Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Wisdom Personified As feminine?

Biblegems #114
Question: In Proverbs 8, does “wisdom” refer to Christ and, if so, why do the first 3 verses refer to wisdom in the feminine?

The first question that needs to be addressed is: does Wisdom in Proverbs 8 refer to Christ? Matthew Henry, the renowned 18th century Bible commentator, makes this statement in his opening remarks on Proverbs 8:
         “The Redeemer is the eternal Word and wisdom, the Logos. He is the Wisdom that speaks to the children of men in the former part of the chapter. All divine revelation passes through his hand, and centers in him; but of him as the personal Wisdom, the second person of the Godhead, in the judgment of many of the ancients, Solomon here speaks, verses 22-23.”[i]

As Matthew Henry notes, many of the ancient church fathers understood Wisdom, as it is personified in Proverbs 8, as representing Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. This is, of course, a matter of interpretation, not translation. It is based, however, in solid biblical precedent and sound principles of interpretation. Wisdom, in proverbs 8, is presented as eternal:
         Prov. 8:27          I was there when he set the heavens in place

This eternal Wisdom demonstrates personality, showing love and other emotions:
         Prov. 8:17          I love those who love me

Wisdom is described here as a craftsman involved in creation who  experiences delight and joy in the presence of God:
         Prov. 8:30-31 Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

All of these attributes describe an eternal, personal Being who is identical with Jesus, the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity.

So then, the second question must also be answered: Why is Wisdom in Proverbs 8 described in feminine terms in the first three verses? Indeed, if Wisdom is feminine there, then Wisdom throughout chapter 8, in which Wisdom speaks in the first person, would also have to be understood in the feminine. How can this be?

The answer is grammatical, not interpretive. The word “wisdom” in Hebrew is a feminine word form. It does not mean that Wisdom, when used of a person, is feminine. We see a similar dynamic happen in the English language. We speak of a boat or ship in feminine terms—“she’s a beautiful ship”—even though sailing vessels have no gender. From a technical point of view then, the Hebrew word “wisdom” is feminine and is matched by the words “her” (v.1) and “she” (v.2) to complete the sentence in correct grammatical form. So it is the context, not the grammatical form, which determines if “Wisdom” personified is to be understood as masculine, feminine or neutral.

The apostle Paul picks up on this personification of Wisdom as fully represented in Jesus Christ:
         1 Cor. 1:30 It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Because we who believe are in Christ, and Christ is in us, Jesus “has become for us wisdom form God.” What a wonderful gift!

[i] A Commentary On The Whole Bible, Vol.3, Matthew Henry. in loc.

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