Wisdom Wednesday: The Wisdom of Solomon 8:7

One of the most interesting pieces of ancient literature (in my mind) is the Wisdom of Solomon. If you’re Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox, it will appear in your Bible. If you’re Protestant some Bibles include it, some do not. It represents an attempt to express Jewish wisdom in relationship to Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism. I find the book to be intriguing and in many ways compelling. One of my favorite parts is where the author, using the voice of Solomon says this of wisdom:

I loved her and sought her from my youth,

and I desired to take her for my bride,

and I became enamored of her beauty. She glorifies her noble birth by living with God,

and the Lord of all loves her. For she is an initiate in the knowledge of God,

and an associate in his works. If riches are a desirable possession in life,

what is richer than wisdom who effects all things? And if understanding is effective,

who more than she is fashioner of what exists? And if any one loves righteousness,

her labors are virtues;

for she teaches self-control and prudence,

justice and courage;

nothing in life is more profitable for men than these. And if any one longs for wide experience,

she knows the things of old, and infers the things to come;

she understands turns of speech and the solutions of riddles;

she has foreknowledge of signs and wonders

and of the outcome of seasons and times. 9 [1]

Note the bolded text. If anybody loves righteousness/justice, then wisdom will teach that person self-control, prudence, justice (righteousness), and courage. If one is truly concerned with being right with God and man, then wisdom (no longer merely a word for skill or cunning in this book) will provide its adherent with all of the other virtues.

Why does this matter?

  1. New Testament Interpretation
    I think that the presence of the four cardinal virtues in this book is important to the modern Christian because in 2 Peter 1:3-11, Peter refers to virtue as a trait of Jesus that attracts us to the gospel and as a trait that brings us into conformity to his will. So, Jesus excellence (perhaps in terms of these four traits) is part of what makes the gospel appealing and is part and parcel of Christian character (as Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Unless we keep the barbarian virtues, gaining the civilized ones will be of little avail.” One might rephrase it thus, “If we cannot manage the pagan virtues like courage and cleverness, the Christian ones like innocence and meekness will be of little avail.”
  2. Old Testament Interpretation
    An ancient Jewish interpreter of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Song of Solomon, and of the whole Old Testament found that wisdom as a way of life ultimately taught what was best in paganism. In other words, an ancient Jewish Bible scholar thought that self-control, prudence, justice, and courage were important virtues exemplified or shown by counter example in the Old Testament.
  3. Christian Life
    If we use the four cardinal virtues as lens (not the only or the main one) for reading the Bible, they can help us learn which Biblical characters should be treated as exemplars and which would be shameful to emulate. And if we treat the Bible as a legitimate repository of wisdom that is part of the pathway to a life of fully orbed character and joy in God and his creation, then I suspect it will help us on that path. Indeed, Paul says that the Old Testament is inspired for training in righteousness in a passage where he says that it also makes us wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:14-17). The connection between righteousness, wisdom, and virtue is very important in our Bibles, far more than certain reductive readings of our Bible have led us to believe.

[1] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Wis 8:2–9.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Trivium 3: Rhetoric | Shallow Thoughts

  2. Pingback: On the Cardinal Virtues | Shallow Thoughts

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