part talk about the Holy Spirit or the human spirit, and is the Lord jealous for us or are we zealous for worldliness? 

James 4:4-5 (ESV)
    You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. [5] Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?”

Stay Tuned…..


Will of God

April 29, 2007   Adult Class

Question:  “Is everything that happens God’s will?  How does our free will work with God’s will?  Does sin “mess up” God’s will or does he still use our sin to accomplish his will?

Towards an Answer: 

            Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Ed. W. Elwell, “Will of God”  p. 1172

            Systematic Theology, W. Grudem, p. 211-216

Theologians have made some helpful distinctions.  Let’s look at these and compare them with some scriptures:

God’s will is Necessary and Free

            Necessary – His will, within himself, shown in his actions and laws must be consistent with his own character.  For example:  God does not lie.

            (II Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 6:18, James 1:13, I Sam 15:29, Numbers 23:19)


            Free – His will is free with regard to his creation.  His actions in creation, preservation and salvation were freely chosen.

            (Is 43:7; 48:9-11; Rom 11:36; I Cor. 8:6; Eph 1:12; Rev 4:11)

God’s will is Secret and Revealed

            Secret (or “Hidden” or “Decretive”) – God has determined by his own plan (or decrees) known only to himself, how everything will be accomplished.  It is all inclusive (Ephesians 1:11) and not revealed to us in full (Dt 29:29).

            (Ps 115:3, Dan 4:17, 25, 32, 35; Rom 9:18-19; 11:33-24; Eph 1:5, 9, 11, Rev 4:11)

            Revealed (or “Preceptive”) – God revealed to us what he wants us to do, “his will”, though his commands, laws, precepts and teachings in the scriptures. 

            (Mt 7:21; 12:50; Jn 4:24, Rom 12:2; 20:8, Dt 30:14)

Exploring the distinctions:  the question has to do mostly with God’s Revealed or his Secret will:  Let’s discuss the following examples to see if these distinctions make any sense.

 “Is everything that happens God’s (necessary/free/revealed/secret) will?”

Class discussion – Things occure as part of God overall plan of everything.  Nothing surprises Him.  However, our rebellions are contrary to God’s revealed will whenever we violate the word of scripture or reject the witness of natural revelation.

“How does our free will work with God’s (necessary/free/revealed/secret) will?”

We are able to make choices to to good or bad things.  God’s secret (overall plan) is not diverted or overturned – as if he should say, “Oops, I didn’t think that would happen!”  Our freedom allows us to disobey God’s revealed commands.

“Does sin Mess up God’s (necessary/free/revealed/secret) will?”

It contradicts his revealed will (the laws, commands, wisdom of scripture) and it contradicts his character (necessary will) but it does not mess up God’s overall plan – as he knew sin was part of what would happen.

“Or does God use our sin to accomplish his (necessary/free/revealed/secret) will?

Without excusing us, yes.  Examples oare Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.  Pharoah’s hardness of heart in the Exodus.  Pilate’s question, “What is the truth?”.    While contradicting his commands (revealed will) his plan is still accomplished.  Consider the verse: 

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquties; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:5

When we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” are we asking for God’s secret will or his revealed will to be done?

When we ask for his Kingdom to come, we are asking for what God has revealed to be in our future to actually happen.  We are asking that his revealed will come to be.  Even while we know that God knows when it will happen already. 

Does I Tim 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 refer to God’s secret or revealed will?

Scripture indicates that not everyone will be saved.  However, it is God’s revealed invitation (the Gospel) that all who will come in faith will be saved.  These verses refer to God’s revealed will.  In his overall all plan (secret will) he knows that many will not be saved – if you don’t believe that to be true, read the Book of Revelation!

Does James 4:15 refer to God’s secret or revealed will?

There does not appear to be any command to go or not to go on the business trip.  It is not a matter of God’s revealed will, but a matter of wisdom.  However, in that God has an overall plan for everything (secret will) he alone knows what will happen – whether they will be able to go, arrive, do business, make a profit and return.  This verse refers to the hidden will of God.

Are these things always neat and satisfying? 

See Habakkuk 1